In a race where strategy was thrown to the wind due to mandatory 18-lap stints, the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix was anything but predictable. Yet, amidst the chaos, Max Verstappen kept his cool, showcasing why he's a three-time world champion. Oh, and Carlos Sainz? He didn’t even make it to the starting grid!
The race barely began when the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell tangled at Turn 1. It was heartbreak for the Silver Arrows, with Hamilton's race ending abruptly and Russell needing an emergency pit stop. This incident paved the way for Verstappen to cruise ahead, undeterred by the drama in his rearview mirror. But McLaren took full advantage of the Mercedes misstep, and Sprint race winner Oscar Piastri charged forward into second place, closely followed by his teammate, Lando Norris. Their double podium finish was the cherry on top of an impressive weekend.
The Pirelli-induced 18-lap stint limitation ensured a flurry of pitstops throughout the race. This added a layer of unpredictability as teams juggled strategies to optimize their race. Verstappen, however, managed his tires expertly, making the most of every stint.
Despite his early setback, Russell demonstrated Mercedes' resilience, fighting back to finish fourth, ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso, who had his share of issues during the race. Further down the order, Esteban Ocon secured a steady seventh for Alpine. Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo enjoyed a rare double-point finish with Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu in eighth and ninth, respectively. Red Bull's Sergio Perez faced multiple penalties but still rounded off in the top ten.
Fresh off his championship win, Verstappen added another trophy to his collection, marking his 14th victory of 2023. Verstappen praised his first stint post-race: "I think what made the race was my first stint. After that, I could just manage my pace."
Hamilton's unfortunate retirement and the drama surrounding his collision with Russell is bound to spark post-race discussions in the Mercedes garage. Logan Sargeant's retirement due to illness underlines the demanding nature of the sport, while Carlos Sainz's pre-race withdrawal leaves Ferrari with some (lot) investigating to do.
The F1 circus heads to the United States for the next Grand Prix in Austin from October 20-22. Get your tickets here!