Max Seals the Deal in Qatar; McLaren Continues to Impress
The Qatar GP continues to provide exciting races and, this year, its fair share of action. The Sprint race offered a promising start to the weekend's racing for McLaren, with the young duo starting in first and second positions. The Sprint race saw a few unforced accidents, with Oscar bringing home his first race win, with Max in second, and Lando in third.
Although the rookie's win was impressive and well deserved, there was an arguably bigger moment for the Red Bull team as Max took the Drivers’ Championship title.
Heading into the main race, it was clear that McLaren had upped its game, and the pressure was on as the grid saw Max sitting on pole, followed by George Russell, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, Oscar Piastri, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, and Lando Norris.
On a more humorous note, a mistake by Hulkenberg found him in the wrong grid slot after the warm-up lap, giving the unfortunate Haas driver a penalty before the race had even started.
With the championship wrapped up, though, Verstappen continued to lead the pack off the line. It didn’t take more than one corner for the first incident to occur. Hamilton had an excellent start off the line, attempting to overtake both Russell and Verstappen on the outside. However, he collided with his teammate, damaging the right side of his car and ending his race after only a few hundred metres.
This incident forced the trailing Alonso wide into the first corner, giving Piastri the space he needed to slip into second. Lap four saw the safety car dive back into the pits as the drivers crossed the start line to commence the race. Upon the restart, Tsunoda and Hulkenberg immediately engaged in an exhilarating back-and-forth tussle.
With a point to prove and his rookie teammate up in the podium position, Norris slowly picked away at the Ferrari of Leclerc. With his sights set on the podium, he pushed on as the McLarens continued to dominate all but the Red Bull of Verstappen. These youngsters in orange have made the task of overtaking look rather easy ever since the mid-season break.
After Russel's unfortunate encounter with his teammate early in the race, he had some obstacles in the way that he needed to navigate in order to make his way back up the leaderboard. Making swift work of the Williams cars, for one, while Gasly didn't intend to make it easy for the Brit. Unfortunately for the Alpine, Russell didn’t linger behind for long and soon advanced to seventh.
Around the halfway point, we saw the McLarens comfortably behind Verstappen, but it became apparent that the Aston Martin was becoming temperamental. Alonso previously had a close call in the early stages of the race, oversteering out of a corner, forcing him wide, and, as a result, exceeding track limits. Around lap 33, it happened again. The Spaniard was forced deep into the gravel and down the leaderboard.
As the race moved into its closing stages, Logan Sargeant made a surprising retirement, apparently due to illness while in his car. Unable to carry on, he pulled into the pits, where an evidently exhausted driver was seen struggling to exit his car, seemingly drenched in sweat.
After learning that they had broken the pitstop world record at 1.8 seconds earlier, the McLaren pit crew was on fire as they awarded Piastri a 2.0-second stop and Norris a 2.1-second stop in the last selection of pit stops. This was a record that Red Bull held for a while that seemed almost impossible to beat. Thanks to Piastri's incredible stop, Norris came out of the pits right behind Piastri, with Max still pulling away at the front of the pack.
As they approached the closing stages of the race, Gasly and Stroll had a bit of back and forth, with Gasly exceeding track limits, forcing the position to be given back to Stroll as Perez arrived on the scene. The tense image of three cars abreast had most of our eyes glued to the screen as they fought for ninth, with Stroll coming out on top.
Given that the season's end is rapidly approaching, Perez is under intense pressure to improve upon his average performance. Pair that with his teammate's ongoing dominance, and it's easy to assume that we may see a new face at Red Bull come 2024. At the end of a thrilling race and weekend, Verstappen added another victory to his belt, as Oscar Piastri in the McLaren finished second and Lando Norris in third. Below are the final standings from the race:
1. Max Verstappen
2. Oscar Piastri
3. Lando Norris
4. George Russell
5. Charles Leclerc
6. Fernando Alonso
7. Esteban Ocon
8. Valtteri Bottas
9. Zhou Guanyu
10. Sergio Perez
11. Lance Stroll
12. Pierre Gasly
13. Alex Albon
14. Kevin Magnussen
15. Yuki Tsunoda
16. Nico Hulkenberg
17. Liam Lawson
18. Logan Sargeant
19. Lewis Hamilton
20. Carlos Sainz
As the season winds down and a champion was crowned, I hope that next year's season features more variety. Despite its controversy, the 2021 World Championship was at least exciting and unpredictable. Still, Red Bull and Verstappen have been an impressive force throughout the season thus far, but additional action at the front would certainly be welcome. In the meantime, let's see what the remainder of the season brings. Perhaps next year, we'll witness the Mercs, Ferraris, or even the McLarens challenge for the title. Fingers crossed.