Verstappen wins championship thanks to late safety car

Max Verstappen is the new 2021 Formula 1 world champion by winning the race in an epic and yet controversial last lap with Lewis Hamilton following a late safety car.

The two title rivals came together on the opening lap, but it was the decision to allow a final lap shootout that gave Verstappen the chance to put a decisive pass on Hamilton, who had led most of the race but was unable to stop during a virtual safety car and the full safety car that followed Nicholas Latifi crashing during the closing laps.

At the start, Hamilton made a much better start to immediately shoot alongside Verstappen from second on the grid, with the Mercedes driver seizing the lead at the Turn 1 braking point despite a small lock-up on his left-front.

Hamilton scampered clear but Verstappen stayed close enough to close in slightly going down the long run to the Turns 6/7 chicane than splits Yas Marina’s two main straights.

The Red Bull driver sent a late lunge to Hamilton’s inside and got alongside by the apex, but went so deep to the outside of the track he ran half his car on the kerbs, with Hamilton going fully off and cutting behind Turn 7, rejoining to keep the lead.

To Red Bull’s fury, race director Michael Masi informed the team the stewards had reviewed the incident but decided no investigation was necessary.

This was because in their view Verstappen had forced the issue with Hamilton left no room to stay on track and that the leader had slowed down enough to lead by 1.1 seconds at the end of lap one of 58 to have given up any advantage he gained by cutting the corner.

With Red Bull informing the frustrated Verstappen that he would have to win the race and championship on track, Hamilton quickly edged clear and set a string of fastest laps through the opening 10 tours, running the more durable medium tyres to Verstappen’s softs.

His lead had reached 3.4 seconds by the end of lap ten, at which point Verstappen was already suggesting his rear tyres were starting to slide.

Three laps later, with Hamilton’s lead over five seconds for the first time, Red Bull called Verstappen in to go from the softs to the hards, rejoining in between the Ferrari cars of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, who went off through the plunging downhill right of Turn 3 in Verstappen’s wake.

Mercedes brought Hamilton in a lap later for his own set of hards, which meant Sergio Perez, who had been nearly 10s off the lead by the time Hamilton came in, cycling through to lead.

Hamilton carved into Perez’s advantage as Verstappen took several laps to pass Sainz, even going off at the penultimate corner as he chased the Ferrari hard, finally moving up to third with a DRS pass into Turn 6 on lap 18.

Over the next two laps it became clear Red Bull’s plan was for Perez to hold Hamilton up considerably to try and get Verstappen’s near eight-second deficit down.

On laps 20 and 21, the leading pair engaged in a thrilling fight, with Perez nipping back in front of Hamilton at Turn 6 after being passed with DRS on the outside, then when the Mercedes got ahead out of Turn 7 he used his own DRS activation to shoot back alongside and by through the Turn 8 kink and lead again into the new hairpin of Turn 9 at the end of the second straight.

Hamilton attacked at Turn 1 and was rebuffed by Perez, but then had another go with DRS into Turn 6, where he finally sealed his move back to first by cutting from the outside to inside to leave Perez nowhere to go.

Perez pitted at the end of lap 21 to take his own hards, his efforts to hold up Hamilton getting his teammate back to 1.7 seconds adrift.

But Hamilton was able to pull away again from his rival, his lead back to 4.2 seconds by the end of lap 30 – although he informed his team “it’s a long way to go [to the finish] on this set of tyres”.

That concern became of great importance six laps later when Verstappen was called for a second time to take a second set of hards, under a virtual safety car that had been activated when Antonio Giovinazzi’s last race for Alfa Romeo ended with a transmission problem and he pulled up at Turn 9’s exit.

Mercedes opted to retain track position and not take a cheaper pitstop, which set up a 20-lap chase to the finish with Verstappen on much fresher tyres and needing to close a 17s gap.

The Red Bull driver did immediately cut chunks from his rival’s advantage, but only in near half second chunks, which meant it still held at 13.9 seconds with 15 laps to go.

Verstappen continued to home in on Hamilton, with both having to get through a gaggle of backmarkers as the final ten laps approached.

But he still had to close an 11 seconds gap entering the final phase, with tensions raised by Lando Norris, who had dropped down from third at the start, falling out of fifth with a slow puncture – likely picked up on the new kerbs exiting Turns 5 and 9, which Hamilton was advised by Mercedes to avoid.

However, the race was altered dramatically when Latifi crashed exiting the Turn 14 left that leads out from underneath the hotel that straddles the final sector with six laps left – after the Williams had been battling Mick Schumacher through Turn 9 and gone after over the kerbs and then lost the rear of his car and slammed into the wall as he chased the Haas.

Red Bull brought Verstappen in for a third time to go to the softs, with Mercedes unable to bring Hamilton in as it would have meant sacrificing the lead.

The incident took almost the entire rest of the race to clear, which initially looked like it would benefit Hamilton as the lapped cars that had filtered between the leaders – Norris, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel – were not allowed to overtake the safety ahead of the restart.

But Masi reversed this call ahead of the final lap, with Hamilton backing up Verstappen considerably and then flooring it to try and bridge a gap.

He led on the last tour but Verstappen used his fresher rubber to stay close and then dive into a pass at the new Turn 5 left hairpin at the start of the middle sector and then weaving in defence on the straight down to Turn 6, where it had all kicked off over 90 minutes earlier.

Hamilton chased Verstappen on the run to Turn 9 but the Red Bull defend the inside and Hamilton had nowhere to go, sliding wide through the hairpin and coming home 2.2s as Verstappen took his first F1 world title.

Sainz ended up third as Perez was retired in the pits during the late safety car, with AlphaTauri pair Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly taking fourth and fifth ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who to work his way back up from a poor first lap – gaining when Norris suffered his puncture.

Norris took seventh ahead of Alonso and Ocon, with Leclerc rounding out the top ten, the second Ferrari losing ground after stopping during the VSC.

So a controversial end to this thrilling season. Mercedes and Hamilton felt robbed in losing the championship due to the safety car. Red Bull took advantage and Verstappen made the move on the final lap to seal the title. What a dramatic finale in a crazy championship. Congrats to Max Verstappen in becoming the 2021 champ.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:30:17.345
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +2.256
3 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari +5.173
4 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +5.692
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +6.531s
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +7.463s
7 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +59.200s
8 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +61.708s
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +64.026s
10 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +66.057s
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +67.527s
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
14 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +1 lap
15 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda DNF
– Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes DNF
– Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari DNF
– George Russell Williams-Mercedes DNF
– Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari DNF
– Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari DNS

Verstappen grabs pole position in season finale

Max Verstappen has taken a significant pole position in terms of the championship at stake. The Red Bull driver will start first in the season finale at Abu Dhabi beating Lewis Hamilton. A key point was Max’s pole was getting a tow from teammate Sergio Perez which led to being in P1.

The two title contenders will start Sunday’s race on different tyre strategies after Verstappen used the softs to go through Q2, where Hamilton progressed on the mediums, and they will start ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris with their respective teammates down in fourth and sixth.

On the first Q3 runs, Red Bull sent Perez out ahead of Verstappen and ordered him to push to create a gap while Verstappen carefully prepared his tyres, with Perez then moving out of his teammate’s way on the approach to the new Turn 9 long left hairpin at the end of the track’s second straight.

The tactic worked brilliantly for Verstappen, who set a one minute, 22.109 seconds that put him 0.551 seconds clear of Hamilton after the Mercedes driver completed his opening run, which featured a lock-up at the new Turn 5 hairpin at the start of the second sector.

Mercedes opted to head the pack for the final runs, where Hamilton improved, but shipped more time to Verstappen’s existing as his lap unfolded, to wind up 0.371 seconds adrift.

Red Bull didn’t repeat the tow tactic on the second Q3 runs, with Perez staying ahead of Verstappen all the way around as he set a personal best that still left him behind Norris’s one minute, 22.291 seconds.

Verstappen ended up slower than his first time on his second run, but it did not matter.

Carlos Sainz took fifth for Ferrari, ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who ran behind Hamilton on both runs for Mercedes in Q3, as the Black Arrows squad did not try a tow strategy.

Charles Leclerc took seventh ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, who lost a quicker lap on his first run in Q3 for running too wide out of the final corner, where the FIA is hotly policing track limits.

Esteban Ocon finished ninth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, with both drivers facing post-qualifying investigations for possible impeding incidents involving Sebastian Vettel, with Ocon’s occurring in Q1.

Q2 ended with chaotic scenes ahead of the final runs, where Verstappen switched to the softs after locking up on the set of mediums he had been running in the early part of the middle segment and flat-spotting the left front, using the red-walled rubber go quickest at that stage.

The pack were sent out en masse and things got so crowded at the final turns that Vettel stopped on the track just past the Turn 14 left where Kimi Raikkonen crashed in FP2.

He got going again but was eliminated in P15, with Fernando Alonso the highest profile faller – the Alpine driver also annoyed by traffic late in his final lap as he came across Ricciardo going through the final corner in an incident that will be investigated after the session.

Ricciardo’s last-gasp improvement then knocked out Alonso, who finished ahead of Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi.

Gasly, who also faces a post-session investigation alongside Vettel for an incident that involved them getting in each other’s way on the pit straight during the middle part of Q2, felt his brakes were too cold on his final run.

Q1, which Hamilton topped, was interrupted by a short red flag after Mick Schumacher knocked a bollard from inside the apex of the final corner, with Norris then sending it up into the air after it was sucked under his front wing when he subsequently came by.

But once it was retrieved the action got going again, with Stroll’s last lap knocking out Nicholas Latifi in P16.

Latifi ended up ahead of George Russell, who’s excellent qualifying record for Williams ended on a down note as he was eliminated in P17, ruing his tyres being “absolutely nowhere” and criticising his team’s run plan late in the opening segment.

Raikkonen’s final Formula 1 qualifying session ended with him P18 in the Alfa Romeo, the Iceman pitting with a few seconds remaining ahead of the chequered flag falling.

The two Haas cars brought up the rear of the field once again, with Schumacher, who had two trips through the Turn 1 runoff during Q1, ending ahead of Nikita Mazepin.

So a thrilling qualifying session with Max Verstappen scoring ten pole this season. This P1 is an important step in terms of the championship and it’s going to be fascinating in terms of strategy in the race at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday. Bring it on!

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:22.109
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:22.480
3 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:22.931
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:22.947
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:22.992
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:23.036
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:23.122
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:23.220
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:23.389
10 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:23.409
11 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:23.460
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:24.043
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:24.066
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:24.251
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:24.305
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:24.338
17 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:24.423
18 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:24.779
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:24.906
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:25.685

Hamilton wins chaotic race

What an insane race at Jeddah with so much drama and controversy in Formula 1’s first Saudi Arabian race, which was twice red-flagged plus the two title rivals clashed twice in ugly and near farcical scenes.

The race had three different pole-sitters for three standing starts, two of which followed heavy accidents that left the long, fast Jeddah track strewn with debris.

There were four virtual safety car periods across an event where Hamilton and Verstappen went wheel-to-wheel three times at the first corner – with Verstappen twice being ordered to hand a position back his title rival after completing moves off track.

When he slowed to allow Hamilton by for the latest controversy at that turn, they crashed into each other as Verstappen tried to let Hamilton by on the approach to the final corner in an incident that is being investigated now the crazy contest has ended.

At the first start, Hamilton and Bottas leapt off the line in unison, with Bottas holding his line on the inside run to the first corner to guard against a Verstappen dive, with the Dutchman slotting in behind them in the same third position as he started.

The biggest danger for Verstappen came from teammate Sergio Perez getting very close to his left-rear as the Red Bull driver locked up trying to dive by Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari on the outside line.

The move got Perez fractionally ahead of Leclerc but it cost him momentum going around the long right-hander of Turn 2 and the Ferrari was able to pull back ahead and set off after the leaders.

The top three were able to lap in the low one minute, 34 seconds in the early laps, with Leclerc and those behind in the one minute, 35 seconds and slower, which meant there was quickly a gap behind Verstappen.

As Bottas was able to hold the Red Bull at just over a second as the leaders increased their pace into the one minute, 33 seconds as the first ten laps of 50 came to an end, Hamilton was instructed to create a gap to his teammate to avoid the Finn running in too much dirty air and damaging his tyres.

Hamilton’s lead over Bottas had just reached 2.0 seconds – and 3.4 seconds over Verstappen – when the race was interrupted by a safety car period activated after Mick Schumacher lost the rear of his Haas running through the fast left-hand kink of Turn 22 (where Leclerc crashed in FP3 in a very similar incident) on lap 10.

Mercedes called Hamilton in to switch from the mediums to the hards, with Bottas doing likewise, but only after he’d dropped to seven seconds behind the leader, which enraged Verstappen and Red Bull.

Verstappen then did not follow the Mercedes cars into the pits and therefore headed the queue in front of Hamilton, Bottas and fellow non-stoppers Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo, who was the lead runner to have started on the hards.

But after four laps behind the safety car the race was red flagged, which gave Red Bull the chance to change Verstappen’s tyres to the hards and not lose position, which enraged Hamilton, who repeatedly question the need to stop the race before he climbed out his car in the pitlane.

After a near 20-minute stoppage, the race resumed with a second grid start – after Hamilton had complained about Verstappen appearing to do a practice start as he left the pitlane and Verstappen was livid with Hamilton dropping so far behind on the approach to the grid.

At the second start, Hamilton rocketed alongside and past Verstappen immediately, but the Red Bull shot back to the Mercedes’ outside as they braked and turned in for Turn 1, then cut Turn 2 to get back ahead of Hamilton as they both moved wide.

With Hamilton cost momentum moving back left as Verstappen rejoined ahead, Ocon nipped by to run second as he had passed Bottas when the Finn locked up at the first corner.

In the pack behind, Leclerc spun Perez into the wall as they ran side-by-side on the exit of Turn 2, with the Red Bull having been just ahead as they race around the ensuing Turn 3 right, and that set off a chain reaction that led to Nikita Mazepin rear-ending George Russell – unsighted as the Williams and others braked ahead.

Perez, Mazepin and Russell were out immediately, with the race red flagged again for 20 minutes as the wreckage was cleared.

During the stoppage, Red Bull and Mercedes had a series of radio calls with race director Michael Masi, who suggested Verstappen accept being moved behind Ocon and Hamilton for the third standing start or he would refer the Turn 1 incident the stewards.

Red Bull accepted the decision and so the grid formed up again, with the top three split on tyre strategy – Ocon and Hamilton still on the hards and Verstappen back to the mediums, as was Ricciardo and Bottas behind him.

When the lights went out for a third time, latest polesitter Ocon found Hamilton immediately alongside him as the raced away from the front row, but Verstappen swerved from the outside line to cut off Ricciardo and then dive down the inside of both leaders at Turn 1.

Hamilton touched Ocon after a brief jink right as Verstappen shot down his inside, with the Alpine cutting Turn 2 after going deep at Turn 1 following the light touch with the Mercedes and Ocon rejoined in front of Verstappen before swiftly handing first place to the Red Bull.

Verstappen opened up a 1.3 seconds lead by the end of lap 17, the third restart lap, with Hamilton then breezing by Ocon on the approach to Turn 1 at the start of the following tour.

That set up the latest duel between the two title rivals at the head of the pack, as they quickly pulled clear of Ocon, who was five seconds adrift by the start of lap 20, swapping fastest laps as the only drivers able to lack in the 1m32s bracket.

On lap 23 the race was interrupted again – this time because of a virtual safety car activated after Yuki Tsunoda and Sebastian Vettel getting together at Turn 2 and the AlphaTauri’s front wing needing to be recovered from the run off.

The suspension was short and at the very end of the following lap the race went green again and Hamilton’s chase of Verstappen resumed – their pace immediately reaching the 1m31s.

But second and third VSC activations were needed so more debris could be cleared in the tours approach the lap 30 mark – following Vettel having a clash with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 4 after his clash with Tsunoda, for which the AlphaTauri driver was given a five-second time addition penalty, had dropped him down the order.

The third VSC was much longer than the second and lasted from lap 29 to a few corners into lap 33, at the end of which Verstappen had a 1.2s lead, but the full speed conditions lasted just three further tours as another piece of debris needed to be recovered under a fourth VSC from the entry to Turn 14.

But that interruption lasted just a few seconds, with then Hamilton getting a close run behind Verstappen at the start of lap 37 – passing the Red Bull with DRS on the outside run to Turn 1.

But Verstappen again stayed on the inside and both went deep, much like at Turn 4 at Interlagos, with the Red Bull then sliding wide and cutting Turn 2 and staying ahead as both went off the track.

Red Bull instructed Verstappen to let Hamilton by later on lap 37 and he slowed on the approach to the final corner – where the Mercedes went into the back of the Red Bull in confusing scenes for both, which ripped off the right-side of his front wing.

After a few laps with Verstappen still ahead, during which Mercedes and Masi argued over what had happened on the run to Turn 27, the Red Bull driver again slowed to let Hamilton by at the same corner – but this time, once the Mercedes was through, Verstappen nipped back ahead to retake the lead as they rounded the left-hand hairpin.

In the aftermath of that incident as lap 43 began, Verstappen was handed a five-second time addition penalty and he then appeared to slow again to let by Hamilton at the final corner.

This time, Verstappen attacked back on the outside, with Hamilton getting a warning for edging him into the runoff as the Briton stayed ahead.

Hamilton moved clear from there as Verstappen’s mediums began to give up and he backed off to make the finish, 11.8s adrift, with Hamilton having enough pace despite his damage to secure the fastest lap.

Ocon lost third to Bottas on the line as the second Mercedes used DRS to overcome the Alpine – having battled by Ricciardo a few laps earlier and started a late charge to rescue a podium.

Pierre Gasly finished sixth ahead of Ferrari pair Leclerc and Sainz – the former having lost ground after the third restart – with Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris rounding out the top ten.

So a chaotic race full of incidents. Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton in taking victory and the championship now goes down to the wire in the season finale.

Race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2:06:15.118
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda +11.825s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +27.531s
4 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +27.633s
5 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +40.121s
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +41.613s
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +44.475s
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari +46.606s
9 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +58.505s
10 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +61.358s
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +77.212s
12 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +83.249s
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +1 lap
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
15 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari +1 lap
– Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes DNF
– Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda DNF
– Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari DNF
– George Russell Williams-Mercedes DNF
– Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari DNF

Hamilton on pole as Verstappen crashes

This was a dramatic qualifying session between the championship contenders as Lewis Hamilton scored a vital pole position while Max Verstappen was on an epic, flying lap but made a mistake and crashed in the final corner.

Valtteri Bottas was second and this result gives Mercedes a front row lock-out ahead of their rival.

Red Bull sent Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez out several minutes later into Q3 and the former slotted in ahead of the Mercedes drivers with a one minute, 27.653 seconds on his first flying attempt in the final segment, after which he decried he needed “a tow” despite being 0.382 seconds ahead of Hamilton, who’s second attempt had looked ragged.

After a trip to the pits to alter his front wing settings, Hamilton put in a third and final flier that put him back to first place on a one minute, 27.511 seconds, albeit without the fastest time in the first sector.

Bottas followed his teammate in completing a third run, having taken his second attempt later than Hamilton’s, with Verstappen therefore the last of the three to complete a final lap – his second flier of Q3.

Verstappen appeared to be right on the limit all the way around the lap, nearly clipping the wall as he exited Turn 2 and rocketing to purple sectors in the opening tour thirds of the lap.

That put him 0.244 seconds in front of Hamilton’s time at that stage, but as he braked for the left-hand hairpin at the final corner his braking went wrong.

He locked up and when he picked up the throttle early in an attempt to recover the time he slid way and crashed into the wall on the outside, stopping near the inside wall on the approach to the pitlane.

This ended his qualifying challenge and it was a disappointment as without this mistake, this would have been the lap of the season as Verstappen was pushing way over the limit. Despite this, the championship leader is still third on the grid.

Charles Leclerc took fourth after his heavy crash in FP2, finishing ahead of Perez and Pierre Gasly.

Lando Norris finished seventh with Yuki Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi rounding out the top ten.

All the top ten runners bar Norris will start Sunday’s race on the medium compound after getting through the middle segment on that rubber.

Hamilton topped Q2, where Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen were the highest place fallers – the latter also clipping Bottas as he went around the Mercedes driver out of the final corner as they returned to the pits in an incident the stewards decided did not need investigating.

Fernando Alonso’s late personal best lap could not save the Alpine driver from elimination in P14 ahead of George Russell and Carlos Sainz.

Sainz had a wild opening two segments to qualifying, appearing to get impeded by Gasly at Turn 3 in Q1 – an incident that is being investigated now the session has ended – and then half-spinning at the exit of the fast Turn 10 90-degree right late in the first sector mid-way through Q2.

Sainz said he “saved” the incident, but his right-side rear wing endplate brushed the wall as he shot sideways and was sitting at an odd angle for the rest of the session, where the Ferrari driver had a hard time controlling his Ferrari and ended up P15.

In Q1, which was topped by Perez, Nicholas Latifi and Sebastian Vettel set personal bests right at the end but were eliminated in P16 and P17, with Lance Stroll abandoning his final flier as he was not set to improve.

Stroll therefore took P18 ahead of Mick Schumacher, who did complete a personal best right at the end of the segment but could climb no higher than P19, with Nikita Mazepin finishing last.

So a thrilling qualifying session and the speed around this Jeddah street circuit was insane. Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton in scoring an important pole position as the championship is reaching its climax. As for Max Verstappen, his final Q3 lap was looking special but pushed too hard and P3 is the end result. Can he fight back in the race? Bring on Sunday.

Qualifying results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:27.511
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:27.622
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:27.653
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:28.054
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:28.123
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:28.125
7 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.180
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:28.442
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:28.647
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:28.754
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.668
12 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:28.885
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:28.920
14 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:29.054
15 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:53.652
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:29.177
17 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:29.198
18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:29.368
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:29.464
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:30.473

Hamilton wins in Qatar as Alonso finishes on the podium

Lewis Hamilton took a commanding victory in Formula 1’s first Qatar Grand Prix while title rival Max Verstappen was able to recover from a grid penalty after ignoring yellow flags in qualifying to take P2.

Yet the best moment in this race is Fernando Alonso finishing an excellent third position for Alpine. The double champion benefitted from grid penalties and late-race drama over punctures to make it through on an one-stop strategy.

At the start, Hamilton immediately moved towards the inside to cover off Pierre Gasly’s run into the first corner, swooping ahead of the AlphaTauri as Fernando Alonso closed up behind him.

By covering off Gasly’s line, Hamilton had an easy time in the long, right-hand Turn 1, with Gasly and Alonso trailing in his wake – while behind Verstappen, who had shot immediately past the slow-starting Valtteri Bottas, the pair starting sixth and seventh thanks to their grid penalties, followed Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz into the first corner.

As that pair went deep, Verstappen got ahead on the inside and had enough momentum to draw alongside Alonso, who swung across unsighted and forced the Red Bull to move half onto the AstroTurf runoff and back off into the long left-hand Turn 2.

But Verstappen managed to stay ahead of Norris and chase on after the leaders, with Alonso, up ahead, then fighting by Gasly into Turn 3.

Hamilton finished the first lap with a margin of 1.8 seconds clear of his former McLaren teammate and he continued to pull clear as Verstappen complained he was “stuck” behind Gasly.

The AlphaTauri driver went wide at the final corner at the end of lap three – possibly in a stage-managed manoeuvre to allow his stablemate by, with Verstappen easily nipping ahead as they ran down the pit straight to start the fourth lap.

At the end of that tour, Verstappen closed on Alonso using DRS and on lap five was easily ahead of the Alpine by the Turn 1 braking zone, already facing a 4.4 seconds deficit to Hamilton.

Formula 1’s leading pair promptly disappeared ahead of Alonso, who was nearly 20 seconds off the lead by the end of the race’s first ten laps, but during this phase Verstappen reported possible front wing damage after a heavy kerb strike during the initial laps after he had reached second.

Red Bull first reported that everything looked out, but Verstappen reporting lift-off oversteer going through Turn 1 was put down to likely front wing endplate damage.

He was initially able to match Hamilton in the mid-one minute, 23 seconds, but as the Mercedes driver increased his pace and reached the high one minute, 27 seconds, the Red Bull driver could not keep up and began to steadily fall further back.

The gap between the leaders was close to ten seconds when Red Bull brought Verstappen in at the end of lap 17 to switch from the mediums he and Hamilton had started on to take the hards – rejoining just in front of the yet-to-stop Alonso.

Mercedes brought Hamilton in the following lap, despite the world champion insisting his tyres were “good” and saying “don’t stop me too early” – the leader also moving to the hards as his team mirrored Verstappen’s strategy.

The earlier stop helped Verstappen shave a chunk from Hamilton’s lead, which stood at 8.3 seconds at the end of the Mercedes driver’s out-lap.

From there, the pair traded fastest laps across the next phase of the race, with Verstappen steadily working the gap between them down to 6.7 seconds just past half-distance, after insisting to Red Bull they should “have a bit of fun” pushing on with second place already secure.

The main focus for the majority of the race had became about who would finish third, with Alonso holding onto the final podium spot throughout the opening stint.

He came in on to switch from softs to hards on lap 23, rejoining just in front of Ricciardo, who was yet to come in, and the charging Sergio Perez, who had already come in to go from mediums to hards as part of his rise from P11 on the grid.

Alonso defied Perez for a few laps – including as they passed the long-running Charles Leclerc, who locked up when Alonso attacked at Turn 1 and went deep after moving to defend late against the Alpine – with the Checo then getting by in a close wheel-to-wheel battle through the opening two corners on lap 29.

But Bottas was also a consideration for Perez as he had heeded Toto Wolff’s rallying call to get stuck in amongst the cars that had passed him on his fall to P11 off the line, with Mercedes then leaving him out on the mediums until five laps past the halfway point.

On lap 33, Bottas suffered a sudden left-front puncture as he approached the Turn 6 hairpin, with the Finn the dropping into the gravel as he struggled to control his W12 in scenes similar to the end of the 2020 British Grand Prix.

He had to do nearly a whole lap with the tyre deflated, dropping behind Perez and Alonso, and raising concerns for the leaders.

With both Hamilton and Verstappen reporting vibrations on their hards approaching the final 15 laps, Red Bull kicked off the second round of stops for the leaders by pitting Verstappen at the end of lap 41 and Hamilton coming in again at the end of the following tour.

As they went back to the mediums, the gap between them 8.4 seconds having been going back towards ten seconds before Verstappen stopped, their focus became about trying to claim the fastest lap bonus point.

In the race for third, Perez had come in on the same lap as Verstappen and had to battle his way past several cars trying to hold on on the one-stopper despite the puncture threat.

This included Alonso, Norris and Esteban Ocon in the second Alpine, who was asked to defend as aggressively against Perez when he rose back up the order as his teammate had late in the Hungarian Grand Prix to save the team’s win against a charging Hamilton.

After passing Lance Stroll a few laps after emerging from his second stop, which he complained about getting on his radio, on lap 47, Perez used DRS to get a run on Ocon down the pit straight.

Ocon defended the inside but Perez rocketed around the outside and although Ocon attacked back into Turn 2 and Turn 4 he was unable to get back ahead.

That set-up a showdown for the final spot on the podium, with Perez still needing to pass Norris and catch Alonso, but a spate of late punctures meant the battle was ultimately neutered.

George Russell’s left front left let go with six laps remaining and on the next lap his teammate Nicholas Latifi had the same tyre on his set of tyres puncture as he ran down the pit straight.

Although Russell had been able to limp back to the pits, Latifi stopped at the Turn 6 hairpin and a short while later – just after Norris had come in with his own suspected puncture – the virtual safety car was activated.

Red Bull pitted Verstappen for a third time and he rejoined so far back from Hamilton that he still had a full final lap to go when the race went green again with the leader well into his final tour.

That meant that even though Verstappen already held the fastest lap after he and Hamilton exchanged it during the early laps on their second set of mediums – Verstappen’s third stint – he used the softs he had been given to seal the fastest lap with a one minute, 23.196 seconds as he took the chequered flag 25.7 seconds behind his title rival.

The VSC prevented Perez from carving into Alonso’s advantage and meant Fernando did not have to abandon his one-stopper.

Alonso therefore held on take the first podium of his Formula 1 comeback by 2.8 seconds in front of Perez, with Ocon and Stroll following them home.

The Ferrari pair were in a ones-stoppers’ DRS train behind Ocon before the VSC and they stayed their even as the race resumed late on to take seventh and eighth as the last lapped runners.

Norris’s late stop meant he dropped to ninth, with Sebastian Vettel taking the final point – his one-stopper combining with the VSC to help him again ground after falling back at the start.

The VSC also thwarted Gasly’s attempts to make his two-stopper work, the AlphaTauri driver one of the first to stop in the first stint and being unable to follow Perez through the one-stoppers.

Russell ended up P17 while Mercedes retired Bottas in the pits just before the late-puncture drama.

So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton with this race victory. The Mercedes driver is not giving up the championship fight against Max Verstappen. Just two races to go. As for Fernando Alonso, super happy to see the double champion back on the podium. The last time Fernando was on the podium was back in 2014. How time flies and welcome back!

Qatar Grand Prix, race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24:28.471
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda +25.743s
3 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +59.457s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda +62.306s
5 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +80.570s
6 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +81.274s
7 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari +81.911s
8 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +83.126s
9 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
10 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
11 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
16 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +1 lap
17 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +2 laps
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +2 laps
– Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes DNF
– Valtteri Bottas Mercedes DNF

Hamilton takes pole position at Qatar

Lewis Hamilton was in total control in qualifying for the Qatar Grand Prix to take pole position ahead of championship rival Max Verstappen.

Valtteri Bottas finished third, with the final runs in Q3 featuring Pierre Gasly, who ended up fourth position getting a dramatic puncture at the end of his final lap.

Hamilton led the way after the opening runs in the final stages with a time of one minute, 21.262 seconds, with Verstappen edging ahead of Bottas but still with 0.162 seconds gap to close.

But Hamilton, who ran at the head of the pack for the final Q3 run, put pole out of reach almost from the off on his final lap, as he smashed the fastest time in the opening sector by over 0.3 seconds.

Lewis held his advantage as he completed his run, setting a one minute, 20.827 seconds – the only driver to reach the one minute, 20 seconds as he became scored the first Formula 1 pole at the Losail track.

Behind Hamilton on the track right at the end, Gasly ran very wide out the high-speed 90-degree right of Turn 15 ahead of the final corner – the AlphaTauri bouncing over the raised exit kerbs where its front wing and left front practically exploded.

Gasly carried on around the final corner, which meant yellow flags briefly flew, but they were in before Bottas and Verstappen came around.

The former could not improve his Q3 personal best and stayed third, while Verstappen was able to go quicker but not by enough as he wound up second 0.651 seconds slower than Hamilton.

The front three will start Sunday’s main race on the medium compound after getting through Q2 on that compound, as did Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

Gasly remained fourth despite his late drama, with Fernando Alonso taking fifth despite abandoning his final Q3 lap.

Lando Norris set a personal best on his final lap to score sixth ahead of Sainz, with Yuki Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel rounding out the top ten.

Ocon’s ninth place followed the Alpine driver complaining about severe vibrations as he braked during Q1.

In Q2, Sergio Perez was a shock elimination in P11 – the Red Bull was one of several drivers that had to abandon their plans to progress on the mediums, but his one minute, 22.346 seconds on the softs was not enough to beat Sainz’s lap on the mediums, which meant the Ferrari driver squeaked through the second segment on the preferable race tyre in P10.

Lance Stroll was P12 ahead of Charles Leclerc, who was left perplexed at his lack of pace throughout Q2.

He was slowest of the 15 runner after the opening efforts with most cars on the mediums and although he improved after taking the softs it was only good enough for P13.

Daniel Ricciardo had a similar story as he was eliminated in P14, ahead of George Russell, who completed an offset run plan in the middle segment – setting his final lap with just under five minutes remaining while the track was otherwise empty.

Although he made it a clean sweep of Q2 eliminated runners to produce a personal best on the final efforts, his one minute, 22.756 seconds eventually had him shuffled back to P15.

In Q1, Kimi Raikkonen was edged out by Stroll’s late improvement, which meant he was knocked out in P16, just ahead of Nicholas Latifi, who was the first driver to take the chequered flag at the end of opening segment and was the only eliminated Q1 runner not to set a personal best on their final effort.

Antonio Giovinazzi was P18 ahead of the two Haas cars, with Mick Schumacher leading Nikita Mazepin.

Mazepin’s difficult event continued in Q1, as his FP2 absence as he was switched to a new chassis and the FP3 red flag caused by an engine control unit problem were followed by his front wing hanging at a funny angle during the early stages.

It meant he had to pit to get it changed, the first wing dragging along the floor by its endplates due to the drop, and Mazepin eventually ended up last with a best time over two seconds slower than Schumacher’s.

So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton with a fine qualifying lap to pole position. The Mercedes W12 looks so fast and hooked up around this track. With title rival Max Verstappen on the front row, it’s going to be a fascinating race.

Qatar Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.827
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:21.282
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:21.478
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:21.640
5 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:21.670
6 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:21.731
7 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:21.840
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:21.881
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:22.028
10 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:22.785
11 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:22.346
12 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:22.460
13 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:22.463
14 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:22.597
15 Kingdom George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:22.756
16 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:23.156
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:23.213
18 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:23.262
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:23.407
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:25.859

Hamilton passes Verstappen to be victorious in Brazil

With a grid penalty heading into the Sao Paulo Grand Prix following an engine change, then a shocking disqualification over a DRS technical issue after being on pole, Lewis Hamilton drove a brilliant, fighting race in both the sprint and the main race to take victory.

Hamilton charged from tenth on the grid to win the Interlagos race, beating world title rival Max Verstappen in a thrilling and controversial wheel-to-wheel duel.

Verstappen took second position ahead of Valtteri Bottas, with the Red Bull driver getting a warning from the FIA for his defending against Hamilton at one stage, although escaping an investigation for an incident that had both title contenders going off track at Turn 4.

At the start, in a near repeat of the sprint race getaway, Verstappen this time accelerated better from the left-hand side of the grid and was immediately alongside polesitter Bottas, who hung on around the outside of the first corner.

But Verstappen ran the Mercedes out wide on the exit of the first part of the Senna Esses to seal the move and take the race lead.

Just behind, Lando Norris got an excellent start to shoot alongside the slow-starting Carlos Sainz in third, with the McLaren going far to the right of the track as it passed the Ferrari, but as Norris drifted back left in preparation to taking the first corners, the two touch and the Briton picked up an immediate puncture.

While he ran off track and fell to the rear of the pack, Valtteri’s slower movement through the opening corners after being nearly fully off track at the exit of Turn 1 meant Perez was able to get alongside him as they raced down the second straight.

As the braked for the downhill Turn 4 left at the end, Bottas slid wide as he could not hold his speed on the tighter line, giving Perez third as the following Ferraris – led by Charles Leclerc after Sainz’s poor start – and Pierre Gasly also briefly shot through the Turn 4 runoff.

Verstappen had a 1.2-second lead over Perez at the end of the first lap of 71, by which point Hamilton had already gained three positions in the start melee from his tenth grid slot and then passed Sebastian Vettel to take sixth at the start of lap two.

He passed Sainz and Leclerc at the same spot in successive laps, with Bottas then ordered to pull over at the start of lap five and give his teammate third place.

But on the following tour the race was neutralised by the safety car, which was dispatched so the marshals could clear a significant amount of debris at the opening turns, which followed Lance Stroll and Yuki Tsunoda – the only driver not to start on the mediums, the AlphaTauri running the softs from the off – clashing at Turn 1 as they fought over 12th and Tsunoda losing his front wing.

The race restarted on lap 10, with Verstappen waiting until he was halfway down the grid hatchings before blasting clear, with the two Red Bulls able to stay out of Hamilton’s attack range behind.

Verstappen immediately restored his lead to 1.3 seconds over his teammate, who had Hamilton just 0.4 seconds behind, but the race was then neutralised by the virtual safety car as the marshals needed to clear more debris at Turn 1 – this time stemming from a clash between Mick Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen at the rear of the pack, which the Haas with a badly damaged from wing.

The race went green again halfway through lap 14, with Verstappen’s advantage maintained and Hamilton so back at Perez’s rear once again.

The top four then quickly pulled clear of the Ferrari pair, lapping in the low-mid one minute, 14 seconds with the rest back in the one minute, 15 seconds and slower.

Perez asked Red Bull to get Verstappen to give him DRS as he fought to keep Hamilton at bay, but the leader continued to pull clear, his lead 2.4 seconds at the start of lap 18.

Here, Hamilton used DRS to get a rapid run to Perez’s outside and he jumped ahead with a brilliant move late on the brakes at the plunging left-hander, but the Mexican fought back with DRS down the second straight and retook second with a similarly impressive move to the outside of that left-hander.

A lap later, with Verstappen’s lead up to 3.7 seconds as the following pair squabbled, Hamilton made an identical move but this time Perez could not stay in his wake and the Mercedes driver was clear in second.

He initially cut Verstappen’s gap by a few tenths running in free air, but the leader then gradually responded and increased his advantage back towards the four-second mark as their mediums began to fade.

Now a two-horse race up front, Mercedes brought Hamilton in at the end of lap 26 to take the hards, with Verstappen being brought in at the end of the following lap.

Although Hamilton’s undercut advantage was reduced by having to pass Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren, the earlier move to the fresher rubber meant he cut Verstappen’s advantage to just over a second.

After the leaders negotiated a second VSC starting on lap 30 – called for more debris falling off Stroll’s car as he raced by Nicholas Latifi down the main straight, a legacy of his earlier shunt with Tsunoda, for which the Japanese driver was handed a ten seconds time addition – Hamilton was running just out of DRS threat behind his title rival.

Red Bull reassured Verstappen he was continuing to be quicker in the middle part of lap, as he had all weekend, with Hamilton’s less-draggy car faster along the straights that make up most of the rest of the lap at Interlagos.

By this point Bottas was back to third as he gained by pitting under the VSC, which meant he was able to jump Perez, who had made a green-flag pitstop the lap after Verstappen.

The gap between the leaders ebbed and flowed ever so slightly over the next ten laps, with Red Bull then pulling the trigger first to kick off the second round of stops at the end of lap 40 – Verstappen coming in to get a fresh set of hards.

Mercedes left Hamilton out for three extra laps, after which he rejoined 2.6 seconds behind – having briefly looked like he might be left out to run long, as he was at Austin.

Hamilton was much quicker early in the third stint, setting a string of fastest laps in the low one minute, 12 seconds and high one minute, 11 seconds, which meant he carved into Verstappen’s lead and finally reached DRS range.

On lap 48, just after Hamilton had made a small jink to the inside of Turn 1, to which Verstappen reacted, the Mercedes was close enough to mount an attack into Turn 4.

Although Hamilton got ahead on the outside line, Verstappen fought back on the inside and steamed back towards Hamilton, the pair both going off track on the exit of the left-hander, but with the Red Bull still ahead.

The incident was noted by the stewards but they decided not investigation was necessary, which frustrated Mercedes in its broadcast discussions with race director Michael Masi.

Verstappen held his lead at just under a second over the next phase of the race – at one point weaving down the second straight, which earned him a black/white warning flag, as Hamilton had a second attack into Turn 4, this time failing to get far enough alongside the Red Bull mean Verstappen had to defend as firmly as he did before.

But on lap 59, Hamilton again forced Verstappen to react to a little look to the inside of Turn 1, which again meant the Red Bull was slower down the second straight after being on a less than ideal line through the rest of the Esses.

Hamilton was therefore much closer with DRS and this time got ahead before the braking zone, the world champion sweeping from the outside to the inside just before Turn 4 and sealing the move into first place.

He edged clear over the final 12 laps to win by 10.4 seconds, as Bottas could not heed Mercedes boss Toto Wolff’s rallying cry to “go and get” Verstappen – the Finn finishing 3.0 seconds, behind Verstappen in third.

Perez was set to finish not far behind Bottas in fourth before Red Bull pitted him for a third time to take softs right at the end, which he used to set the fastest lap on the final tour, as behind him Leclerc led Sainz home in fifth and sixth for Ferrari – the Scuderia giving its drivers a slightly different two-stop approach with mediums for the first two stints.

Gasly battled by the one-stopping Alpines late-on to recover seventh on his two-stopper, with Fernando Alonso leading Esteban Ocon in eighth and ninth.

Norris took the final point after his lap one time loss was negated by the safety car and he rose back to the points – aided by teammate Ricciardo retiring late-on with a power problem and Stroll also parking his car in the pits not long before Ricciardo.

So an exciting Sao Paulo Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton suffering so many penalties and yet the impressive speed meant he won the race from Max Verstappen. This was Hamilton’s victory number 101 and one of his finest in the sport. Kudos!

Sao Paulo Grand Prix, race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32:22.851
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda +10.496s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +13.576s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda +39.940s
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +49.517s
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari +51.820s
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
8 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +1 lap
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +1 lap
10 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
12 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
13 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
17 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +2 laps
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +2 laps
– Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes DNF
– Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes DNF

Bottas wins sprint qualifying in Brazil

Valtteri Bottas made a great start to take pole position off Max Verstappen after winning the Brazilian sprint qualifying race. Yet the star performer was Lewis Hamilton who was rapid in the Mercedes. From last to fifth position.

At the start, Bottas’s soft tyres appeared to give him considerably better grip off the line, as he powered alongside Verstappen despite appearing to react slightly slower to the five red lights going out.

Valtteri was alongside the polesitter at the apex of Turn 1 and moved ahead, as Verstappen quickly came under pressure from Carlos Sainz, who was also on the softs for the start and used them to pass Sergio Perez for third position at Turn 1.

Sainz was all over Verstappen down the second straight and at the Turn 4 right at the end the pair went side by side, with the latter having to go off track and rejoined behind the Ferrari, Verstappen hitting the kerbs at the edge of the runoff hard as he did so, kicking up a plume of dirt.

But he was able to chase after Sainz as Bottas moved clear in the lead, shadowing the Ferrari for a few laps before using DRS to move back into second with an easy move to the inside of the first corner at the start of the fourth tour of 24.

Verstappen chased after Bottas, setting a string of fastest laps as he closed the Mercedes driver’s lead, which had at one stage with Sainz behind reached 2.5 seconds, to under two seconds as they quickly raced clear of the Ferrari – the leading pair the only drivers able to lap in the one minute, 12 seconds bracket.

The Red Bull driver continued to chip away at Bottas’s advantage as the race went on, getting within DRS range by the start of lap 15.

But he was unable to get much closer over the next couple of laps and dropped back beyond one-second adrift as Red Bull told him to “bide your time”.

Heading into the final tours, which featured heavy clouds building up behind Turn 4, Verstappen did surge back to briefly run within the DRS range, but he never got close enough to make a move and he finished 1.1 seconds adrift, as Bottas claimed his second Formula 1 sprint race win of the season.

Bottas will therefore start Sunday’s main race from pole ahead of Verstappen – the reverse of how they lined up in this event.

In third, Sainz fended off the attentions of Perez for the rest of the event, coming home 18.7 seconds behind Bottas.

In the pack behind, Hamilton, on the medium tyres, gained five places on the first lap alone, with the world champion immediately getting into P14 at the start of the second lap.

He made steadier progress from there, using DRS to dispatch AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and then passing Antonio Giovinazzi and Fernando Alonso to reach the edge of the top ten by the start of lap nine.

But with Daniel Ricciardo running ahead in tenth, much as was the case for Bottas in last Sunday’s Mexico City race, Hamilton struggled to pass the customer Mercedes-engine-running McLaren.

At the end of lap 12, Hamilton got close enough to Ricciardo to close in with DRS and steam ahead on the outside line to Turn 1 at the start of the next lap, quickly pulling clear to chase Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin in ninth position.

After a couple of laps trailing Vettel, Hamilton powered by in near identical fashion to his pass on Ricciardo and then easily raced by Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly on the grid hatchings in successive laps to reach seventh place at the start of the 17th lap.

From there he had a few laps in clear air closing the gap to Charles Leclerc, unlike Sainz the second Ferrari driver was running the mediums, with Hamilton reaching the one minute, 12 seconds just as far ahead the leaders had slipped back to the one minute, 13 seconds.

At the start of lap 20 Hamilton was right with Leclerc, using DRS to blast by on the inside line into Turn 4 to rise to sixth and head off after Lando Norris, who had earlier muscled his way past Leclerc on his rise from seventh on the grid.

Hamilton roared up to his countryman’s rear over as the final laps ticked down, eventually seizing fifth with a bold lap move to Norris’s inside at the start of the final lap.

He eventually finished just 20.8 seconds behind Bottas, with Norris, Leclerc, Gasly, Ocon and Vettel completing the top ten in the order Hamilton had passed them.

Hamilton will start P10 for Sunday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix as a result of his grid penalty for taking a new internal combustion engine for this event.

The only incident of note concerned the two Alfa Romeo drivers, who collided at the Turn 1 apex at the start of the race’s second lap, after they had gone either side of Alonso (who finished P12) in an early scrap over P11.

Raikkonen locked up as he swung towards Giovinazzi on the inside of the right-hander, with the Italian’s right-front touching his teammate’s left-rear and spinning him around and into the runoff at the edge of the track.

Over the rest of the race, Raikkonen recovered two spots to beat the Haas drivers to P18.

So an entertaining sprint qualifying race, helped by Lewis Hamilton getting disqualified over a DRS technical issue following Friday’s qualifying, by starting last and making amazing progress.

As for his Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas did a superb job to jump Max Verstappen at the start and held off the championship leader to win pole position.

Sprint race results:
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 29:09.559
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1.170
3 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 18.723
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 19.787
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 20.872
6 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 22.558
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 25.056
8 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 34.158
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 34.632
10 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 34.867
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 35.869
12 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 36.578
13 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 41.880
14 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 44.037
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 46.150
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 46.760
17 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 47.739
18 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 50.014
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:01.680
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:07.474

Hamilton dominates Brazil qualifying

Lewis Hamilton was in the fast zone by dominating Friday’s qualifying at Interlagos, setting the pace in all three segments and finishing ahead of title rival Max Verstappen.

The two championship contenders will start Formula 1’s third sprint race from the front row of the grid, with Hamilton set to drop five places on the grid for the main event from wherever he finishes in the first race.

Hamilton, who led FP1, was in commanding form throughout qualifying, leading in Q1 and Q2 before heading the pack with a one minute, 08.107 seconds after the first runs in Q3.

As is required for the sprint race arrangement, the drivers used the soft compound throughout qualifying, with Verstappen noting he was struggling with overheating on the red-walled rubber mid-way through his first run in the final segment.

But the Dutchman could not improve on the second goes, clunking the Turn 2 kerb in the middle of the Senna Esses and then losing more time with a slide out of Turn 12 – the last real corner in the final sector.

That meant he did not set a personal best on his final run, where Hamilton went quicker still – ending up with a one minute, 07.934 seconds, 0.438 seconds in front of Verstappen.

Valtteri Bottas qualified third ahead of Sergio Perez, with Pierre Gasly finishing Q3 in the fifth position and ahead of the Scuderia Ferrari drivers for the second weekend in a row, as Carlos Sainz led Charles Leclerc in P6 and P7.

Lando Norris beat Daniel Ricciardo to ninth, while Fernando Alonso rounded out the top ten for Alpine.

In Q2, Norris’s last-lap jump knocked out Esteban Ocon, who ended up P12 ahead of Sebastian Vettel – one of three drivers, including Ocon, to set their fastest times in the middle segment before being knocked out.

The other was Kimi Raikkonen, who ended up P14 behind Yuki Tsunoda, with Antonio Giovinazzi taking P15 in the Alfa Romeo.

In Q1, late improvements for Alfa duo and Ocon shuffled Lance Stroll down to P16 and out at the end of the opening segment, where Nicholas Latifi outqualified George Russell for the first time in the two seasons as Williams teammates.

Latifi’s final Q1 edged him ahead of Russell for what would become P17 once the Alfas jumped ahead of the Williams duo – with Latifi, who did technically qualify ahead of Russell at Monza by finishing ahead in the sprint race, inflicting a first Q1-Q2-Q3 defeat from a Williams teammate on Russell.

At the back, Mick Schumacher outqualified Nikita Mazepin to take P19 as the lead Haas.

So that’s P1 for Lewis Hamilton as the third sprint race of the season is coming up. It’s not pole position for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, but the Mercedes driver is the Speed King after this qualifying session.

Sao Paulo, qualifying positions:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:07.934
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:08.372
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:08.469
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:08.483
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:08.777
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:08.826
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:08.960
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:08.980
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:09.039
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:09.113
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:09.189
12 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:09.399
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:09.483
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:09.503
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:10.227
16 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:09.663
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:09.897
18 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:09.953
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:10.329
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:10.589

Verstappen victorious in Mexico

Championship leader Max Verstappen extended his points lead with a commanding victory in the Mexican Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver made a decisive Turn 1 move on the opening lap as Valtteri Bottas went into a spin.

Sergio Perez finished in a popular third position after Lewis Hamilton held off the home crowd favourite even with Checo had a major tyre-life advantage versus the Mercedes.

At the start, Hamilton got off the line well to quickly get up alongside Bottas on the inside run to the Turn 1 right-hander, while Verstappen closed in thanks to the tow/slipstream effect and them took the outside line.

The Red Bull driver braked later, with more confidence and went around the outside of his Mercedes rivals, holding his move to the outside and staying on the track – now in the lead.

As Verstappen and Hamilton headed in Turn 2, chaos unfolded behind them as Bottas was tagged into a spin by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who had locked up heavily on the inside of Turn 1.

As the Mercedes spun around, Perez cut across the inside to Valtteri’s left, the track limits rule that Lewis was in breach of in FP1 superseded for the first lap by a late order from Formula 1 race director Michael Masi, with the rest of the pack moved around.

In amongst the drama, Esteban Ocon was sandwiched between Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher – the damage in the ensuing contact putting the AlphaTauri driver out on the spot at Turn 2 and left the Haas spotted just past the exit of Turn 3 leading onto the second straight.

That safety car was called so the incident could be cleared, with Bottas stopping at the rear of the field to switch from the mediums all the leaders had started on to take the hards.

Ahead of the restart, Verstappen dropped Hamilton as he accelerated through the final corners of the stadium section and already had a lead of 0.9-seconds as the race went fully green once again at the start of lap five of 71.

From there, he shot clear of his title rival, lapping in the mid one minute, 21 seconds as Hamilton began his opening stint in the low one minute, 22 seconds, and then continuing to raise his pace – briefly reaching the high one minute, 20 seconds – with a series of fastest laps in the ten laps that followed the safety car coming in.

By lap 15 Verstappen’s lead was 5.4 seconds, which he extended to nearly ten seconds – never under pressure from behind – by the time he pitted on lap 33.

As Verstappen disappeared, Hamilton was soon under more pressure to keep a gap ahead of Perez, who remained around two seconds behind the Mercedes throughout the opening stint, despite being urged to close up by his engineer on several occasions.

Hamilton was the first of the leaders to come in for hards, four laps before Verstappen – just as Perez had closed to 1.5 seconds behind.

While Red Bull left Verstappen out for a little while, it left Perez out for 11 laps beyond Hamilton’s stop – setting up a significant tyre life off-set advantage for the second half of the race.

At the start of lap 42, Perez’s out lap, Verstappen led Hamilton by 9.8 seconds, with Perez facing a 9.5 seconds gap to close on Hamilton over the rest of the race.

The leader, again completely untroubled out front, steadily pulled further away from Hamilton over the second stint to take a commanding win by 16.5 seconds.

The main interest remained Perez’s attempts to catch Hamilton, which he did so solidly during the initial phase after his stop – the gap between them down to 5.7 seconds at the end of lap 50 as the home hero regularly lapped in the mid one minute, 19 seconds versus Hamilton’s low one minute, 20 seconds.

Mercedes reckoned Checo’s Red Bull would be close enough to make a move on the final lap, but in fact Perez’s pace was so good he closed to within DRS range at the start of lap 61.

At this stage, Hamilton was running behind the lapped Lando Norris, who had had enough pace to stay out of blue flag range for several laps, which aided Perez’s charge.

But when the McLaren moved aside on lap 62, Perez slipped out of DRS threat behind Hamilton, who was displaying mighty straight line speed – as Mercedes had against Red Bull all weekend.

That stalled Perez’s charge and he then fell back again as the pair lapped several backmarkers – including Fernando Alonso and the twice lapped George Russell (P16 at the finish).

Perez did close in again on Hamilton to run within a second on the final lap, but his look up the inside of Turn 4 was never close to really threaten Hamilton’s position and he came home 1.1 seconds behind.

Verstappen’s lead had actually been as high as twenty seconds, but when Mercedes pitted Bottas for a third time in a bid to deprive the leader of the fastest lap, the pair were suddenly close on track and held each other up.

Bottas, two laps down having chased Ricciardo on the fringes of the top ten in the first half of the race, lost further ground with a slow second stop to move back to the mediums midway through.

He took one lap back by passing Verstappen, who the lapped Bottas again – with Mercedes then opting to bring the Finn in for a fourth time to chase the fastest lap on the final tour, which Bottas, in P15, secured with a one minute, 17.774 seconds – although no point for that accolade will be awarded for this race because Bottas finished outside the top ten.

Behind the leaders, Pierre Gasly took a solid fourth place for AlphaTauri – running a lonely race well ahead of the Ferraris.

Charles Leclerc was the lead driver home for the Scuderia – after being allowed back past Carlos Sainz late on, as the pair had already swapped to allow Carlos a chance to close on Gasly after he had completed a long first stint.

But when that did not pay off, Leclerc, who had gained ground in the first corner melee – where both Ferraris were off track at one point – was moved back ahead of finish as the last driver on the lead lap.

Sebastian Vettel took seventh ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, with Alonso finishing ahead of Norris at the tail end of the top ten.

It wasn’t the most thrilling race but in terms of the championship, it makes it fascinating as Max Verstappen extends his points lead over Lewis Hamilton. While Red Bull are now a single point behind Mercedes in the constructors’ standings as the season heads to the final four races.

Mexican Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:38:39.086
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +16.555s
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda +17.752s
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +63.845s
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +81.037s
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari +1 lap
7 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
8 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +1 lap
10 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
11 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +1 lap
14 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +2 laps
15 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +2 laps
16 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +2 laps
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +2 laps
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +3 laps
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari DNF
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda DNF