Oscar Piastri landed his first win in Formula 1 after fending off Max Verstappen in the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix Sprint race, with the Dutchman unable to chase down the McLaren late on and was forced to settle for second ahead of Lando Norris.
But the result was still enough to make Verstappen the 2023 drivers’ champion, as Sergio Perez suffered a nightmarish sprint running out of the points before crashing out on Lap 11 to hand Verstappen the title.
A disrupted sprint saw two safety cars in the first four laps as Liam Lawson and Logan Sargeant both went off after individual mistakes, with George Russell jumping Piastri in the few racing moments between the incidents.
Russell looked on for the win at one stage, but the soft tyres crumbled in the closing stages with Red Bull and McLaren’s strategists left smiling post-sprint and Hamilton going from ninth to fifth in the last three laps on the mediums.
A chaotic start saw Ferrari and Russell the big winners while Verstappen and Norris finished the first lap fifth and sixth from third and second on the grid after going wheel-to-wheel.
But the battle was put on ice after Lawson flew off on the second turn to bring out an early safety car, the first time he’s failed to finish a racing session in his F1 career.
Piastri held the lead initially ahead of Russell, Sainz and Leclerc and was caught napping by the Mercedes driver on the second safety car restart, before retaking the lead just before Perez‘s crash.
Running three-wide, Perez and Esteban Ocon sandwiched Nico Hulkenberg on a straight which brought out the third safety car and confirmed Verstappen‘s championship regardless of the Dutchman’s result.
And he quickly got into second to chase down Piastri‘s lead of less than three seconds, putting an immediate dent into that deficit in clean air.
However, Piastri hit back on the penultimate lap and still held an advantage of almost two seconds going onto the lap.
Try as he might, Verstappen couldn’t get close and Piastri took a historic win for McLaren with Norris also finishing on the podium.
Hamilton was out of the points for most of proceedings but scythed through the soft runners late on to finish fifth, just behind his teammate.
Ferrari were the big losers late on finishing sixth and seventh, and Albon picked up the remaining point ahead of Fernando Alonso.
Qatar conditions prove tricky
There was concern before the sprint that any driving off the racing line would prove difficult, and that was the case with the dust blown onto the track giving drivers huge problems racing wheel-to-wheel.
The wind also continued to give balance issues, but that was dwarfed by the tyre problems, with the softs completely dropping away halfway through the sprint even with the extended safety car running.
Russell and the Ferraris plummeted down the standings with the Mercedes man even attempting to pit under the Perez safety car, and Pirelli will have further headaches with the 57-lap grand prix to come.
However, the medium tyres had their own problems, with several drivers struggling to switch them on after the safety car meaning there could well be more chaos to come both on and off-track for the rest of the weekend.