Fernando Alonso finished third for Alpine after a late-race drama, with loose tires for cars trying to get through the race with a one-stop strategy.
At the start, Hamilton immediately moved inward to cover Pierre Gasly’s race in the first corner, diving past the AlphaTauri as Fernando Alonso approached him.
Covering Gasly’s line, Hamilton struggled in the long right-hand turn 1, with Gasly and Alonso behind him – while behind Verstappen, who had immediately passed Valtteri Bottas, the duo starting sixth. and seventh thanks to their grid penalties, followed Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr in the first corner.
As this pair sank down, Verstappen got a head start on the inside and had enough momentum to get close to Alonso – who toppled unnoticed and forced the Red Bull to move. halfway on the astroturf runoff and backing up the long left turn 2.
But Verstappen managed to stay one step ahead of Norris and chase the leaders, with Alonso in the lead, then fight Gasly in Turn 3.
Hamilton finished the first lap 57 seconds ahead of his former team-mate McLaren and continued to clear as Verstappen complained of being “stuck” behind Gasly.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo By: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
The AlphaTauri rider came out wide on the last corner at the end of the third lap – perhaps in a maneuver managed in stages to allow his stable partner to pass, Verstappen easily taking the lead as they descended directly into the stands to start the fourth round.
At the end of that lap, Verstappen got closer to Alonso using the DRS and on lap five he easily edged the Alpine in the braking zone of Turn 1, already facing a 4.4 deficit. seconds compared to Hamilton.
The F1 lead pair quickly disappeared ahead of Alonso, who was nearly 20 seconds off the lead by the end of the first 10 laps of the race, but during this phase Verstappen pointed out possible damage to the lead. front wing after a violent brake stroke in the first laps after reaching second place. .
Red Bull initially reported that everything looked OK, but Verstappen reported an oversteer on take-off on turn 1 was attributed to probable damage to the front wing end plate.
He was initially able to match Hamilton in the middle of 1m23, but as the Mercedes driver increased his pace and reached 1m27, the Dutchman couldn’t keep up and started to fall back steadily.
The gap between the leaders was close to 10 seconds when Red Bull brought in Verstappen at the end of the 17th round to pass mediums that he and Hamilton had started on to tackle the difficulties – joining just ahead of Alonso, who has yet to been arrested.
Mercedes led Hamilton into the next lap, although the world champion insisted his tires were “good” and said “don’t stop me too early”.
The previous stop helped Verstappen cut part of Hamilton’s lead, which was 8.3 seconds at the end of the Mercedes driver’s lap.
Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, battles with Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo By: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
From there, the pair traded the fastest laps in the next phase of the race, with Verstappen steadily reducing the gap between them to 6.7 seconds just past the halfway point – after insisting on Red Bull, they should “have a little fun” by pushing with the second place already secured.
The main focus for the majority of the race had become to find out who would finish third, with Alonso retaining the last place on the podium throughout the first stint.
He entered to switch from soft to hard on lap 23, joining just ahead of Ricciardo, who had not yet entered, and charging Sergio Perez, who had already come to go from mediums to hards as part of his ascent from 11th. on the grid.
Alonso challenged Perez for a few laps – including when they passed longtime Charles Leclerc, who got stuck when Alonso attacked at Turn 1 and went deep after defending late against the Alpine – the Mexican then getting by in a close wheel -Battle on the wheels in the first two corners on the 29th lap.
But Bottas was also a consideration for Perez as he listened to Toto Wolff’s rally call to get stuck among the cars that had passed him when he fell to 11th, Mercedes then leaving him on the midrange up to five. laps after the halfway point.
On lap 33 Bottas suffered a sudden puncture in the front left as he approached the hairpin turn 6, the Finn then falling into the gravel as he struggled to control his W12 in similar scenes at the end of the British GP 2020.
He must have done most of a lap with the tire deflated, falling behind Perez and Alonso, and causing concern for the leaders.
As Hamilton and Verstappen signaled vibrations over their struggles heading into the final 15 laps, Red Bull started the second set of saves for the leaders by pitting Verstappen at the end of the 41st lap and Hamilton returning at the end of the next round.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21 and Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12
Photo By: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
As they returned to the midrange, with the 8.4s gap between them increasing to 10s before Verstappen stopped, their goal became to try and win the bonus point for the fastest lap.
In the race for third place, Perez had arrived on the same lap as Verstappen and had to push his way past several cars trying to keep the one-stopper despite the threat of a puncture.
This included Alonso, Norris and Esteban Ocon in the second Alpine, who were asked to defend themselves so aggressively against Perez when he reassembled his order as his teammate did it late in the Hungarian GP to save the team’s victory over Hamilton in charge.
After passing Lance Stroll a few laps after coming out of his second stop, which he complained about hearing on his radio, on lap 47, Perez used the DRS to run over Ocon in the pit straight.
Ocon defended on the inside but Perez exploded on the outside and although Ocon attacked in Turns 2 and 4 he was unable to come back forward.
This set up a showdown for the last place on the podium, with Perez yet to overtake Norris and catch up with Alonso, but a series of late punctures ultimately called off the battle.
George Russell’s left forward let go with six laps to go and on the next lap his teammate Nicholas Latifi punctured his equivalent tire as he descended the pit straight.
Although Russell was able to limp back to the pits, Latifi stopped at the turn 6 hairpin and soon after – just after Norris entered with his own suspected flat tire – the virtual safety car was activated.
Red Bull pitted Verstappen for the third time and he rejoined Hamilton so far that he still had one last full lap to go when the race turned green again with the leader well advanced on his last lap.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21, and the rest of the peloton at the start
Photo By: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
This meant that even though Verstappen already had the fastest lap after he and Hamilton traded it in the opening laps of their second medium set – Verstappen’s third stint – he used the soft drinks given to him. to seal the fastest lap with a time of 1m23.196s. as he took the checkered flag 25.7 seconds behind his title rival.
The VSC prevented Perez from gaining the advantage of Alonso and kept the Spaniard from giving up his one-stopper.
Alonso therefore held the first podium of his return to F1 with 2.8 seconds ahead of Perez, followed by Ocon and Stroll.
The Ferrari pair were on a DRS train at a stop behind Ocon ahead of the VSC and they stayed there even when the race resumed late to take the seventh and eighth as the last riders with no lap.
Norris’ late stoppage saw him drop to ninth place, with Sebastian Vettel taking the final point – his one-stopper combined with the VSC to help him gain ground after falling back at the start.
The VSC also thwarted Gasly’s attempts to make his two stops work, with the AlphaTauri driver one of the first to stop in the first stint and unable to keep up with Perez through the single stops.
Russell finished 17th while Mercedes pulled Bottas out in the pits just before the late puncture drama.
Qatar F1 Grand Prix Results – 57 laps