Our regular F1 correspondent outlines the drama-filled Formula One Grand Prix in his race report F1 Review Qatar 2021.

The F1 circus moved to Qatar for the first time, to a circuit that has been used for international motorcycle racing events. The drivers enjoyed the flowing layout of the track in qualifying, but the race would be one of strategy, as the teams venture out onto an unknown circuit in a desert…

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Off-track battles

In the lead up to the weekend, Mercedes requested the FIA that the stewards review the skirmish between Max Verstappen (Red Bull-Honda) and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) for the lead at Brazil – a move that was summarily rejected.

The pre-race drama continued after qualifying for the Qatar Grand Prix, though, when Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) were called to the stewards, and subsequently penalised, for yellow flag infringements in the qualifying session. Bottas did not slow for a waved yellow and received a three grid-slot penalty, while Verstappen was slapped with a five grid-slot penalty for not slowing for double waved yellow flags. Red Bull team boss, Christian Horner, criticised the marshal in question and, subsequently, received a formal warning from the FIA for his actions.

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Into the unknown

While it was determined in qualifying that tyre wear would not be an issue, most drivers pitted twice in the race. Some drivers only pitted once, however, both Bottas and Nicolas Latifi (Williams-Mercedes) suffered left front tyre failures, leading both of them to retire from the race. Latifi’s teammate, George Russell, suffered a similar fate, but managed to make it to the chequered flag.

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Back-to-back wins

The race saw Lewis Hamilton take the lead from pole position and dominate the race from the front, despite Verstappen’s best intentions. The Dutchman made a strong start from seventh on the grid, carving his way into second position in the early stages of the race.

His progress halted there and the two protagonists pulled away from the rest of the field, in a class of their own. Hamilton kept the pressure on for the championship race, taking victory and cutting the points gap to his rival. Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, will be disappointed with fourth place, but helps his team cut the constructors’ championship gap to Mercedes to a mere five points.

Battle for points

Alpha Tauri and Alpine continued their tussle for fifth place in the constructors’ title, coming in to the race weekend at Qatar tied on points. Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) started on the front row of the grid, following the penalties bestowed upon Verstappen and Bottas, but the Alpha Tauri squad had a miserable race, with both drivers struggling for pace and eventually finishing outside the points.

The Qatari circuit seemed to suit the Alpine machine well, with both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon scoring strongly to produce their best result since Ocon’s win in Budapest. Alonso was on fire on race day and charged to a superb third position, the first podium finish for the Spaniard since the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2014 – a wait of 105 Grands Prix!

Slow but consistent

Ferrari continued with their points-scoring consistency at Qatar, with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc finishing seventh and eighth, respectively. While this is not much to write home about, they still scored better than archrivals McLaren-Mercedes in the chase for third position in the F1 Constructors’ championship. Lando Norris managed a ninth-place finish for McLaren, while teammate Daniel Ricciardo finished outside the points.

Aston Martin had a good day at the office, with both Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel scoring points on race day. The Canadian finished a solid sixth, while his illustrious German teammate took home the final point on offer.

All to play for

With two rounds remaining in the 2021 season, Max Verstappen holds an eight-point lead over Lewis Hamilton. The next round is to be held at another new circuit to the F1 calendar: Saudi Arabia. It is a brand new circuit, a temporary street track designed by Herman Tilke and company. It will, apparently, be the fastest street circuit ever and have average speeds second only to Monza. The event will take place on 3 to 5 December and fans will be hoping for lots of action and overtaking.