Hamilton's Qatar GP victory virtually guarantees final-day thriller with Verstappen – iNews

The inaugural Qatar Grand Prix will be remembered more for the royal visit of David Beckham than for the soporific action on the track. This was the counterpoint to Brazil, a race so dull that winner Lewis Hamilton admitted to loneliness at the front of the field as he pounded out his 102nd career victory.
Hamilton’s win was notable only for taking the number of different circuits conquered to 30, and for reducing the deficit to championship leader Max Verstappen, who finished second, to eight points with two races remaining.
Since the pair were lapping two seconds a lap quicker than the field it was left to Fernando Alonso to spice the evening by driving his Alpine to third, his first podium since Budapest in 2014. In doing so Alonso became only the third driver in the modern age to spray champagne (or the non-alcoholic equivalent in Qatar’s case) in his forties, following Michael Schumacher in 2012 and Nigel Mansell in 1994.
“Finally we got it,” Alonso, named driver of the day, said. “We were close at a couple of races. So happy for the team. They deserve it. I was waiting so long for this so I’m happy.”
F1 results: Lewis Hamilton wins Qatar GP 2021 to cut Max Verstappen’s title race lead to eight
Alonso’s cameo aside, the principal attraction was Beckham being chaperoned about the grid before the race. Grid walk grandee Martin Brundle had been warned to not to approach Qatar’s foremost poster boy, who was protected by the organisers in accordance it seems with the strictest royal protocols.
The moment at least gave the Sky cameras the close-up shot it was looking for. Rarely have the crow’s feet that crowd ageing eyes appeared so beautifully arranged.
Alonso was aided in his relative triumph by the late intervention of the virtual safety car with three laps remaining, which slowed the podium charge of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. The triggering of the safety car also allowed Verstappen in for a fresh set of tyres to shore up the extra point for fastest lap.
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Since he started the day from seventh after a five-race grid penalty for ignoring double yellow flags during qualifying, Verstappen was happy enough with that.
My starting position was compromised but I was quickly back to second and to get the fastest lap was nice,” he said. “It is going to be a tight battle to the end.”
Indeed. Hamilton heads to Saudi Arabia in a fortnight buoyed by back-to-back wins and a car that appears to have the edge in performance. He will know, however, not to be overly invested in the idea of supremacy given the frequency with which momentum has shifted. For the most part he was just happy to be back in the mix after starting the Brazilian Grand Prix 21 points adrift just one week ago.
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“It was pretty straightforward, pretty lonely at the front but we needed those points today,” Hamilton said. “A really sold performance by the team. It’s been hell of a year and to have back-to-back wins at this stage of the season is great. I feel fitter than ever, car feels good. Bring on the next two.”
Verstappen was up from seventh to second inside five laps. Grid penalties as not so much a hindrance as an automotive catapult. Verstappen was inside Valtteri Bottas off the line and past Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in to fourth as the Ferrari and McLaren fought out their own private grievance. Pierre Gasly in Red Bull’s junior team AlphaTauri, was most accommodating and Alonso chose not to compromise his tyres by fighting a needless battle with Verstappen.
“Where’s Valtteri?” asked Hamilton while all this was going on. Going backwards was the answer, no help to his Mercedes team-mate whatsoever. Meanwhile the two leaders disappeared into the distance and by the 15th lap were half a minute clear of the field. Though Bottas would eventually drag himself into third as those in front pitted, a puncture cast him back into deep midfield before he eventually retired.
Verstappen darted in early for the hard tyres on the 18th lap. The move did not reflect the condition of the tyres but the need to force Mercedes into a change of strategy from one stop to two. Would Merc stay out as Hamilton wanted on healthy tyres or come in to cover Red Bull’s call? The answer came at the end of the lap. Too early, argued Hamilton. The engineers, seeking to defend Verstappen at all costs, decided otherwise.
Nothing happened of note until Verstappen pitted a second time on the 42nd lap. Sure enough the “box, box” instruction went out to Hamilton immediately to counter the move. The only thing at issue now was the point for fastest lap and who would claim it. A two-point swing was the prize.
Verstappen posted a rapid time with three to go. Would you believe it? The virtual safety car was triggered as if by the gods to protect it. Verstappen dived in for another set of fresh tyres. Hamilton could not take the risk. He was, of course, content to stay out to take Qatar’s first chequered flag.
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