F1 – Qatar GP – Sprint
Marhaba, MiniFans! After spending a year out of the calendar due to the World Cup, the Qatari track of Losail is back on the calendar as the host of a sprint weekend that will offer Verstappen his first chance at becoming a three-time world champion. While he could easily do it on Saturday, he will need to put a little bit more elbow grease than usual.
The sprint shootout, which is the name given to the qualifying session for the sprint race, finished with Piastri on pole, accompanied by Norris in the front row, and demoted Verstappen to third. This was in part thanks to the huge amount of deleted laps that happened after a kerb needed to be extended inwards when tyre inspection discovered that it was separating the different layers that make up the wheel.
Piastri kept his cool and managed to be the only car at the top with mediums that kept his position thanks to his great start, whereas both his teammate and Verstappen lost a couple of places each in favour of both Ferraris and Russell, who made good work of their softs. Despite the hard battle, the front was clean, but the same couldn’t be said of those further back. The cloud of sand lifted by the cars going outside of the racing line meant that visibility was worse for the group and Lawson was the one casualty of dirtier tyre surface, losing the rear and forcing a safety car to retrieve it.
In the restart, Russell took advantage of his softer tyres to throw it down the inside and easily overtook Piastri, inheriting the lead. Drivers went neck and neck, especially Norris and Alonso, but a second safety car, this time due to Sargeant’s car being trapped in the gravel, put an end to all of the fights.
Russell and Sainz’s experience was clearly seen as the first caught Piastri by surprise and the second almost got past in his first try, thanks to his softs getting up to temperature faster. Still in fifth place with his mediums, Verstappen started to get them working properly, as were the rest on the same tyres while those on softs were slowly but surely starting to lose pace. The Red Bull driver quickly got rid of both Ferrari and started to hunt down Piastri, who was breathing down Russell’s neck and overtook him on the first try. Behind them, Norris managed to overtake Leclerc on the outside, proving the mediums were working better than expected. However, the fun wouldn’t last long, as the third safety car came out.
This third interruption came after Ocon, Hulkenberg and Pérez went three wide and collided, leaving the Frenchman and the Mexican driver stranded in the gravel, while Hulkenberg managed to make it back to boxes. As they lined up behind the safety car, Russell was panicking over the radio, claiming he had no tyres left, but he wasn’t the only one having problems. Verstappen was cautioned against fighting for the win and take care of his tyres in order to make it to the end.
The last restart came with barely five laps to go, and Piastri easily got Russell out of his DRS zone, which caused the British driver to be helpless against Verstappen’s assault. Norris, who lost a position to Leclerc, was keen on getting back in front, easily managing it and overtaking Sainz barely a couple of corners later. Alonso, also on softs, was struggling against Hamilton’s mediums and eventually didn’t fight the overtake.
The last couple of laps were witnesses of Verstappen not catching up to Piastri, who showed that he may be a rookie, but that his talent can and will shine. Behind them, those on softs were still struggling and getting overtaken kind of easily by those on mediums, still keeping some rubber partly thanks to the three safety car periods. Norris completed the podium in front of both Mercedes.
In what has almost become a show of being a driver who cannot win a championship in a straightforward manner, Verstappen clinched his third title in a row on a Saturday, when he can’t go wild in his car or party at night, as there is still a race to take part in on Sunday. Pérez’s DNF settled in stone what had been pretty much clear as water, due to the Dutchman only needing a few points over him. The other main character of the day was Piastri, who has managed to stand on the top step for the first time in his F1 career, even if it won’t count as a proper victory in the history books.
MiniDrivers – F1
2023 Qatar GP