Verstappen wins third F1 world title in Qatar sprint race

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen clinched a third world title by finishing second in a chaotic and incident-packed sprint race at the Qatar Grand Prix.

Three safety cars triggered by a series of accidents and collisions created a dramatic spectacle under the lights at the Lusail circuit won by McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.

Verstappen fought back after dropping from third on the grid to fifth on the first lap but could not quite catch Piastri.

McLaren’s Lando Norris passed Mercedes’ George Russell late on to take third.

Verstappen’s championship success was effectively confirmed when his team-mate Sergio Perez was taken out in a three-way collision also involving Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg.

Verstappen had only to ensure he did not lose more than five points to the Mexican to secure the title so Perez’s retirement made the Dutchman champion regardless of his eventual result.

Verstappen said to his team over the radio: “I don’t know what to say. Incredible year. Thank you for providing me with such a car. It has been a pleasure so far this year.”

The incident that took out Perez – triggered when Ocon moved across on Hulkenberg, who had Perez on his outside – brought out the third safety car and set up a five-lap race to the finish.

By that stage Verstappen was already passed the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz into third place, behind Piastri and Russell, who had exchanged the lead twice in the opening phases of the race.

Verstappen despatched Russell straight after the final restart but despite setting two fastest laps was unable to catch Piastri, who crossed the line 1.8 seconds ahead.

The result – Piastri’s first F1 victory on the same day as he took his first pole – confirmed the Australian as a major star of the future as his his impressive rookie season goes from strength to strength.

Piastri, who started on the medium tyres, lost the lead to Russell, on soft tyres, on lap three, just after the restart from the first safety car, caused by a first-lap spin off the track by Alpha Tauri’s Liam Lawson.

Russell held the lead through a second safety car, caused when Logan Sargeant lost his Williams straight after the first restart.

But when the race resumed on lap eight, Russell’s tyres were already beginning to fade and Piastri re-took the lead on lap 11, just before the Ocon-Hulkenberg-Perez crash.

His win means that just 17 races into his career he has taken a victory – albeit in a sprint not a grand prix – before team-mate Norris, who began his career in 2019.

The race devolved into a battle between two different tyre strategies, using the soft and the medium.

During the final safety car, Russell was pleading for a pit stop for fresh tyres but was told they would score no points if he made it.

But his fears were realised as first Verstappen passed him and then Norris did so, too.

Russell’s team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who chose medium tyres, moved up from 12th on the grid to take fifth place, passing the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc on soft tyres in the closing stages.

Sainz fought hard to hold off Leclerc, who was struggling less with his tyres, but the result means Ferrari lost ground to Mercedes in their battle for second place in the constructors’ championship.

Leclerc was later penalised five seconds for leaving the track multiple times, demoting him 12th.

Williams driver Alex Albon proved that medium tyres were the right choice by taking seventh place, after starting 17th, passing the soft-shod Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso close to the end, who claimed the final points-paying position of eighth after Leclerc’s penalty. (BBC Sport)

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