Hamilton on top in Qatar!

Hamilton wins the inaugural Qatar GP with Verstappen in P2 to bring the gap down in the championship. Alonso back on the podium since Hungry 2014 with a very solid performance. Tyre drama in the closing stages of the race meant the one stop strategy didn’t work for most that tried it, Russell, Latifi and Bottas suffering from punctures.

After another night waiting for the stewards to make a decision, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas got a 5 place and 3 place penalty respectively. This meant that Verstappen would start P7, Bottas P6 but importantly Gasly started on the front row with Alonso starting P3. All set to add to the drama of the 2021 Formula 1 championship!

Lights out and Hamilton immediately covered the inside from a very quick Alonso and Gasly. Verstappen made up 3 places in the first few corners with Alonso making a great move down the inside of Gasly. Bottas meanwhile had an awful start, losing 5 places in the first lap. Vettel was another driver who lost 7 places after a going very wide in turn 1.

Sergio Perez Valtteri Bottas  battle for track position round turn one at the start  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images/RedBull Content Pool)

Lap 3 and the call came through from Verstappen that he was “stuck” behind Gasly. Told to let Verstappen past, Gasly went wide in the final corner on lap 4, allowing Verstappen to get through. Just 1 lap later Verstappen made an easy DRS move past Alonso, meaning normal business was resumed by lap 5 with Hamilton P1 and Verstappen P2.

Perez making good progress 10 laps in, resulting in Toto Wolff encouraging Bottas to overtake the cars in front because he hadn’t gained any places since the start. Lance Stroll went wide in 2nd to last corner, allowing Bottas to gain DRS. However, the battle was between Stroll, Bottas and Tsunoda with the Japanese driver in front at the start of the main straight but behind both drivers by the end. It was 1 lap later that Bottas managed to get past Stroll.

It seems encouragement is all Bottas needed, making up a further 2 places by lap 15. The race was now on between Perez and Bottas for the final podium place. With a full pitstop over P3 and flying out front, it looked like this would be Hamilton’s race to lose. Verstappen appeared to be struggling with damage and couldn’t keep up with Lewis.

Lap 18 and Verstappen was the first to pit. Hoping that the new set of hard tyres would help him close the gap. Mercedes immediately responded stopping Hamilton for hard tyres, comfortably coming out ahead of the RedBull. With a pitstop over P3 both drivers came back out in their own positions. RedBull then pitted Perez in an attempt to get Bottas to stop as well. However, Mercedes strategist’s saw more opportunities for Bottas with a one stop strategy so left him out for a longer stint on the mediums.

Max Verstappen makes a pitstop (Photo by Hamad I Mohammed – Pool/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool)

A lock up from Leclerc into turn 1 on lap 27 meant that Alonso could overtake on the inside, but Perez attempted to go through on the outside, ending up on the green tarmac. Into turns 2 and 3 Perez had the inside line and managed to get past Leclerc. Just 2 laps later Alonso was within his sights, pulling an almost identical move to get past the 2-time champion. Alonso did fight back but Perez had the pace to get through drama free.

Lap 34 and disaster for Mercedes as Bottas got a front left puncture halfway around the circuit on his way back to the pit he sprinkled gravel onto the track. A replacement nose and new hard tyres he made it back out in P14. Pirelli said before the race that the mediums would do about 30 laps, Bottas completed 33 before the tyre began to delaminate. This had major consequences in the constructor’s championship with the gap only 5 points.

The call of vibrations were coming through from both front runners on lap 40. 2 laps later and RedBull pit Verstappen for medium tyres who had over a 50 second gap to his teammate who pitted the following lap. Mercedes responded again putting scrubbed mediums on Hamilton’s car, who maintained the 8.5 second gap comfortably coming out ahead of Verstappen.

Having come out in P7, Perez was back on the charge and Alonso was in the final podium position. 3 cars between Perez and Alonso with 10 laps to go, one being the other Alpine of Ocon. Alonso encouraging his teammate all the way to tell him to “defend like a lion”. However, the pace advantage of the RedBull was too much for the Alpine and Perez went around the outside of turn 1. The fight wasn’t over as in turns 5 and 6 Ocon came back but ran out of road and Perez made the move stick.

The tyres didn’t seem to be coping with the track. As Mercedes retired Bottas, Russell got a front left puncture after 31 laps with his hard tyres. Norris pitted just 1 lap before, the McLaren seeing the potential danger. Latifi went just 1 lap after Russell, front left tyre failure again. Unfortunately for Latifi it began to go on the main straight so decided to pull over on a service road around turn 10. This caused concern for Alonso who was on a 1 stop strategy and needed to complete 32 laps on his tyres. Alonso told to stay off the curbs.

Virtual safety car was deployed so that the marshals could recover the Williams of Latifi. Verstappen pitted for softs to try and retain fastest lap if he got the chance to go again. Despite the fact that the VSC ended halfway through the final lap, Verstappen maintain fastest lap to take that point away from Hamilton.

Hamilton won having led from start to finish, Verstappen finished P2, and Fernando Alonso finished P3 for the first time in 104 races! There are now 8 points between the championship rivals heading into the final race of the season. If Hamilton wins and takes fastest lap with Verstappen P2 in the next race they will be level on points for the finale.

Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Second placed Max Verstappen and Third placed Fernando Alonso celebrate on the podium (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool)

A Dominant Verstappen win with Perez in P3!

Max Verstappen wins with a dominant performance after a lap 1, turn 1 overtake. Hamilton finished P2 but local hero Perez finished in P3, celebrating with the crowd after an excellent performance.

After an unexpected first front row lock out of the season for Mercedes, the anticipation was high! With Bottas finally entering the battle this year it was thought that both teams would use both cars to full advantage and team orders would be in play.

Lights out and Hamilton got a better start than Bottas going side by side into turn 1 but Verstappen from behind had a blistering second phase and went around the outside of both Mercedes in turn 1 with Hamilton moving into P2. Bottas between them both began to back out, causing Perez to take avoiding action onto the grass but the McLaren of Ricciardo behind locked up and tapped Bottas on the inside spinning him. Further back Ocon, Schumacher and Tsunoda got caught up in the cars slowing and avoiding Bottas now facing the wrong way. Ocon was sandwich between Tsunoda on the inside and Schumacher on the outside, both hitting the Alpine and causing damage to their cars. This brought out the safety car before the end of lap 1.

Max Verstappen  leads Lewis Hamilton and the rest of the field at the start (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images/RedBull content pool)

On the restart and through the stadium section Verstappen launched leaving Hamilton to go through a slow corner and gets away comfortably. The rest of the pack followed suit with some attempts but no successful passes, with Giovinazzi challenging Sainz for P6 but not able to make it stick. Bottas was now out of play for Mercedes, the strategy needed to change as Hamilton fights the Bulls.

Lap 25 and the cat and mouse game between the championship rivals was in full swing with Verstappen managing to open up the gap. However, Perez was putting in a solid performance and it looked increasingly likely that Hamilton would spend most of the race defending from Perez rather than attacking Verstappen. Hamilton’s teammate had made his way up to P12, following Ricciardo all the way through the pack and were now behind Norris.

Hamilton was the first to pit on lap 30 but it didn’t work out for them coming out behind Leclerc in the Ferrari, who thankfully for Mercedes, pitted the next lap. This put Hamilton in P4, behind Gasly, but was nearly 2 seconds per lap faster than Verstappen on fresh hard tyres. Gasly pitted which meant Hamilton had clear air, at this point both RedBull’s said their tyres were good and looked to be going longer.

Max Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images/RedBull content pool)

However, lap 33 and car number 33 came in for a quick stop from the team. Importantly he was now on fresh mediums comfortably ahead of Hamilton. Sergio Perez was leading the race having not pitted. He is the first Mexican driver to lead a Mexican Grand Prix. Often known as a master on the tyres, he stayed out for a longer stint saying that the tyres were good and wanted Verstappen to hold up Hamilton while Perez was holding the lead.

On lap 40 Perez finally pitted for hard tyres, coming out behind Hamilton. Bottas pitted a lap later but had a very slow stop. The front left wheel nut got stuck, meaning he had a 12 second stop, bringing him out in P15. The Finn’s day going from bad to worse.

Sainz looking faster than Leclerc puts in the call for a team orders switch. In a bid to stay ahead Leclerc started to make mistakes. Eventually there was a clean swap between the 2 drivers.

Lap 56 and Perez had now closed the gap to Hamilton to 3 seconds, gaining nearly 3 tenths on him each lap. Hamilton begun to make unusual mistakes under pressure as he went off track at turn 12, bringing in the RedBull even more. Just 4 laps later Perez was within DRS, gaining on Hamilton every straight. Hamilton was also suffering behind a lapped Norris. Due to the turbulent air Hamilton couldn’t get within the 1.3 second requirement for Norris to be shown blue flags. When they eventually were shown, Norris moved aside and let both cars through, keeping the battle alive.

The Mercedes began to overheat in the traffic, Hamilton told to lift and coast to give the brakes a chance to cool. At this point Perez had dropped out of DRS and then caught in traffic it neutralised the battle for P2.

Verstappen was nearly 20 seconds in front on lap 65 and was dominating this race. However, Bottas pitted for a set of used soft tyres in an attempt to take away the fastest lap point from Verstappen. This was a strategy call from Mercedes because Bottas wouldn’t get the point for the lap as he was still down in P14.

With 1 lap to go Bottas pitted again for a fresh set of soft tyres because the positioning hadn’t worked for Mercedes. Perez was now back within the DRS range for 1 final charge at the 7 time world champ to get on the second step of the podium. However, through both DRS zones he couldn’t get quite close enough, so Hamilton manged to hang on to P2.

Max Verstappen won the Mexican Grand Prix but Bottas achieved fastest lap right at the end. Hamilton P2, but the home hero, Sergio Perez finished in P3. This is the first time a Mexican driver has been on the podium of his home Grand Prix, when this time last year he didn’t have a seat for the 2021 season. He put in a solid performance all race, chasing down Hamilton and added to RedBulls constructors’ points, meaning they now lead both championships. This is a great way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Adrian Newey’s first win in Formula 1.

Third placed Sergio Perez  celebrates in parc ferme. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images/RedBull content pool)

Verstappen goes to Brazil next week with a 20 point lead over Hamilton. The gap is getting wider but 1 DNF could swing this championship either way. The pressure is still on both drivers to perform at their best to complete the job. The question now is can Verstappen hold onto his lead or can Hamilton use his experience to claw back the points?