Max Verstappen took a controlled victory in a Qatar Grand Prix defined by mandated stint lengths and by a lap one collision between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell as McLaren scored a double podium finish with Oscar Piastri finishing ahead of Lando Norris.
Ahead of the race, the FIA, in response to issues seen with Pirelli’s tyres earlier in the weekend, ruled that teams could complete no more than 18 laps on any set of tyres and across the 57 laps, that meant a minimum of three pit stops.
When the lights went out at the start, Verstappen got away well from pole position ahead of Russell, with both on Medium tyres. But it was Lewis Hamilton, on Soft compound Pirelli tyres who got away best and the Mercedes driver tried to overtake both around the outside into Turn1 .
However, the seven-time champion turned in too abruptly and there was contact between the Mercedes pair. Hamilton, minus his rear right wheel, slid off track and out of the race. Russell was forced to pit for damage checks and dropped to the back of the field. The incident led to Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso being baulked and that allowed Piastri to sneak through on the inside to take P2 ahead of the Safety Car being deployed.
When the SC left the track, Verstappen controlled the restart well and soon began to pull away from Piastri and third-placed Alonso.
At the end of lap 11 the first round of stops was triggered by Alonso, with Piastri and Leclerc following the Spaniard into the pit lane at the end of the next lap. Verstappen remained on track until lap 17, however, before making the switch to a second set of Medium tyres. He rejoined just behind Williams’ Alex Albon who had yet to pit.
The newly crowned three-time champion soon reclaimed the lead, however, as Albon, out of laps in his first stint, made his first pit stop. And with the first round of mandated stops complete, the Red Bull driver led Piastri by 7.4 seconds, with Alonso still third ahead of Norris and Leclerc.
Ahead of his second stop, Verstappen led Piastri by 34 seconds and when he took on a set of Hard tyres at the end of lap 34, he rejoined just under nine seconds clear of Piastri with Norris now in third after Alonso went off track at Turn 2 and slid back to seventh.
Piastri made his final stop of the race at the end of lap 43, moving to Hard tyres and eight laps later
Verstappen headed to the pit lane for a final time at the end of lap 51. The Dutchman moved to a set of medium tyres. The stop was slow though due to an issue with the front left he rejoined in the lead and with four seconds in hand over Piastri and Norris.
The Red Bull driver had enough pace in hand, however, to stay ahead across the final laps and after securing the fastest lap point on the penultimate tour he powered to his 14th win of the season ahead of Piastri and Norris.
Russell held onto fourth at the flag ahead of Leclerc, while Fernando Alonso crossed the line in sixth place. The Spaniard had been summoned to the stewards, however, for possibly rejoining unsafely after an off.
Esteban Ocon finished seventh for Alpine ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, while Sergio Pérez, who started from the pit lane after an overnight PU change, took 10th place and the final point despite being hit with three five-second time penalties for track limits infringements.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix – Race
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 57 1:27'39.168
2 Oscar Piastri McLaren 57 1:27'44.001 4.833
3 Lando Norris McLaren 57 1:27'45.137 5.969
4 George Russell Mercedes 57 1:28'13.287 34.119
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 57 1:28'18.144 38.976
6 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 57 1:28'28.200 49.032
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine 57 1:28'41.558 1'02.390
8 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 57 1:28'45.731 1'06.563
9 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 57 1:28'55.295 1'16.127
10 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Racing 1:28'59.349 1'20.181
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 57 1:29'00.820 1'21.652
12 Pierre Gasly Alpine 57 1:29'01.468 1'22.300
13 Alexander Albon Williams 57 1:29'10.182 1'31.014
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 56 - 1 lap
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 56 - 1 lap
16 Nico Hülkenberg Haas 56 - 1 lap
17 Liam Lawson AlphaTauri 56 - 1 lap
Logan Sargeant Williams 40 – Retirement
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0 – Retirement
Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0 – Did not start