Qatar GP: Double podium for McLaren, Mercedes miss out

Jaden Diaz
9 Oct, 2023

Max Verstappen wins the Qatar GP ahead of the McLaren duo of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris – on a weekend in which McLaren showed tremendous pace.  The two drivers for the Woking team started in sixth and ninth position after errors in the last laps of Qualifying, which cost them crucial time in the race.

Regardless, the MCL60 confirms itself as second-fastest, not far behind the dominant RB19, with Piastri showing better pace than he did in Suzuka. Mercedes wasted strong grid positions with a Turn 1 collision, but the W14 still showed very good race pace.

Ferrari was fifth with Leclerc, whilst Sainz couldn’t even start the race due to a mechanical issue. The Monegasue finished ahead of Alonso, Ocon, Bottas, Zhou and Perez. Alfa Romeo’s race was finally positive, but it will have to give consistency to the results and confirm today’s performance in the next events.

Qatar GP: Verstappen wins but doesn’t dominate, Mercedes wastes an opportunity – Sainz out before the start

Following further analysis carried out by the FIA ​​and Pirelli before the race, the maximum laps for one set of tyres was reduced from 20 to 18 laps (for new tyres), which forced a minimum of a three-stop race.

Already in Saturday’s Sprint Race, there was team radio of Max Verstappen’s engineer asking the three-time world champion to pay close attention to the use of curbs to avoid structural damage to the tyres, despite the fact that many of the 19 laps of the Sprints were run under the Safety Car regime.

The twists and turns of the Qatar GP arrived well before the start of the race: the Red Bull mechanics had to replace the chassis of Sergio Perez’s car following yesterday’s accident, and already knowing of his departure from the pit lane, the Mexican changed the Power Unit.

On the other hand, things went even worse for Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari, who retired even before the race due to a problem with the fuel supply system on his SF23.

Mercedes were 26 points ahead of Ferrari before the Qatar GP, and seemed likely to lose ground after Hamilton and Russell collided on lap 1. The 7-time Champion was slightly too aggressive going into the first corner, putting himself out and ruining Russell’s race. Even without this incident, there would have been question marks surrounding the choice to begin the race on soft tyres.

The first stops of the race took place between the thirteenth and seventeenth laps, with positions initially unchanged; on the twentieth lap, Lando Norris managed to overtake Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari – thanks to the pace advantage of the MCL60.

The race stabilised with tyre management and track limits taking centre stage, and strategies completely neutralized by the maximum number of laps allowed for each single set of tyres.

An error by Alonso on lap 33 handed provisional sixth position, but effectively fifth position, to Charles Leclerc. The McLarens, especially Norris’s, once again showed an astonishing pace in different conditions, but the English driver’s mistake on Friday took away any chance of success.

Russell, in his Mercedes, slowly climbed back up to fourth position after the accident on the first lap, thanks to a very strong W14 in the Qatar GP. In the final laps, however, the ex-Williams driver suffered physical tiredness due to the extreme conditions in which this race took place, abandoning the chase – already unlikely in itself – for the podium and managing the gap accumulated on Leclerc’s Ferrari.

Even Lando Norris, among others, was caught trying to get some air in his hands, while according to what is said, Ocon was ill just on the fifteenth lap but still battled through to finish in seventh place.

The positive race of Alpine (helped by the updates) and Alfa Romeo in the ‘midfield’ is contrasted with the very poor performances from Haas, Williams and, in particular, Alpha Tauri.

This is a track that should have been positive for the Faenza team on paper, thanks to recent upgrades to the AT04. At Williams, a difficult weekend ended with Logan Sargeant retiring for physical reasons:

The American rookie was unable to last all 57 laps of the Qatar GP in extremely difficult conditions, not only for the cars and tyres but even for the drivers themselves.

Author: Andrea Vergani

Author: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang

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