[F1 Qatar GP: Verstappen takes 14th win of 2023; Mercedes drivers clash
Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris finished second and third, with the former Verstappen’s closest pursuer for much of the race and the latter charging up from starting 10th.
At the start, Verstappen swooped over to cover George Russell’s run to the inside of Turn 1 and as he moved left just behind the Red Bull’s left rear, Lewis Hamilton – starting on the softs with the two front-row starters on mediums – attacked his Mercedes team-mate.
As the soft-shod W14 surged around the one running mediums, they came together in Verstappen’s periphery and the contact popped Hamilton’s right rear off and spun him out in the gravel, with Russell spinning and falling to last.
The safety car was sent out as Hamilton’s car was recovered – team radio messages revealing both Mercedes drivers initially blamed the other for the shunt – and so the race only really got going at the start of lap five of 57, with Verstappen leading Piastri, Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen aced the restart to run immediately 1.0s clear of Piastri, with the Red Bull driver doubling his advantage heading towards the lap count hitting double figures, despite the McLaren clearly pushing early on to try and regain the DRS advantage.
The lead gap had hit three seconds when McLaren pitted Piastri on lap 12, with Red Bull, which could leave Verstappen out until lap 17 per the number of laps the used set had done before the race, choosing to do so.
As Piastri had had to battle several runners that had stopped under the safety car, when everything shook out again following the first round of stops for the leaders Verstappen’s advantage had ballooned to 8.1s.
Over the first two laps after Verstappen’s first stop, Piastri was able to shrink this down to only 7.4s as the leader gently eased his second set of used mediums before pulling away again.
Piastri being on used mediums that had done more previous laps than Verstappen meant he again pitted for the second time comparatively early, on the 25th tour for a third second of mediums – in this case, a new set for Piastri that meant he could run the full 18 laps for his third stint.
Verstappen made his second stop on lap 34, by which point Piastri’s strong pace early in his third stint meant he had cut the Red Bull’s lead to 5.8s as the second stop sequences played out fully.
For his third stint, Verstappen had been handed new hards, which set up a difference for the fourth stint between the two leaders – with Piastri by this point with just over 20 laps to go having his team-mate Norris catching up quickly too.
Verstappen used his hards to extend his lead back out again as the final third wore on, with Piastri facing a 10.2s deficit by the time he stopped for the final time – taking hards – on lap 43.
As McLaren pitted Norris the next time by, the focus for the race’s ending became whether he could overall his team-mate during the run to the flag, as Piastri had lost time warming his hards up to temperature and so Norris was able to get within 1.8s as he rejoined.
But that pulled out again to 2.5s as Norris had to go through the warm-up phase on the hards, at which point McLaren told Norris it wanted the pair to hold position as the team was worried the recovering Russell might put a set of softs on at the end and be a real threat.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, the field as Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, ends up in the gravel on the opening lap after contact with George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Norris initially disagreed with McLaren’s call, but in the end held station just over a second behind his team-mate as the orange squad wrapped up its second double podium in successive races.
Verstappen’s winning margin ended up being 4.8s after he stopped for a third time to go back to the mediums on lap 51 – but his service ended up at a slightly sluggish 4.1s as Red Bull struggled to get his front left used hard off, did the most damage to the Dutchman’s previous commanding gap over Piastri.
Russell finished fourth having made four stops after this Turn 1 clash with Hamilton – able to catch the pack under the safety car during which he had his first service for more used mediums.
Russell made a series of overtakes early on and was able to overcut many cars with strong pace, but indeed when he took softs as McLaren had predicted with a late final stop he faded back towards Leclerc, who ended fifth, where he started, for Ferrari.
Leclerc had had multiple battles with Alonso, who had an action-packed drive – the Spaniard struggling in the wind early on and enduring a hot seat in the middle phase of the race, before going off having turned in from the Turn 2 kerbs just after his second stop, which let Leclerc through.
Esteban Ocon finished seventh, with Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu and Sergio Perez rounding out the top 10.
Perez had started from the pitlane but was a repeated track limits offender, ending up with three five-second time additions.
Others with multiple offences included Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, who all followed Perez in the final classification.
Logan Sargeant was the race’s other retirement due to illness he reported on his team radio, with Ocon also saying he “threw up in the car by lap 15”.
Carlos Sainz did not take the start as Ferrari detected an issue with the fuel system on his car ahead of the race.
As with the Austrian GP track limits farce earlier this year, it remains possible the order will shift again once the FIA has assessed all possible track limits offences – with Leclerc, on his team radio after the chequered flag, urging Ferrari to look into Russell’s late laps as the gap between them ended up at 4.8s.