WINNERS

Lewis Hamilton 

A ruthless display from Lewis Hamilton on F1’s first visit to Qatar has cut his title rival Max Verstappen’s championship lead with two races remaining. 

Hamilton’s second 10/10 performance on the trot saw him convert a dominant pole position into a comfortable seventh win of the season with a lights-to-flag drive.

3007023.0064.jpg

While Verstappen still holds a points advantage, Hamilton and Mercedes are riding a wave of momentum heading into a crucial final pair of events in the Middle East to decide the destination of this year’s world title. 

Over two grand prix weekends, Hamilton has now successfully trimmed a 19-point deficit into just eight points. 

Repeat this level of performance two more times and an eighth world title will beckon for Hamilton. 

Max Verstappen

A five-place grid penalty threatened to deal a major blow to Verstappen’s title hopes but the Red Bull driver pulled off a brilliant recovery drive to take second behind Hamilton. 

A brave, attacking approach at the start paid off as Verstappen vaulted himself up to fourth through the opening sequence of corners, before he swept past Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso to find himself behind only Hamilton after just five laps. 

3006980.0064.jpg

Although he was never in contention for the win, Verstappen’s race was one of damage-limitation. Importantly, he managed to score what could end up being a crucial fastest lap bonus point to keep his championship lead at eight points. 

For now at least, Verstappen has ensured that he still holds the advantage in this year’s title race. 

Fernando Alonso 

A superb drive from Alonso underlined that class is permanent as he ended a seven-year, 105-race wait for a podium in style. 

The Alpine driver capitalised on grid penalties for Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas to line up third on the grid and a fast start enabled him to charge past Gasly to move into second. 

3007006.0064.jpg

Alonso was powerless to resist the recovering Verstappen but pulled off a risky one-stop strategy - which comprised of 23 laps on softs and a 34-lap stint on hards - to complete the rostrum in third place. 

It marked his first F1 podium since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix and capped off an excellent day for Alpine in their quest to hold onto fifth place in the constructors’ championship. 

Ferrari 

Another solid day for Ferrari, with the Italian giant continuing its recent strong form to outscore nearest rival McLaren once more.

P7 and P8 - behind both Alpines and an Aston Martin - is by no means a headline-grabbing result, but it has crucially helped Ferrari strengthen its grip over third in the constructors’ standings.

Consistency has been key for Ferrari of late, while Charles Leclerc bounced back from a woeful qualifying in style to finish just over a second behind teammate Carlos Sainz and complete another double points haul. 

3005733.0064.jpg

Things would not have looked so good had McLaren’s Lando Norris not suffered a puncture that dropped him out of the top five and down to ninth at the chequered flag. 

Nevertheless, Ferrari can ultimately come away from Qatar satisfied with the championship picture. 

Lance Stroll 

An impressive drive from Lance Stroll went somewhat under the radar as the Canadian rose from 11th on the grid to record his best result of the season in sixth. 

Stroll was faultless on his way to a morale-boosting result for both him and his Aston Martin team after spending the previous three races outside of the points. 

3005787.0064.jpg

Stroll may have claimed the headline result for Aston Martin, but a worthy shoutout is in order for his teammate Sebastian Vettel

The four-time world champion recovered well from an awful start to complete the top 10 and seal what was only the team’s third two-car points finish of the season. 

Stroll has moved to within nine points of Vettel in the championship standings and is now the highest-placed driver without a podium finish in 2021. 

LOSERS 

Pirelli (and the puncture victims) 

Pirelli is feeling the heat after four drivers suffered concerning tyre failures during Qatar’s debut grand prix. 

Bottas, Norris, and Williams pair George Russell and Nicholas Latifi all experienced sudden tyre explosions in the race, with Latifi forced into an immediate retirement as a result. 

3006926.0064.jpg

The rest were able to recover to the pits and return to the race, though Bottas’ day did eventually end early due to damage sustained to his Mercedes car. 

Worryingly, all the drivers reported they had little or no warning their tyres were about to blow, with Norris calling the failures “dangerous” and calling for Pirelli to make better tyres. 

The Italian tyre manufacturer has launched an investigation into the blow outs in a bid to find out answers.

Valtteri Bottas

A torrid race day for Bottas ended in retirement after a dramatic puncture ruined his Qatar GP. 

The Finn fell from sixth on the grid to 11th with an awful start, but following slow initial progress, he began to fight his way back into podium contention. 

3005898.0064.jpg

Running long on a one-stop, Bottas’ front-left tyre suddenly burst coming out of the final corner heading onto lap 33. Bottas had to complete a full lap before reaching the pits for a tyre change, by which point his race was all but done. 

Having picked up damage to his Mercedes, Bottas was eventually called in to retire, marking his fourth DNF of a luckless 2021 season. 

AlphaTauri 

Gasly was licking his lips at the prospect of his highest-ever starting spot on the F1 grid after being promoted to the front-row alongside Hamilton when penalties were applied. 

But Gasly’s race quickly fell apart. After being shuffled down to fourth in the opening laps by Alonso and Verstappen, the Frenchman’s plummet continued. Gasly eventually slipped out of the top 10 and finished 11th. 

Things weren’t much better for teammate Yuki Tsunoda, who also fell out of points contention despite starting eighth. 

3006858.0064.jpg

AlphaTauri’s lack of race pace - which Gasly described as “shocking” - came as a real surprise following its impressive one-lap performance in qualifying. 

Having arrived in Qatar level on points with Alpine in the P5 fight, the Faenza outfit goes into the final two rounds lagging the equivalent of a race win (25 points) behind. 

Daniel Ricciardo 

Daniel Ricciardo will not look back on the F1’s first-ever race in Qatar - or the last triple-header of 2021 for that matter - fondly, having struggled home to 12th - just two places higher than where he started Sunday’s GP. 

Ricciardo revealed that an unexplained fuel issue, and issues with the rear-end of his McLaren, ultimately hampered his hopes of scoring points as he missed out on the top 10 for the third week on the trot. 

3005778.0064.jpg

With teammate Norris only able to salvage two points, McLaren is left needing a miracle to retain third place in the constructors’ championship this year, after falling a whopping 39.5 points behind Ferrari. 

F1’s officiating 

F1’s officials have had some big calls to make over the past two race weekends and both events have been overshadowed by controversy and painfully slow decision-making.

In both Brazil and Qatar, fans were left not knowing how the grid would line up until just before the races. 

At Interlagos, there was a lengthy wait to find out that Hamilton had been disqualified from qualifying, while at Losail, decisions over yellow flag breaches in Q3 only dropped with 90 minutes to go until lights out. The decision to penalise Verstappen prompted a rant from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner that led to an official warning over his criticism of a marshal. 

Little progress has been made over F1’s ‘racing rules’ row either, with Hamilton saying the debate over what is and what is not acceptable is still “not clear”, amid calls for a permanent set of stewards. 

Cynics pointed out late calls over verdicts could have been deliberate in a bid to create extra drama to the show. Either way, the delays seemed needless and were highly frustrating for fans. 

2992390.0064.jpg