Hamilton closes on Verstappen’s title lead with Qatar win

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Lewis Hamilton took a comfortable win in the Qatar Grand Prix to close the gap to Max Verstappen in their fight for the drivers’ world championship.

Verstappen fought his way to second after a five-place grid penalty and took the point for fastest lap.

The win cuts the deficit to Verstappen to eight points with two races to go in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi next month.

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso took a superb third, his first podium since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Spaniard Alonso, 40, had been trying to hold off a late charge from Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, but a late virtual safety car put the place beyond doubt.

Earlier, Perez had been poised for a close fight for third with the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas until the Finn suffered a puncture just after half distance.

And three further punctures created extra tension in the closing laps.

How did Hamilton win?

After another weekend of controversy and ill temper between the two title-contending teams, it was one of Hamilton’s easiest wins of the season, and the seven-time champion appeared to have the pace to have triumphed whether Verstappen had been penalised or not.

The Dutchman was found to have not seen a double waved yellow flag at the end of qualifying, and although Red Bull pleaded mitigating factors – that the cockpit and trackside light-warning system had been turned off – officials said they had no choice but to punish him.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was even given an official warning by race stewards for claiming a “rogue marshal” had confused matters. He later apologised.

The penalty dropped Verstappen to seventh on the grid, but he was fourth by the end of the first lap and second after five.

By that point, the Red Bull was only 3.7 seconds behind Hamilton but the Mercedes driver continued to stretch ahead until his lead was 8.2secs by the time Verstappen made his first pit stop on lap 17.

The Briton followed him in the next time around to secure his position and the pattern of the race was set.

They stopped a lap apart again on laps 41 and 42 and the only matter still in dispute was the point for fastest lap.

Verstappen already had it before making a late pit stop for soft tyres to make absolutely sure. (BBC Sport)

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