Max Verstappen as he is crowned Drivers' champion of 2023

Qatar Grand Prix: Verstappen crowned Drivers’ champion as Piastri stars in the Sprint and disaster strikes at Mercedes

With Red Bull Racing’s Singapore blip now a distant memory, it was once again Max Verstappen who threatened to dominate proceedings at the Qatar Grand Prix. The reigning double champion only needed to beat his teammate Sergio Perez by three points in the Sprint to wrap up the 2023 season and join an exclusive club of three-time title holders. But the pace of McLaren continued to raise eyebrows, and meant that Max wouldn’t have it all his own way. 


A sign of things to come in FP1The Dutch superstar started as he meant to go on in the first and only practice session of the weekend, topping the timesheets and going three tenths clear of the chasing Ferrari duo of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc respectively, all of whom were on the fastest compound tyre. Fernando Alonso and Perez rounded out the top five whilst the British contingent was still dialling in. George Russell took the eighth spot on the Medium tyre with Lando Norris P10 on the Hards and Lewis Hamilton P13 on Mediums. 

Max Verstappen on track for practice at the Qatar Grand Prix


Track limits play their part in F1 QualifyingThe shock early exits from qualifying materialised in Q2 with Sainz and Perez both finishing in P12 and P13 respectively. In Q3, it would be Norris that came closest to knocking Verstappen – who only completed one run – off the top spot, three tenths off his time. Track limit infringements for both Norris and his McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri would ultimately elevate Russell to the front row and Hamilton to third in a fortuitous turn of events for Mercedes.


Piastri on a mission in Sprint ShootoutAs was the case in Qualifying proper, the Sprint Shootout would see a shock Q2 exit, this time taking the shape of Hamilton. Verstappen’s first Q3 lap was deleted for track limits at Turn 5, but the McLarens were on the pace anyway and went quicker than the Red Bull’s original time with Norris heading the pack and Piastri four hundredths back. Verstappen went third with his final effort but the papaya cars were still improving. Piastri went eight hundredths up on Norris as the Brit ran wide at the final corner, handing a thoroughly deserved Sprint pole to the Australian. Norris ended the session second with Russell fourth. 


A frenetic and unpredictable Sprint Race A poor start for both Norris and Verstappen saw the pair tumbling down the order whilst Piastri made his getaway up front. Russell was the driver to capitalise, and he was followed through by Sainz. After the briefest of Safety Car periods to retrieve the stricken Alpha Tauri of Lawson, Russell was on the attack, utilising his faster Soft tyres to lunge up the inside of Piastri at Turn 6 to take the lead.

Following a second Safety Car, Russell aced the restart and got the race back underway on Lap 6, leaving Piastri to fend of the advances of Sainz into Turn 1. With half race distance looming, the tides turned the way of the Medium tyre runners as the fastest lap went the way of Piastri and he began making inroads into Russell’s lead. At the start of Lap 11, Piastri swept past the Mercedes into Turn 1 and claimed a lead he wouldn’t concede. That same lap, a three-way clash between Esteban Ocon, Nico Hulkenberg and Perez at Turn 2 brought out a third and final Safety Car. 


Verstappen crowned three-time champion as Piastri wins Sprint RaceOn Lap 15, Piastri retained his lead at the restart, but it was Verstappen who circled behind second-placed Russell. He bided his time, and a lap later, with his Medium tyres fully up to temperature, Verstappen made his move on the main straight to take the position from the Mercedes. Further back, it was Norris making moves on both Ferrari cars as they struggled on the Soft tyre. With two laps to go, he set about catching Russell and did just that, passing him on the final lap to claim third. Piastri eventually crossed the line first to take his first-ever F1 victory whilst a DNF for Perez and second for Verstappen sealed the 2023 Drivers’ title to crown him a three-time World Champion. 

Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team celebrating the 2023 Drivers' title


Drama at the start of the Qatar Grand PrixIt was a dream getaway for Verstappen who surged into the lead, but the Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton made contact on the outside of Turn 1, sending the former into the pits dropping to P14 and the latter into the gravel trap. Following the ensuing Safety Car, Verstappen led Piastri and Alonso but it was the British duo of Norris and Russell who were on the move in the early phases, scything their way past their competitors. 

The start of the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix

As part of the mandatory three pit stops in the Qatar Grand Prix, Norris pitted on Lap 28, managing to overcut Alonso in the Aston Martin to take third just behind his teammate and although he closed to within a second at the flag, Piastri would remain the lead McLaren in second behind the indomitable Verstappen who took his 14th victory of the season. Having battled his way through the field twice, Russell emerged from the chaotic strategy in fourth after an impressive recovery drive.  


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