Qatar GP: The big takeaways from an eventful first-ever Formula 1 race

Lewis Hamilton won the Qatar GP to cut Max Verstappen's Formula 1 world driver's championship lead to 8 points with two races to go.

Lewis Hamilton won the Qatar GP in easy fashion. (Twitter: @F1)

Lewis Hamilton made it two Formula 1 race wins in as many races with another victory in Qatar. However, the Qatar GP was an eventful race even though the winner was never really in doubt.

Hamilton’s clear pace advantage to the Red Bull’s of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez remained intact on race day. Therefore, Mercedes were able to seal the win with minimal fuss and the deficit in the world driver’s championship is now just 8 points with 2 races remaining.

Given there’s a maximum of 52 points available in the remaining races, Mercedes will be quietly confident. Especially since the next circuit – another first-time race at Saudi Arabia – appears set to favour them, at least on first glance.

However, there was more at stake at Qatar than just the championship battles. How would Ferrari and McLaren fare in their battle for the ‘best of the rest’ tag? Would AlphaTauri or Alpine manage to get a significant advantage in their battle for fifth and sixth? And what about the other teams in the midfield?

This, plus plenty of tyre drama, made for a pretty entertaining first-time race at the Losail International Circuit. And as always, there is plenty to talk about after the race.

So without further ado, let’s analyse the big takeaways from the 20th round of the 2022 F1 world championship.

Hamilton takes standard win at Qatar GP…

Hamilton’s speed advantage over everyone else – especially Verstappen – was evident in qualifying. And as the race went on, in became clear that Red Bull would not be able to catch him on race pace either. They kept Verstappen on a two-stop but Mercedes, mindful of minimising the risk, mimicked their stop times and were able to comfortably keep Hamilton out.

Verstappen trailed Hamilton by at least 7-8 seconds for most of the race, such was Hamilton’s advantage once the race began. He was helped by Verstappen’s grid penalty before the race due to not obeying yellow flags in qualifying. But the key was their speed did not waver.

Thus, a title chase that looked lost after the Mexican GP is suddenly alive and kicking once again. It is still very much advantage Red Bull, since their car hasn’t suddenly gone bad. But it is a lot closer than they would have liked, and at this rate will likely go down to the final race.

… But Red Bull have arguably the better race

It helps that Red Bull actually had a pretty fine race; indeed, as a team they had a better outing than Mercedes. Verstappen finished second and got an extra point for the fastest lap, whereas Sergio Perez finished fourth. Thus, while their lead in the driver’s championship dwindled, they also slashed Mercedes’ lead in the constructor’s championship.

Red Bull did not start the race in a great position; Perez was in 11th and Verstappen 7th after the aforementioned grid penalty. However, the Dutchman cut through the field with ease and Perez too just about missed out on a podium finish. There might have been better ways to handle Perez’s race, but for Verstappen they did the best they could.

The interesting thing now is where they go from here. The street circuit at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia is strongly expected to favour Mercedes given the nature of the straights. But the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP will be a level playing field. However, they can’t afford to drop too many points either. Decisions aplenty await Christian Horner.

Qatar GP a night to forget for Valtteri Bottas

Poor Bottas. Sometimes he doesn’t help himself, other times poor luck hampers his races. The Qatar GP saw both of those misfortunes hit him in the exact same race. First he got a grid penalty which saw him start the race further behind than he would have. Like Verstappen, he too did not slow down during a yellow flag in qualifying.

Then he made a poor start, meaning he could not stay ahead and potentially defend Hamilton from Verstappen’s onslaught – or keep himself in contention for a podium finish. Then, to make things worse, he suffered a tyre puncture and would eventually have to retire from the race.

As far as poor racedays go, they don’t really get much worse than this. And while some of it – the poor start – was down to him, the tyre strategy was not. We’ll get to this aspect of the race in a bit. But first, let’s talk about the man who claimed a first podium in 7 years…

Fernando Alonso continues to go from strength to strength

Fernando Alonso’s comeback to F1 hasn’t always been smooth sailing. However, the two-time world champion has been in fine form lately and in the Qatar GP looked the best of the midfield drivers. Thus it was of little surprise that he managed to finish on the podium this time around.

His third-place finish was, incidentally, his first in the sport since 2014, when he drove for Ferrari. The last few years of Alonso’s F1 career at McLaren were anything but happy days, and even points finishes were accomplishments. This podium clearly felt sweet to the veteran driver.

The question now, of course, is does the old horse have one more title charge in him? It seems unlikely now, but 2022 regulations could well see Alpine become consistent podium challengers. They’ve already won a race this season, but if they can produce a better car next season then Alonso and Esteban Ocon might have a few more podium finishes to celebrate.

Tyre drama wreaks havoc on pit stop strategy

Before the race, it was common knowledge that the track’s demanding corners would push the tyres to their limits. Despite that, many teams attempted a one-stop strategy once the race began. To put it politely, it did not work out at all. As the race went on, most teams changed tack and went for a two-stop. Those who didn’t paid the price.

Bottas was the first victim, the Mercedes driver kept out longer in a bid to make a late dash for a podium finish. His front left tyre blew out and he limped back to the pits, but lost key track positions in that time. Lando Norris was brought in late on due to worries he might suffer a puncture of his own.

Both Williams drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi also suffered on a one-stopper. Interestingly, all three drivers saw their front left tyres suffer the puncture, perhaps a sign of added pressure given the sheer number of right-handed corners? Either way, it did lead to plenty of changes in strategy for the teams, most of who wanted to not lose track position.

Shayne Dias

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