Lewis Hamilton dominates F1 Qatar GP to cut Max Verstappen’s title lead

  • Verstappen recovers to finish second despite grid penalty
  • Red Bull driver leads by eight points with two races to go
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Lewis Hamilton wins the debut Qatar Grand Prix
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Lewis Hamilton wins the debut Qatar Grand Prix, closing the gap to championship rival Max Verstappen.

Twenty races into a gruelling Formula One season, Lewis Hamilton remains relentless and unbowed in his determination to take the title fight to the wire. With his dominant victory over rival Max Verstappen at the debut Qatar Grand Prix, the world champion has ensured this gripping and finely poised battle hangs in the balance. Hamilton is clearly pumped up for it and rightly so on this evidence from the Losail circuit, where his Mercedes team may have delivered the car to make the difference at a vital moment.

Hamilton won with a consummate, controlled run from pole to flag, inch‑perfect with pace that Verstappen could not challenge. He has cut the lead to the Dutchman from 14 points to eight, with 52 available from the final two races, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

Qatar GP: Hamilton wins to close F1 title gap – as it happened:

A visibly energised Hamilton, enjoying back-to-back wins after victory at the last round in Brazil, was relishing the challenge and it was impossible not to sense the momentum had shifted behind his attempt to take a record eighth title. “I’m loving it,” he said. “I love the close battle, and the pressure, and the demands it puts on you, and the whole team. I thoroughly enjoyed it, we’ll be bringing our triple-A game for the last two races. I feel great, the car is better than ever, I am looking forward to the battle.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull simply could not match the pace of the Mercedes but he did at least stay close to Hamilton all race while they left the field far in their wake. The Dutchman counted his second as a very good recovery having started from seventh after he was given a grid penalty shortly before the race for failing to slow for waved yellow flags in qualifying. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso secured a superb third, his first podium for 104 races, the last being at Hungary in 2014.

Mercedes and Hamilton delivered at Losail with the flawless execution they know will be required to take the title but, crucially, with fearsome pace. Their car, the team principal Toto Wolff confirmed when asked, was better now than it had been all season with his driver in menacing form after his recovery from penalties in Brazil.

Lewis Hamilton wore the helmet for practice in the first Qatar Grand Prix at the Losail Circuit.
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Lewis Hamilton praised after wearing rainbow helmet in Qatar GP practice

“Yes, definitely,” he said. “The car is quick on the straight and good in the corners. Lewis is totally in the zone, the lion got woken up at Interlagos. Saudi Arabia should be a good track for us. If everybody finishes the race, [the battle] is going to go to Abu Dhabi.” Notably both are night races in conditions very similar to Qatar where Mercedes found the car’s sweet spot with alacrity.

Verstappen acknowledged there was nothing he could do. “We just didn’t have the pace to match them,” he said. “But there are two races to go and a lot of things can happen.” After the race Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner, who had endured a trying weekend, found no respite when he was summoned to the stewards for potentially bringing the sport into disrepute after his critical comments regarding the marshalling on Verstappen’s penalty.

He was given a warning, but of greater concern will be Red Bull’s deficit to Mercedes. After Verstappen’s win in Mexico, Horner had said they should throw away the form book in anticipating who might have the edge at these final meetings. Yet with Hamilton’s back to back wins that form seems to have swung ominously in Mercedes’ favour at a pivotal time.

Hamilton was four-tenths up in qualifying and enjoyed a definitive advantage in race pace. Red Bull are still questioning the legality of the Mercedes’ rear wing and the straightline speed it is conferring on their car and, after a weekend dominated by fractious politicking between the teams, this off-track battle likely to be staged in the steward’s room will only intensify.

Lewis Hamilton is untroubled from the front as he wins the Qatar Grand Prix
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Lewis Hamilton is untroubled from the front as he wins the Qatar Grand Prix.

In Qatar, where the higher downforce version of the wing is preferred, Red Bull believed no advantage was being gained but they may yet protest it at the next round. Mercedes remain convinced of its legality and regardless, after ending up comprehensively on top here, will be confident going into the deciding races.

The race was Hamilton’s from the off, especially after Verstappen’s penalty meant he could not challenge for the lead going into the first corner. Hamilton did what was required with a strong start, holding his lead through turn one while Verstappen was also off like a bullet.

He climbed from seventh to fourth as he exited the first corner. Trailing Alonso and Pierre Gasly, he had passed both by lap five to take second but, from there, the front two positions were set.

They duly exchanged the tit-for-tat slugfest of lap times that has become familiar this season as they swapped fastest laps, but Hamilton held the gap at five seconds as they left the field behind.

By lap 13, however, Hamilton began to show the pace he had demonstrated in qualifying, putting over six seconds on his rival while both maintained a ferocious pace, already 30 seconds up the road from Alonso in third.

They matched each other across the two pit stops and Verstappen recognised he could not challenge. “Let’s have a bit of fun, we’re going to be second anyway”, he said and the team duly gave him the OK to hammer his tyres, but still he could make no impression on the seven-second lead.

Verstappen took a late stop to secure the fastest lap for the extra point but, with a 10 second lead in the final third, the world champion had done enough to seal a comfortable win. It was a somewhat unremarkable one in the pantheon of Hamilton’s 102 victories, but inescapably significant for the championship.

Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez was in fourth and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in fifth. Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel were in sixth and 10th for Aston Martin, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in seventh and eighth for Ferrari and Lando Norris in ninth for McLaren.

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Wolff: Interlagos F1 penalty brought out Hamilton’s “superhero powers”

Toto Wolff believes the adversity Lewis Hamilton faced at Interlagos brought out his “superhero powers”, leading to back-to-back wins to shift momentum in the Formula 1 title fight.

Wolff: Interlagos F1 penalty brought out Hamilton's "superhero powers"
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Hamilton led from lights-to-flag in Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix to cut Red Bull rival Max Verstappen’s championship lead down to eight points with two races remaining this season.

It marked Hamilton’s second straight win following his victory at Interlagos last Sunday, which came after he started the sprint race in last place following his exclusion from qualifying when his car failed a post-session technical check.

It came amid growing tensions between Mercedes and Red Bull over the past two weekends, with Red Bull boss Christian Horner declaring there was “no relationship” between the title-fighting squads.

Asked by Motorsport.com if the intensity of the title fight was bringing out the best in Hamilton right now, Wolff said: “They have woken up the lion on the Saturday at Interlagos.

“He’s absolutely on it – brutal, and cold-blooded. This is the best in Lewis, and we’ve seen it in the past. He’s right there.”

Wolff expanded on the Brazil qualifying exclusion as sparking something that brought out the best in Hamilton, noting his ability to fight against adversity.

“I think when adversity happens, then it takes him to a place where he’s able to mobilise superhero powers,” Wolff said.

“And it was the adversity that triggered that at Interlagos.”

Hamilton lost the lead of the championship in Turkey, and saw the gap grow to 19 points after Verstappen took consecutive wins in the United States and Mexico.

But Wolff vowed that he had never stopped believing that the titles remained within Mercedes’ reach.

“We had such a strong Turkey, and then obviously fell back below expectations in Austin and in Mexico,” Wolff said.

“But anyone in the team refuses to give up, and I’m grateful how the championship has swung.

“If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that we are right in the fight in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, I would have taken it.

“So I hope it’s going to go all the way to the end. Whoever will win merits the win.”

Lewis Hamilton

‘Driven’ Hamilton says there’s no time for celebrations after Qatar win puts him 8 points shy of Verstappen

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“I generally felt I wasn’t massively under threat. I managed to cover the ground just off the start and after that it was just kind of head down and focused on trying to [keep] the gap.

Lewis Hamilton feeling confident in the car after a ‘super solid’ weekend in Qatar

“I already saw once I got to Turn 6 that Max was already in fourth place,” added Hamilton of the start, after Verstappen jumped his team mate Valtteri Bottas off the line, the Finn falling from P6 to P11 on Lap 1 before eventually retiring. “So I knew that he was already past my team mate, and at the time I didn’t know Valtteri had had such a bad getaway.

“Then after that, I was just focused on trying to maximise the points for the team, was feeling strong. I think [Red Bull] had relatively decent pace but I was able to manage the pace, so it wasn’t a problem.”

Following the final triple header of the year, you could forgive Hamilton for looking forward to some down time ahead of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on December 3-5.

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Hamilton was able to manage the gap to Verstappen throughout the race

But with just eight points between him and Verstappen now with two races to go, and the wind seemingly in Mercedes’ sails, Hamilton said there was no time to take his foot off the throttle as this thrilling season draws towards its finale.

“The last two weeks have been fantastic, just amazing,” said Hamilton. “But there’s no time for celebrations; I’ll be back in with the team already again next week and just back in training tomorrow. Just stay on it, head down.

“I don’t really have too much emotion except for [being] driven right now. But it’s amazing… To close that gap so many points in these last few races has been important. They’re obviously still very fast as you could see today with their fastest lap and both their cars getting past pretty much everyone quite easily. So we’ve still got our work cut out and a big shame for Valtteri today.

“[But] I feel positive going into these next couple of races. I think they should be quite good for our car, so I’m looking forward to that battle.”

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Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton 2016 Malaysia 2.jpg
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Born
Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton[1]

7 January 1985 (age 36)[2]

Occupation
Parent(s)
  • Anthony Hamilton
  • Carmen Larbalestier
Family Nicolas Hamilton (brother)
Formula One World Championship career
Nationality
United Kingdom
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British
Car number 44[note 1]
Entries 286 (286 starts)
Championships 7 (2008, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020)
Wins 102
Podiums 180
Career points 4121.5
Pole positions 102
Fastest laps 58
First entry 2007 Australian Grand Prix
First win 2007 Canadian Grand Prix
Last win 2021 Qatar Grand Prix
Last entry 2021 Qatar Grand Prix
2020 position 1st (347 pts)
Website lewishamilton.com
Signature
Signature de Lewis Hamilton png.png
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Sir Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton MBE HonFREng (born 7 January 1985) is a British racing driver. He currently competes in Formula One for Mercedes, having previously driven for McLaren from 2007 to 2012. In Formula One, Hamilton has won a joint-record seven World Drivers’ Championship titles (tied with Michael Schumacher), and holds the records for the most wins (102), pole positions (102), and podium finishes (180), among others.

Born and raised in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, Hamilton joined the McLaren young driver programme in 1998. This led to a Formula One drive with McLaren in 2007, making Hamilton the first, and so far only, black driver to race in the series. That season, Hamilton set numerous records as he finished runner-up to Kimi Räikkönen by one point. The following season, he won his maiden title in dramatic fashion – making a crucial overtake on the last lap of the last race of the season – to become the then-youngest Formula One World Champion in history. After four more years with McLaren, Hamilton signed with Mercedes in 2013.

Changes to the regulations for 2014, mandating the use of turbo-hybrid engines, saw the start of a highly successful period for Hamilton, during which he has won six further drivers’ titles. Consecutive titles came in 2014 and 2015 during an intense rivalry with teammate Nico Rosberg. Following Rosberg’s retirement, Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel became Hamilton’s closest rival in two intense championship battles, in which Hamilton twice overturned mid-season point deficits to claim consecutive titles again in 2017 and 2018. His third and fourth consecutive titles followed in 2019 and 2020 to equal Schumacher’s record of seven drivers’ titles.