Verstappen wins title, maiden F1 win for Piastri in Qatar

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates winning his third World Championship in Sprint parc ferme. 07.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 18, Qatar Grand Prix, Doha, Qatar, Sprint Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images
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McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri successfully converted pole position to take his maiden F1 race win in the Qatar sprint at Lusail, but all eyes were on Max Verstappen who was crowned 2023 champion after finishing in second.

Piastri lost the lead during an early restart to a flying George Russell, but the Mercedes was on soft tyres that quickly waned allowing the Aussie to retake the top spot which he maintained all the way to the finish.

Verstappen started from third but lost positions after getting caught behind a slow-starting Lando Norris. However after a slew of safety cars he was soon on the move, using durable mediums to dispatch his rivals - although Piastri remained out of reach at the chequered flag.

After the tyre concerns and track changes that had taken place earlier in the day before the Sprint Showdown, it was good to get back to business as normal in time for Saturday evening's sprint race under the floodlights at Qatar's Lusail International Circuit. The papaya livery of the two McLarens on the front row was popping, but Max Verstappen was lurking in the shadows behind them in third alongside Mercedes' George Russell, who was the highest starter on softs rather than medium tyres. With Verstappen's Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez only eighth, there was little doubt we were on the cusp of watching the coronation of Emperor Max and his third consecutive drivers championship.

When the race lights went out, Piastri got a great launch while Russell succeeded in ambushing a slow-starting Norris for second place. Norris continued to haemorrhage places, holding up Verstappen which allowed Ferrari pair Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc to push past them both for third and fourth. Verstappen arrested his fall in fifth with Norris sixth ahead of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon as the safety car was deployed for Liam Lawson's AlphaTauri ending up in the gravel at turn 2 after tangling with Williams' Logan Sargeant.

Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren MCL60.
07.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 18, Qatar Grand Prix, Doha, Qatar, Sprint Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

The race soon resumed, with Russell using his soft compound tyres to force his way past Piastri in a banzai move through turn 8 to take the lead, while Alonso applied pressure on Norris only to fall prey to Ocon instead. But within seconds there was another safety car, with Sargeant spinning off into the gravel at turn 9 - the worst thing possible as far as the beleaguered US rookie was concerned.

The race restarted on lap 7, with Russell catching Piastri napping as he launched away into the distance leaving the Aussie desperately fending off Sainz and Leclerc for second. Further back, Alonso snatched his dropped place back from Ocon and there was an intense battle over 11th between Sergio Perez, Lewis Hamilton, Lance Stroll and Valtteri Bottas.

DRS was finally enabled on lap 9 and the hitherto patient Verstappen responded immediately with an easy pass on Leclerc for fourth, and then dispatching Sainz on lap 10 for third. Both Ferraris were also on the soft tyre while Verstappen was on mediums, the first confirmation that the red walled compound was falling away fast. That was bad news for race leader Russell, but just what the doctor ordered for Piastri and Verstappen.

Piastri duly blew past the Mercedes even Norris succeeded in passing Leclerc for fifth. But before Verstappen could follow Piastri past Russell there was a new safety car, this time for a multi-car accident in the middle order. Nico Hulkenberg had been vying with Ocon on the outside, Perez simultaneously attempting to squeeze down the underside and pull off a double pass. Minor contact sent the Haas into the Red Bull and all three ended up spinning into the gravel.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 and Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A523 crashed out of the race.
07.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 18, Qatar Grand Prix, Doha, Qatar, Sprint Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Perez' retirement meant that Verstappen was instantly confirmed as 2023 champion. But there was still a race to be decided, and Verstappen was determined to celebrate with a race victory as the cherry on top of the title. For now, Piastri held on to the lead with Russell struggling badly after the Mercedes pit wall overrode his plea to pit and change his wrecked tyres. Sure enough, Verstappen wasted no time dispatching Russell. He set his sights on catching the McLaren, but Piastri had terrific speed - as did Norris behind, soon picking off both Ferraris who were also struggling on the degraded soft tyres. Another driver on a charge was Hamilton, into the points after passing Alonso for eighth.

Piastri had enough speed to keep hold of the lead all the way to the finish and duly claim his maiden Formula 1 win - not quite a Grand Prix victory, but equally as impressive as motor racing achievements go. Verstappen had to settle for second, but that would more than do as it confirmed him as a three-time champion. Norris was able to pass Russell for third in the concluding seconds, with Hamilton bouncing back from his poor grid position to finish fifth after sweeping past the two Ferraris.

Behind Sainz and Leclerc, Albon had used his medium tyres to work his way into the final points spot in eighth, having passed Alonso in the last seconds. A post-race penalty for Leclerc for exceeding track limits too many times in the race saw the Monegasque demoted from the top ten, giving Albon an extra point in P7 and Alonso up to eighth for the final point.

As soon as Piastri and Verstappen arrived back in parc ferme, the dual celebrations started: one for a rising star just beginning an illustrious F1 career, the other for a proven champion at the peak of his powers, both with much to savour this evening.

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