Saturday, January 29, 2022

Qatar Grand Prix Report: Lewis’ masterclass, Max’s damage limitation and Alonso’s comeback

Qatar Grand Prix Report: Lewis Hamilton wins, Max takes P2, as Alonso gets back on the podium after seven years in Qatar.


Qatar Grand Prix: I can’t recall the last time we had a boring F1 race this season. Well, to be honest, I did doze off in the middle part of the race because it had become a bore-fest. Though now that I think of it, I truly cannot and should not term the 2021 Qatar GP a mere dull race.

There was drama right before the race itself was scheduled to get underway thanks to the many yellow-flag infringements from yesterday. Three drivers got involved, one of which was this year’s title challenger. No points for guessing who that was.

If you didn’t watch the race for yourself, sorry, you and I can never be friends. The Losail International Circuit, which was apparently going to be nearly impossible to overtake at, saw several overtakes, with the prime spot being T1, as hoped.

There were punctures, some pretty cooked skid blocks, cry for help, tears of joy. The 2021 Qatar GP was the perfect venue to end F1’s last triple-header of the current season as it seems. So then, how did the twenty-odd drivers fare under the lights in Qatar? I tell you.

Mercedes – Lewis – P1 / Bottas – DNF

Coming to Qatar, it was expected out of Hamilton to absolutely demolish his competition, and demolishing he did! The stats say that out of the 35 different F1 venues Lewis has raced at, he’s won on 30 out of them. That man’s a legend. You can not take that away from him.

Hamilton had a great start, even though he started on the Mediums as opposed to Gasly and Nando behind on Softs. As soon as the Brit crossed T1, he was nowhere to be found. There was a time, again, when Lewis questioned Mercedes’ strategy as he came on the lap next to Max’s to box for Hards twice. The team said in its defense that there is pace in hand. Mercedes wasn’t wrong. With his Qatar win, his total tally of wins and Pole stands at 102 apiece. Perfectly balanced.

Valtteri Bottas, oh poor Bottas. The Finn had a dismal Quali yesterday as he qualified some six-tenths behind his teammate. To make matters worse, he was given a three-place grid drop for not respecting yellow flags at the end of Q3, resulting in him starting from P6, ahead of Verstappen.

As has been the case all year long, Bottas has failed to defend and attack when it matters the most. Even Toto come out on the radio to motivate Valtteri and pass the AT of Yuki and Aston of Stroll ahead, but it still took some time before he could overtake the two. Not that it mattered in the end…

Valtteri had been inside the top 6 I think it was before disaster struck and he had a front-left puncture without any warning as he says. That put him well outside the top 10, and he had only one job in hand to make sure Verstappen or Perez doesn’t get the additional fastest lap point. He retired from the race soon after. I honestly feel that Bottas will be the reason why Mercedes loses to Red Bull this year.

Qatar Grand Prix: Red Bull – Max – P2 / Sergio – P4

It was all about limiting the damage at the Red Bull camp as both of its drivers were way behind the pace. Checo, maybe a bit too much. It all got even worse for the team when Max was handed a five-place grid drop for his Quali shenanigans. Not that it mattered in the end…

By the end of lap 2-3, the Dutchman was right back where he would’ve been if not for the penalty. From there on, there was no way that he could challenge Hamilton for the victory, as was duly shown by his race pace. All he could do was just sit tight, and enjoy the *really* big gap to his teammate behind as he made three stops in total to ensure the additional point. Pretty straightforward.

As for Checo, it had to be his way or the highway. Poor joke. The Mexican qualified outside the top 10, much to the despair of his team. Not that it mattered in the end… Sergio quickly made his way up to the grid, giving us a spectacular overtaking show simultaneously. By the end, he did get quite close to Fernando, as Red Bull had predicted a podium finish for him, but due to the VSC being switched on at the wrong time, he couldn’t and had to settle for P4. Still, not a bad day at the office, no?

Ferrari – Sainz – P7 / Leclerc – P8 & McLaren – Norris – P9 / Ricciardo – P12

The most closely-fought battle this year except for Mercedes was the Ferrari v McLaren one, but it certainly looks like we have seen the better days of the fight.

Charlie had a terrible Quali yesterday, starting in P13 for today’s race. Sainz, on the other hand, is enjoying his success at Ferrari in just his debut season for the Italian folks. Thanks to penalties for Bottas and Verstappen, the Spaniard was promoted to P5 on the grid. It was once again a points finish for Carlos, and Leclerc made a lot of progress too, to finish in the points, albeit behind his teammate. Again.

On McLaren’s side, the team would’ve definitely hoped for a better race. At what was Woking’s 900th Grand Prix start, the drivers weren’t at the best of their abilities it seems as Daniel failed to score a single point for the third race-in-a-row, and Lando had a slow puncture for which he had to dive into the pits again. That extra pitstop cost McLaren some valuable points as Norris took the chequered flag in P9.

Ferrari now leads McLaren by some 39.5 points with just two races to run. That said, I don’t think so that McLaren is getting that coveted P3 in the Constructors’. However, in the Drivers’ Championship, it could still be a lot to play for as Norris and Leclerc are separated by just one point. Tasty.

Alpine – Alonso – P3 / Ocon – P5 & AlphaTauri – Gasly – P11 / Tsunoda – P13

Trust me when I say, writing ‘Alpine – P3 & P5’ gives me a huge smile and some tears. Oh, what a fantastic night the team had in Qatar! Absolutely flawless, powerful, deserving. Maybe a bit too quick.

Fernando had started in P3, thanks to again, the penalties for those ahead. And Fernando being Fernando, he literally put out every bit of performance in his Alpine to score a podium after seven years! Yes, No.14 was on the podium for the first time since Hungary way back in 2014. A crazy fact – the last time Alonso was on the podium, Lewis was still a one-time champ.

Worth mentioning is that Alonso did risk his tyres, particularly the front-left, as he pulled off a magical one-stop strategy to secure P3 in the race. He is around 40 years, but man, he races like a mid-25! You surely cannot question his capabilities. That Alpine is just suiting to his needs week in and week out.

Hungary GP winner Esteban too, was on a charge. After gaining positions gradually, he became the leader of the DRS train. Had it not been for the VSC, Stroll would’ve gotten him, but it wasn’t meant to be perhaps. A strong, strong weekend for Alpine.

How did it look for Alpha? Well, not good, After his heroics in Quali which later resulted in Gasly starting from P2, alongside Hamilton, he somehow lost all his special pace and fell behind by some margin. Poor fella. Yuki too, was nowhere to be seen tonight. Really, nothing much to tell here about AT’s miserable day at the office.

Perhaps after the tasty Ferrari v McLaren battle, came AlphaTauri v Alpine. For most part of the year, it had been a one-man show at Alpha, but even Pierre could do nothing as the Alpine duo just went for it and gained a bucketload of points over its rival. As things stand, the gap between the two teams is 25 points, with Alpine heading. Hopes for a P5 for AlphaTauri surely over now.

Aston Martin – Stroll – P6 / Vettel – P10

It was the other way around for the Aston team as this time, after a long time, Lance scored, and scored big. Saturday was pretty dismal for the Canadian, and nobody had thought that he would be challenging for some points come Sunday, but that is exactly what he did.

Unfortunately, the F1 TV Director didn’t show us his progress, but it was great to see Stroll gaining some ground and taking home some much-needed points. As for Vettel, the race ended after T1 itself as the German says he ran wide and screwed up with his day. That said, Seb also mentioned that the pace was good. Oh, what could’ve been…

Qatar Grand Prix report: Alfa Romeo – Kimi – P14 / Antonio – P15 & Haas – Mick – P16 / Mazepin – P18 & Williams – Russell – P17 / Latifi – DNF

Like yesterday, the tail-end of the field had nothing much to offer, but Raikkonen certainly seemed on a charge and fiesty as he fought with other cars to make sure he enjoys as much as he can before he leaves the sport at the end of this season.

Punctures dominated Williams as both of its drivers suffered from one, but it was worse on Nicholas Latifi’s side as he had to stop on the track. As for the Haas duo, Mazepin was still racing in Brazil. He was that far from his teammate. Speaking of his teammate, Mick’s race went unnoticed there as at one point, it looked like he might even overtake Giovinazzo on pure pace.

What’s next?

Well, the sport takes a couple of weeks off, before the grid heads to Saudi Arabia, F1’s newest and fastest street circuit from December 3-5. Being another fast-flowing circuit like Qatar, it is expected that Mercedes would once again be the dominant force. If Lewis wins in Jeddah and also gets the fastest lap, and Max finishes P2, both the drivers could enter Abu Dhabi with a gap of… ZERO points! If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will. Stay tuned, as we’re set to witness the best title race in ages.


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