Clever tactics in the title fight: Qatar GP what you missed

F1

Time is running out for Hamilton to overturn Verstappen's lead while AlphaTauri and McLaren look to be in trouble in the constructors' standings

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Qatar was a popular track with the drivers and set up a nail-biting finish to the 2021 F1 season

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The first Qatar Grand Prix is in the books and the championship fight has closed up once again.

Lewis Hamilton took a decisive victory, Fernando Alonso made it onto the podium for the first time since 2014 and Christian Horner landed in hot water for some of his comments.

Despite pre-race fears, it turned out to be easier to overtake around the Losail circuit than many had predicted and there was action throughout the field behind the top two.

Sergio Perez pulled off plenty of moves to make up for his qualifying disasterclass before the familiar Pirelli-goes-pop story played out late in the race.

Alpine took a huge step towards claiming fifth in the constructors’ while McLaren will have a difficult two weeks to reflect on another nightmare weekend.

Here are some of the bits you might have missed from the Qatar Grand Prix.

 

Bottas’s bad start

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Bottas got a poor start but the dirty side of the grid was the least of his problems

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After the penalties were handed out and the grid finally confirmed just over an hour before lights out, things were looking quite good for Mercedes.

Hamilton started on pole and Bottas was now ahead of Verstappen on the grid following the Dutch driver’s five-place sanction from qualifying.

Bottas himself was serving the three-place penalty for his own indescretion but that meant he swapped from the clean to the dirty side of the grid.

So when the field launched from the line and barrelled into Turn 1, it might have been the sandy side of the start/finish straight that was the main cause. Not quite.

As the lights go out, Bottas failed to hit the ideal rev range, with the dashboard display of his W12 displaying a ‘too low’ warning message. He slipped down the order as a result.

Verstappen was past him before they reached their original grid slots after he aced his start from the clean side of the grid and without any clutch slip he’d suffered in recent races.

 

Gasly finger trouble

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Gasly quickly moved out of Verstappen’s way and didn’t have much to shout about after either

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With Verstappen having to claw his way back from seventh on the grid to get to his title rival, Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri was hardly going to make things difficult for the Red Bull driver.

But the Frenchman could hardly have made things easier.

Verstappen had climbed to fourth position and was trailing Gasly approaching lap four. Gasly himself was within DRS range of Fernando Alonso ahead but received instructions on the radio about how to proceed.

“Max will have DRS, DRS enabled, you can let him by,” race engineer Pierre Hamelin told him entering Turn 13.

Gasly then ran wide at the final corner, giving Verstappen the run he needed to take third position from the Frenchman.

Just to make sure, Gasly didn’t open DRS until Verstappen had completed the pass two-thirds down the pit straight.

Unfortunately for Gasly, his night didn’t get any better afterwards.

 

All’s fair

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The Red Bull vs Mercedes battle is being fought on all fronts

Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

The fight between Mercedes and Red Bull has gone up a few notches in recent races with accusations going back and forth.

Red Bull still maintains that there is something up with the Mercedes jump in performance while the reigning world champions insist there is nothing going on with either its rear wing or power unit that would make the car illegal.

As Christian Horner and Toto Wolff trade barbs back and forth in the media, the teams are following their leaders too and the minute differences could make all the difference.

Just eight points separate Verstappen from Hamilton in the drivers’ standings while Mercedes is now just five points ahead of Red Bull in the constructors’. Every single point counts.

No stone will be left unturned in the battle but eagle-eyed viewers might have spotted the fight in the pit lane during the Qatar GP.

Ordinarily, mechanics will pull back the air hose lines to the wheel guns for the garage directly ahead or on from their own pit box. Not so at Mercedes and Red Bull, who sit alongside one another in the pit lane.

As Hamilton pitted, Red Bull had a mechanic on the rear left corner of its pit box as an obstacle to avoid, limiting the speed Hamilton can gain out of his pit box.

Mercedes played the game too, having a mechanic stand on the left front of their pit box to narrow the angle of attack for the Red Bull drivers entering their pit box.

Only in F1.

 

Falling to fourth

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Ferrari has had the measure of McLaren since upgrading its power unit

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A few weeks ago, McLaren looked as though it was on the rise to restoring itself as a credible threat to the top teams in Formula 1.

It had just secured the first and so far only one-two finish of the season as Daniel Ricciardo led Lando Norris across the line at Monza in a huge day for the team, on Ferrari turf no less.

Fast-forward to now and the Scuderia has hit back with some force. Charles Leclerc is now just a single point behind Norris in the drivers’ standings while the advantage the team held in the constructors’ has not only been wiped out, but obliterated.

McLaren has scored just four points in the last three races while Ferrari has mounted its incredible turnaround to lead its rivals by 39.5 points. That gap was 16.5 in McLaren’s favour after leaving Turkey.

It looked like the papaya cars had all the momentum heading into the final stint of the season but Ferrari’s power unit upgrade has given it the boost in horsepower to steal a vital third in the championship right at the end it seems.