Max Verstappen took a commanding victory at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix by recording the fourth grand slam of his Formula 1 career, on the weekend that he became a three-time world champion.
The Dutchman had contrasting races from Saturday to Sunday, as in the Sprint Race he was beaten for just the fourth time in 2023 but a day later he thoroughly bossed the race and never appeared to be troubled by what was going on behind him.
There was a lot taking place behind the Red Bull driver, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell colliding on the first lap as the 38-year-old went too far with squeezing his teammate down towards the first turn. The resulting contact saw Hamilton‘s rear-left tyre fly off as he got beached in the gravel, thus retiring, whilst Russell managed to continue into the race and showed good pace to recover to fourth at the chequered flag.
Oscar Piastri went on to claim his biggest finish in the sport to date, after holding off a late Lando Norris charge, and remaining in the “true” second place for the duration of the race despite dropping down in pit-stop phases. It was a second consecutive double-podium for McLaren and their seventh podium in eight races.
Elsewhere, drivers struggled with the intense Qatari heat in a gruelling race that put all of their athletic training on show. Logan Sargeant retired from heatstroke-induced sickness, Esteban Ocon vomited in his helmet and both Russell and Lance Stroll felt as though they would pass out. Norris noted that several drivers visited the medical centre, where some did actually pass out, such was the brutal nature of the race.
Drivers struggled with track limits, with the grid notching up 50 violations in total. Sergio Perez, Stroll, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon all received multiple time penalties for infractions, which Stroll attributed to being unable to see the limit due to blood pressure problems in high-speed corners because of the heat.
Winner: Max Verstappen
Another Max masterclass as he controlled the Sunday race from lights to flag. Once again, challenges thrown his way by other drivers never exceeded the race start and safety car restarts, as he dropped the field to continue on with his championship of one.
Taking pole by 0.441, he won by 4.8 seconds although he might not have even been at 100 percent as his engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, was heard halfway through the race asking him for a “managed increase of pace”.
Nonetheless, he proved to the grid why he is the man to beat by recording a career-fourth ‘grand slam’ by taking pole, leading every lap and taking the fastest lap. It’s the second of the 2023 season, with the other coming at the Spanish GP.
Oh, did we mention? He’s also a three-time world champion, drawing level with names such as Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda. He has completely dominated the championship and he hasn’t looked threatened since the Miami GP. Verstappen now holds a 209-point lead at the top of the standings, that has the potential to grow to an extraordinary gap come Abu Dhabi.
Loser: Lewis Hamilton
A late Sprint Race recovery showed the potential that Mercedes had coming into Sunday’s Grand Prix, but for Hamilton he never got the chance to flex what kind of impression his W14 could have made.
The opening lap contact, reminiscent of his 2022 Belgian GP crash with Fernando Alonso, gave him his first DNF of the season and a collision was on the cards with Russell for a while.
Being close in pace and often in a similar area of the track only increases their statistical odds of colliding and it finally happened after some near misses in the Spanish GP and Belgian GP.
Thankfully, the pair have immense respect for each other and have already apologised so it shouldn’t impact their future relationship. Hamilton took full responsibility for the incident before and after seeing the replays, showing the modesty that has made him a 103-time race winner.
Critically cost him ground in his quest to catch Perez in the F1 drivers’ championship with five rounds to go. He now trails the Mexican by 30 points and after starting third, was poised to slash that in half as his rival started from the pit-lane.
Winner: Oscar Piastri
Another fine performance from the Australian rookie who continues to drive like he has the experience of someone with 170 races to his name, not 17.
After taking pole in the Sprint Shootout, Piastri remained calm as the soft tyres showed their better life at the start of the race meaning that he dropped behind Russell. Already thinking about the bigger picture he was aware that the race would come to him, and once the tyre degradation hit he wasted no time dispatching the British racer.
From there, he had just the small task of holding Verstappen off, which he did fantastically with the Dutchman barely getting within two seconds of the rookie. He crossed the line to take his first victory in F1 and laid down another moment showing why he’s one of the most anticipated and exciting talents emerging in the sport.
After starting sixth due to his lap-time being deleted for track limits, Piastri would be in second by Turn 2 after the opening lap Mercedes drama parted the sea for the 22-year-old to inherit the fruits of war.
From there, he showed untouchable pace. He never came under-threat from the Aston Martin, remaining Mercedes or Ferrari as he made his way through traffic and at the end of the race he held Norris at arms distance to claim his second F1 podium and his first second place Sunday finish in the sport.
The only potential worry is that his pace suffered more in the second half of the race, which is a little bit of a trend but as he is a rookie and it was a brutal, physical race, he can have the benefit of the doubt.
Loser: Sergio Perez
This is the second successive weekend that Perez has featured in the “losers” section of this feature, the third if you count Red Bull as a collective body being included for the Singapore GP.
It was another scrappy race for the 33-year-old. He could only qualify 13th for the Sunday race and was 8th in the Sprint Shootout, almost a second down on Piastri’s McLaren.
His races did not get any better. In the Sprint Race, he attempted to go three-wide with Hulkenberg and Ocon by claiming the racing line, but in what was widely adjudged to be racing incident, all three cars collided.
Perez spun off into the gravel, handing the three points that Verstappen needed to win the drivers’ championship. The moment had cost him ground to Hamilton in the race for second too, and left him with significant damage to the chassis of his RB19 which he duly received a pit-lane start for fixing.
On Sunday, he was pretty anonymous in the race. Whilst his teammate set off to win his latest GP at a canter, Perez was once again in a midfield dogfight against much slower cars.
A rather symbolic moment of the differing Red Bull camps came when Perez had to slow down and allow his teammate through to lap him after being shown blue flags, although he did finish on the lead-lap after everyone’s pit-stops synced up.
He received several time penalties for consistently flaunting track limits rules, which dropped him to 10th after the classification. He salvaged one point from the weekend and the only saving grace for him, really, is that Hamilton crashed on Lap 1 and couldn’t take another chunk out of his 30-point lead in their battle for the runners-up spot.
Winner: Zhou Guanyu
Zhou has had a difficult season, but not by a lack of trying. His Alfa Romeo has consistently been one of the slowest cars in 2023 and sits a lowly eighth in the constructors’ championship, but the Chinese driver finally got a reward in Qatar by finishing in ninth to add some much needed points to his tally.
It was particularly impressive considering that he started 19th and last of the cars lining up on the start-finish straight at the race start. A determined and well-executed drive allowed him to score an extra point thanks to time penalties applied to others for track limits violations.
Despite starting 10 places behind the experience Valtteri Bottas, Zhou would finish fewer than 10 seconds down on his teammate showing the speed he had around Losail. As a result, he moves to within three points of Hulkenberg for 15th in the drivers’ championship after scoring his third points finish of 2023.
Drives like that show why Alfa Romeo wanted to sign him for 2024 as he continues to indicate that he’s more than capable of competing in F1.
It was another weekend overshadowed by Pirelli seemingly being unprepared for the demands of the Grand Prix.
This time it wasn’t that the wet tyres were useless, or that the hards could easily do the race distance, it was far more serious. The rubber they brought was losing its structural integrity after barely any laps.
As a result, F1 had to move the kerbs at Turns 12-13 back and impose a stint-curfew banning drivers from running more than 18 laps on one compound forcing the race to be a minimum three-stopper.
Pirelli had noted microscopic, but significant, failings on the inner carcass of the tyres which had the potential to cause big accidents in the race if they lost their ability to handle the forces and demands of racing.
It’s quite concerning that something like that can happen, although it’s rare it does. So whilst it created an interesting and unusual race concerning strategy for teams and fans, Pirelli has to ensure that the tyres are safe to be used first and foremost. Driver safety is paramount.
It’s another setback to the Italian tyre company’s reputation, with Bridgestone attempting to court the FIA and F1 for the contract to become the provider of rubber for the grid.