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Verstappen wins tense Qatar Grand Prix


With the 2023 title(s) finally decided - was there ever any real doubt? - we can now concentrate on the more mundane matter such as who will finish runner up to Max Verstappen and indeed runner-up in the constructors' battle.

Sergio Perez's cause isn't helped by the fact that he will start from the pitlane today after Red Bull rebuilt his car following yesterday's crash, the Mexican, to all intents and purposes, being availed of a third car together with new engine.

The big question over today's race is tyres, or rather tyre safety, following yesterday morning's warnings from the FIA.

The FIA has stipulated that no set can do more than 18 laps, though with in and out laps taken into account this becomes 20 laps.

The FIA will keep in contact with the teams throughout the race advising them of the life left in their tyres, however based on the almost lackadaisical approach to the way track limits has been dealt with over the course of the weekend this doesn't fill one with confidence.

Despite wrapping up the title yesterday, don't expect Max to take his feet off the gas and give his rivals a shot, indeed expect the Dutchman to be remorseless in his domination.

McLaren is clearly on the rise, and really does appear to have one of the strongest driver line-ups, and while Lando might be overdoing it in the self-criticism department - which is never a good look - Oscar is quietly getting on with it.

After his recent disaster in Japan, Sergio's hopes of making amends today have been dealt a cruel blow, but what better way to please the Doctor (Marko) than storming through the field to claim a podium.

While Mercedes looked strong yesterday, Ferrari has struggled with the wind, and that is likely to be a problem again today, a situation not helped by Sainz starting from 12th on the grid.

Indeed with so many variables it is almost impossible to make predictions other than the fact that the stewards are likely to be burning the midnight oil later.

In addition to the wind we have track limits and of course the tyres, and while the FIA claims it is not officially mandating three pit stops that is likely to be the scenario.

Of course, all of this is mighty embarrassing for the FIA and one wonders if certain parties will make use of it in the ongoing Andretti saga.

Hopefully things have changed since 2005, when, just hours before the race we enquired of a very senior FIA official what was happening. "F****ed if I know," came the reply.

One driver who really needs a good result is Stroll who, other than a string of poor performances, needs to make amends for Friday's strop.

In terms of strategies, Pirelli admits that it is not worth speculating. However, on yesterday's evidence, the medium is best suited for a long stint. The soft provided extra performance at the start and at the three restarts, but over the course of the Sprint it suffered from graining and heavy thermal degradation. In fact, on a track which was particularly slippery because of the sand blown across it by the wind, this was a predictable phenomenon.

An hour before the start there appears to be drama at Ferrari where, following a fuel systems issue, it is confirmed that Sainz will not be starting the race.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin to head out.

Air temperature is 32 degrees C, while the track temperature is 38 degrees.

In terms of tyres, all are starting on mediums bar Hamilton, Bottas, Lawson and Magnussen who are on softs. Hamilton, Tsunoda, Albon, Sargeant, Lawson, Magnussen, Zhou and Perez are all on fresh rubber.

They head off on the formation lap. All get away cleanly.

"I'm a sitting duck to all these guys," says Hamilton.

The grid forms.

They're away!

Verstappen gets away well, as do the Mercedes pair, Russell moving to his left in order to push his teammate out. Into Turn 1, Verstappen has the inside line and Hamilton the outside, with Russell caught in the middle. However, the Silver Arrows clash and as Hamilton heads off backwards into the run-off, Russell spins around and off the track.

Hamilton is out having lost his right-rear wheel, while Russell rejoins the race in last position.

"Come on, what the hell," shouts Russell. "Two races in a row!"

"I got taken out by my own teammate," says Hamilton.

"He came from nowhere," says Russell. "I couldn't do anything."

As the Safety Car is deployed, Verstappen leads Piastri, Alonso, Leclerc, Ocon, Norris, Gasly, Tsunoda, Bottas and Hulkenberg. Russell pits for fresh tyres and a new front wing.

Replay shows Hamilton appearing not to give Russell enough room, while Alonso missed out on inheriting second after losing time behind the spinning Russell, thus allowing Piastri to take full advantage.

As well as the Mercedes clash, Hulkenberg is under investigation for an incorrect starting location.

At the end of Lap 4, still under the Safety Car, Bottas, Magnussen, Stroll and Lawson all pit.

Though he isn't at the track, Toto Wolff comes on the radio to tell Russell - now 14th - to focus.

The Safety Car is withdrawn at the end of Lap 5, Piastri appears to be caught napping.

Further back, Russell is battling Perez and they run wide on the run to Turn 1.

The Williams pair are tenth and eleventh.

As Hulkenberg and Tsunoda battle for 8th, Verstappen enjoys a 1.119s lead as he posts a new fastest lap (30.273).

Hulkenberg is given a 10s time penalty for starting in an incorrect position - that of Sainz.

Russell passes Perez for 13th.

Ocon, Gasly and Zhou have times deleted for track limits.

Alonso runs wide and loses a second, thereby falling into the clutches of Leclerc while giving Piastri some welcome breathing space.

Albon is all over Tsunoda as they battle for 9th.

Russell passes Zhou for 12th.

Alonso says he went off due to the wind, dismissing the suggestion that there is an issue with his car.

While Russell is up to tenth, Perez is still struggling to make a move on Zhou.

Bottas and Lawson both have times deleted.

"Front left is going," reports Sargeant as Ocon pits at the end of Lap 10. He rejoins in 17th on mediums as Russel has his time deleted.

Alonso and Gasly pit at the end of Lap 11, rejoining in 15th (Alonso) and 17th, both on mediums.

Lawson gets a black and white flag after just 12 laps.

Piastri and Leclerc react to Alonso's stop, both rejoining ahead of the Spaniard in 13th and 14th.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Lusail here.


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1. Posted by Spindoctor, 10/10/2023 10:12

"Go Piastri!"

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