F1 – Qatar GP – Race
Marhaba, MiniFans! After a hectic sprint, the Sunday race didn’t want to stay behind. After checking the tyres again and seeing the same problems they had seen on Friday, the FIA determined that the longest stints were to be of 18 laps, including previous fast laps done on the set, no matter the kind of compound, as the three of them had the same problems even after the kerb suspected of compromising the structural integrity of the tyre was modified. Adding to this, Sainz would not take part in the race after a fuel system issue that was discovered in his car could not be resolved in time.
Strategy calls were changed overnight to comply with the new indications from Race Direction, as at least three stops would be performed in the best of cases, and tyre choices were scarce, leaving little margin if teams didn’t want to earn a black flag aimed at their drivers. Friday’s qualifying had given a very different grid to that for the sprint, as Verstappen regained the pace of honour, followed by both Mercedes and Red Bull, while Alonso climbed up to fourth thanks to both McLaren drivers getting laps deleted due to exceeding track limits.
Hamilton was the only one at the front that chose a risky soft among a sea of mediums, which helped him get good traction at the start, but his attempt at a double overtake over both his teammate and Verstappen ended with him on the gravel and one wheel less on his car. Piastri had a front row seat to this and took his chance to overtake Alonso and Leclerc as well, who had to be more careful as they were closer to the action. The safety car was swiftly out so that the track could be cleaned and Hamilton’s car retrieved, and everyone lined up as Russell pitted for another set of tyres.
During these slowed down laps, those with softs and the drivers which had many fresh sets took the chance to change them to place their bets on the end of the race. The restart saw Verstappen easily pulling away from Piastri, setting the only gap close to a second between any two cars in the first turns. The first penalty of the race went to Hulkenberg, who had started from Sainz’s spot rather than his own, effectively jumping up two whole grid positions. Despite giving his all and setting fastest laps, Verstappen couldn’t quite shake Piastri off at the beginning, needing quite a few laps to start opening up a bigger gap, as the McLaren had managed to keep up after his mistake during the restart.
Alonso was the first from the top to pit, one lap before Leclerc’s mandatory one and Piastri’s, both of them leaving the pits in front of him. Leclerc, however, lost his position on track. Meanwhile, Russell’s comeback, fuelled by the pent up anger from the turn one incident, had managed to get him to second following an infernal race pace. Sadly, it was interrupted by a stop, as his set of tyres had reached the lap limit. Fully alone at the front, Verstappen reclaimed the fastest lap before he pitted for a second set of tyres.
After the first big set of stops, which had no incidents or problems in the pits, the race settled back into the expected order, with Verstappen leading from Piastri and Alonso. From then on, when everyone had to pit became less crystal clear and confusing, but second stops came along with hard tyres being the predominant choice, with the exception of McLaren, who preferred a tyre quicker to get up to temperature, such as the medium. By this point, having reached the halfway point of the race, a few black and white flags had come out due to exceeding track limits, while the fastest lap was being shuffled back and forth between a couple of drivers.
Russell’s third stop dropped him behind Alonso and Zhou, but after Alonso was forced to take a trip through the gravel trap, the rivalry was set aside as he dropped behind Leclerc. The British driver’s aim was then shifted to the McLarens in front of him, but his efforts would only serve him to get a bigger gap behind him, as he’d have to do a fourth stop, unlike the papaya cars. In a completely different set of problems, Pérez got his second 5-second penalty for exceeding track limits, which didn’t make his team happy, but he wasn’t the only one facing this problem.
The last stops for the front runners were witnesses to them fitting hards for the last stint as McLaren instructed their drivers to keep positions, something that didn’t exactly make Norris happy, as he was virtually in third while waiting for Russell’s last stop. The British man was just one of the drivers feeling the heat, moving his hands out of the cockpit in the straight and opening up his visor in the pitlane. Adding to this was Sargeant’s retirement due to not feeling well as the team reassured him it was okay to tap out and Alonso’s complaints of the heat at the bottom of the cockpit as the two most notable events.
The last five laps kicked off with Russell getting a set of softs, which wouldn’t be enough to kill the seventeen-second gap to the McLarens and he rather lost many seconds to Leclerc, who was chomping off a lot of time that wouldn’t quite be enough to get to him, and Verstappen fitting fresh hards with a tiny hiccup in his stop that cost him two extra seconds due to a stubborn front left tyre. However, and as expected, it didn’t hinder him in his quest to yet another victory, closely followed by Piastri and Norris.
After structural integrity problems plagued the tyres on Friday, the modifications made on the kerb they suspected to be the main culprit didn’t fix the issues, so a maximum number of laps per set was decreed as the solution, forcing a minimum of three stops. This, contrary to what many thought, didn’t translate into errors in the pitlane, with all stops going swift and without errors save for a small, unexpected time loss for Red Bull. Despite all the hurdles set in the way, the race ran almost as normal, with Verstappen celebrating his third straight title with a brand new win.