Verstappen beware. Hamilton has arrived.
The Englishman won the GP in Qatar, 20th and penultimate stage of the Worlds, and reduced his disadvantage from 14 to 8 points in the Drivers’ World Championship.
It is his seventh win of the season, the second in a row, the 102nd of his career.
As if that wasn’t enough, Mercedes put a check on Red Bull over the weekend. Hamilton dominated the qualifying session and the race without using the combustion engine that debuted at Interlagos. He raced at Losail with an old propeller, the same one he had been using since the Turkish GP in October.
In other words, the English will have an almost new engine at his disposal for the last two stages of the championship, the Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi GPs. An asset that can be decisive.
“We’re going to keep accelerating. We can achieve that,” said the Englishman as he crossed the finish line, clearly referring to his quest for an eighth world title.
Verstappen was left to settle for second place in the GP. Alonso was third, his 98th career podium, the first since second place at the 2014 Hungarian GP, still for Ferrari.
The excitement in Losail started early, even before the start. Verstappen and Bottas were punished for disrespecting yellow flags in qualifying, at the time of Gasly’s tire blowout. The Dutchman dropped from second to seventh on the grid because he ignored the double yellow flag. Bottas went from third to sixth _in his case the flag was simple.
At the start, Hamilton held the tip tightly. Alonso went after Gasly. The Frenchman stiffened, but the Spaniard managed to leap ahead corners later. Verstappen also did very well, climbing from seventh to fourth on the first lap.
The top 10 at the end of the first round had Hamilton, Alonso, Gasly, Verstappen, Norris, Ocon, Sainz, Tsunoda, Pérez and Stroll.
On lap four, Verstappen passed Gasly and took third place. On the next lap, he overcame Alonso and returned to second place, his original position on the grid. He then launched into his main mission of the day: trying to reach Hamilton, 4s1 ahead of him.
An inglorious mission. It wasn’t easy for the Dutchman, who complained over the radio about the car’s behavior. The images showed lots of sparks coming out of his Red Bull and the front wing swinging more than usual. The team asked him to stay away from the zebras.
Not coincidentally, Hamilton opened the gap. On the tenth lap, the difference between the two was 5s5. In 12th, he hit 6s. In the 14th, it reached 7s. Two laps later, it hit 8s.
On the 18th, Verstappen entered the pits. He took off the medium tires and went to the hard ones. Mercedes went for the safety ball and called Hamilton on the next lap, with identical strategy.
Back on track, 8s5 separated the rivals for the title, who had another pit to go.
It was comfortable for English. Verstappen had to resign. And the GP got tepid.
“Apparently I’ll come in second,” Verstappen said over the radio. “Take care of the tyres,” replied the engineer. “Good night,” completed the Dutchman.
The few emotions were due to the dispute for third place.
Planning just one pit, Bottas took over after Alonso stopped. He looked calm in the race, but on lap 34 his left front tire went into space. Pérez moved to third, with a 5s8 advantage over the Alpine Spaniard.
With a one-pit strategy, Alonso regained his position when Pérez pitted for his second stop. Thus, he secured his first podium in seven years.
In 42nd, Verstappen made his second pit and was conservative: putting on medium tyres. Hamilton, of course, stopped on the next lap and put on tires of the same color.
The final laps still had Bottas leaving with the car damaged, as well as Russell and Latifi with blown tires – the Canadian’s car was left on the sidelines of the track, demanding the activation of the virtual safety car.
On the penultimate lap, Verstappen went through the pits to put on soft tires and try to secure the extra point for the best lap of the race.
“It will be difficult until the end”, summarized the Dutchman, in the post-GP interview.
“Getting to this championship point in such good form is really good. I’m really happy for the final races of the year,” said Hamilton.
His expression reflected that happiness. After the qualifying race at Interlagos, he was 21 points behind Verstappen. Eight days later, the difference is only 8 points. The moment is all his.