Senior Sports Journalist
Qatar GP: Lewis Hamilton crashes with Mercedes team-mate George Russell as Max Verstappen wins race
Max Verstappen eased to victory after sealing his third successive world championship in the Sprint; Lewis Hamilton crashed out after a first-corner collision with Mercedes team-mate George Russell; McLaren claimed a double podium with Oscar Piastri second ahead of Lando Norris
Last Updated: 08/10/23 9:23pm
Lewis Hamilton retired after a first-lap crash with Mercedes team-mate George Russell before newly crowned world champion Max Verstappen eased to victory in the Qatar Grand Prix.
Having confirmed his third successive drivers' title in Saturday's Sprint at the Losail International Circuit, Verstappen calmly dealt with unprecedented tyre regulations - brought in for the race amid safety concerns - to ease to victory from pole position ahead of McLaren duo Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris.
Verstappen's task was made more simple when Russell and Hamilton, starting second and third on the grid, respectively, collided at the first corner, leaving the seven-time world champion stricken in the gravel and his team-mate at the back of the field.
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Russell fought back, leaving Mercedes to ponder what might have been, to claim an impressive fourth ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, whose team-mate Carlos Sainz wasn't able to start the race because of a fuel system issue.
With stints limited to a maximum of 18 laps on each set of tyres, drivers were consequently required to make at least three pit stops each during the 57-lap contest, leading to near-constant fluctuation of the running order.
Fernando Alonso took sixth for Aston Martin, with Alpine's Esteban Ocon seventh, while Alfa Romeo had their best race of the season as Valtteri Bottas finished eighth, a place ahead of team-mate Zhou Guanyu.
Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez rounded off another disappointing weekend by taking the final point in 10th to extend his lead over Hamilton in their contest for second in the drivers' standings, with Verstappen now 209 points clear at the top.
Verstappen's 14th victory of the season leaves him one short of his record total of 15 from last year, with five races still to come, while Red Bull, who were crowned constructors' champions last time out in Japan, have now won 16 of this season's 17 Grands Prix.
Qatar GP result
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Oscar Piastri, McLaren
3) Lando Norris, McLaren
4) George Russell, Mercedes
5) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
6) Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin
7) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
8) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
9) Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo
10) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
Hamilton apologises for causing Russell collision
While it was undoubtedly Verstappen's weekend in Qatar, it was his great rival who ensured a share of the headlines - for the wrong reasons - in a first-lap incident.
Hamilton took advantage of starting from the cleaner side of the grid and having softer tyres to get a better start than Russell ahead of him and had almost pulled alongside his team-mate as they approached the first corner.
It was at that moment that Russell veered towards Hamilton's line on the outside of the track, just about far enough in front to justify the manoeuvre.
Hamilton would have been well-advised to back out of it at that point, but sought to complete a pass around the outside, leaving Russell nowhere to go with Verstappen on his inside.
Contact was at that point inevitable, and it was Hamilton to came off worse as he lost a wheel and spun into the gravel.
Russell went off track and resumed at the back of the field before pitting at the end of the lap for new tyres, and impressively mounting a fightback after letting his frustrations out on team radio.
Having initially said over team radio that he was "taken out" by Russell, after seeing replays Hamilton took responsibility for the incident and offered an apology.
"I've watched the replay and it was 100 per cent my fault and I take full responsibility," Hamilton wrote on social media. "Apologies to my team and to George."
He had earlier told Sky Sports: "In the heat of the moment, I didn't really understand what happened, I just obviously felt the tap from behind.
"But I don't think George probably had anywhere to go and, yeah, it's just one of those really unfortunate situations.
"I mean, I'm happy to take responsibility as the older one."
Verstappen celebrates in style
Having become the first driver to seal a world championship in a Sprint, Verstappen backed up his promise that his focus wouldn't be affected with another faultless display.
The 26-year-old got off the line cleanly and watched in his mirrors as his most likely challengers on the day destroyed each other's chances.
The chief beneficiaries of the first-corner drama were the McLarens, with Piastri jumping from sixth to second and Norris from 10th to sixth.
Piastri had impressed in holding off Verstappen to claim his maiden F1 Sprint victory on Saturday, but catching the Red Bull proved out of reach for the Australian rookie.
His main focus was behind him, with the charging Norris applying pressure in the closing stages, only for the team to intervene to instruct that their drivers hold station to secure a second successive double podium.
The work of Red Bull's mechanics has been near perfect throughout the season, but it was only a rare blunder during his third and final pit stop that shrunk Verstappen's margin of victory below five seconds.
Both driver and team have a host of records for the taking over the closing five races - two of which are Sprints - and judging by this display, there will be no let up.
Heat, track limits create tough task for drivers
The FIA had confirmed just hours before the race the implementation of maximum limits for tyre usage, which was a move to ensure the safety of the drivers.
However, they could do nothing to help the drivers with their biggest challenge, the heat and humidity of Qatar at this time of year.
The only previous race at the venue - in 2021 - took place in late November, and it is no surprise that next year's event - the second of a 10-year-deal for the track to host F1 - will run into December.
Williams' Logan Sargeant retired with 16 laps remaining having felt sick, while Ocon revealed after the race that the conditions had led to him throwing up in his helmet.
In addition, the drivers had to cope with another circuit where they found it hugely challenging to avoid track limits violations, with 51 infringements leading to several penalties, the last of which saw Perez demoted from ninth to 10th.
While organisers did an admirable job in coming up with a short-term solution for fears over tyre wear, the Losail circuit will be under scrutiny on all of these issues when F1 returns in 2024.
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