Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton took a dominant Qatar Grand Prix victory to narrow the Drivers’ title gap to Max Verstappen to eight points, as the championship-leading Red Bull driver recovered from a five-place grid penalty to finish second and take the point for fastest lap. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso finished third to score his first podium finish since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix.
Pole sitter Hamilton got away well at the race start and quickly began to establish a strong lead at the front of the pack. Behind him Verstappen’s recovery from a five-place penalty for failing to heed double yellow flags in Q3 after an incident involved AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was founded on as superb getaway when the lights went out.
Starting seventh behind Mercedes Valtteri Bottas, who had also received a grid drop of three places for a similar offence, Verstappen was quickest out of the blocks at the start, slipping between Bottas and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz as they headed to Turn 1. And after hugging the inside line through the opening corner he found himself in P4 after Turn 2, despite kick up the dust when Alpine’s Fernando Alonso drifted wide as they approached the apex.
He quickly began to close on Gasly, who made his first front-row start after being boosted up the grid by the penalties elsewhere The AlphaTauri man went wide in the final corner as DRS was activated and Max breezed past on the pit straight. And on lap five he made the dame move past Alonso to claim second place, 3.7s behind Hamilton.
Further back, Versatppen’s team-mate Sérgio Pérez was also on the march and after powering past Esteban Ocon on lap nine the Red Bull driver was up to sixth place. Gasly was then passed by the hard-charging Mexican.
Pérez now began to chase down McLaren’s Lando Norris. The McLaren driver’s soft tyres were beginning to faded and the Red Bull man claimed fourth place by easing past the Briton at the start of Lap 18.
Verstappen then made his first visit to the pit lane at the end of lap 17, taking on hard tyres in a 2.2s stop. Mercedes responded on the next lap and after a similar swift switch to Hard tyres he rejoined in the lead, the full length of the pit straight ahead of his Dutch rival.
Pérez made his stop at the end of lap 19 and after taking on hard tyres, he began to once again scythe through the order, making his way back to P5 by lap 28, behind Alonso.
He attacked at the start of the following tour and after feinting right, which caused Alonso to cover aggressively, Pérez dived left and went to the outside of the Alpine through Turn 1. Alonso hung on to his line and the pair went through Turns Two and Three wheel-to-wheel. However, armed with a better exit from Three, Pérez was able to muscle past to take fourth place.
At the front, though, Hamilton was comfortable and holding a seven-second gap to Verstappen at the end of lap 33. Bottas was in trouble though, suffering a puncture on lap 34 He went off track mid-way through the lap and rejoined and that allowed Sergio to close in and sweep past the Mercedes man to claim third place. Bottas made it back to the pit lane but after an 11-second stop for hard tyres and a new nose, the Finn rejoined in P14.
On lap 40, Hamilton was 8.5s ahead of Verstappen, with Pérez some 52.8s behind his team-mate. Alonso now held fourth place ahead of Norris, with the second Alpine of Esteban Ocon in sixth place ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and the Ferrari’s of Sainz and Charles Leclerc. Vettel held 10th place ahead of Gasly who had made a second pit stop.
Verstappen made his second pit stop at the end of lap 41, taking on medium tyres in a superb 2.1s stop. Pérez followed moments later and he too went for mediums, rejoining in P7 with Stroll, Ocon and Norris.
Stroll was despatched swiftly and then the Mexican attacked Ocon at the start of lap 48. He powered past the Frenchman around the outside into Turn 1 and though the Frenchman tried to fight back, resistance was futile and Pérez took P5. He was, however, 15 seconds behind Fernando Alonso with Norris still in the way in P4.
The race then took another turn in the final laps as Norris and both Williams drivers, who were both attempting one-stop races, suffered front-left punctures similar to the one that eventually caused Bottas to retire.
The damage to Norris was not severe and the McLaren driver was able to return to the pits. He dropped to ninth, however, and Pérez was boosted to fourth place, 11 seconds behind Alonso. Williams’ George Russell was next to suffer and when team-mate Nicholas Latifi went off track and his car proved hard to recover, the VSC was deployed.
Perez was just six seconds behind Alonso under the caution but with a single lap of racing left when the track eventually went green again, the Mexican driver was forced to settle for fourth place behind Alonso, who took his first podium finish in seven years.
Ahead Hamilton took the chequered flag to claim his seventh victory of the season. Behind him Verstappen made sure of the extra point on offer by taking on soft tyres for a final tour of 1:23.196. His P2 finish and that extra point mean he is now eight points ahead of Hamilton with two races remaining. In the Constructors’ battle Mercedes now head Red Bull by five points.
Behind the top four, Ocon finished fourth for Alpine – putting them 25 points clear of AlphaTauri in the battle for fifth in the Constructors’ Championship – ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc. Norris finished ninth and the final point went to Sebastian Vettel in the second Aston.
2021 FIA Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix – Race
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 57 1:24'28.471
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 57 1:24'54.214 25.743
3 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 57 1:25'27.928 59.457
4 Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda 57 1:25'30.777 1'02.306
5 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 57 1:25'49.041 1'20.570
6 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 57 1:25'49.745 1'21.274
7 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 57 1:25'50.382 1'21.911
8 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 57 1:25'51.597 1'23.126
9 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 56 1:24'29.186 1 lap /0.715
10 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 56 1:24'34.067 1 lap /5.596
11 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 56 1:24'39.660 1 lap /11.189
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 56 1:25'02.071 1 lap /33.600
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda 56 1:25'02.397 1 lap /33.926
14 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 56 1:25'05.206 1 lap /36.735
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 56 1:25'29.614 1 lap /1'01.143
16 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 56 1:25'31.192 1 lap /1'02.721
17 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 55 1:24'46.509 2 laps /18.038
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas/Ferrari 55 1:25'08.856 2 laps /40.385
Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 50 1:15'59.831 Tyre
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 48 1:12'40.238 Retirement