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Oscar Piastri Wins Chaotic Qatar Sprint from Verstappen And Norris

Written by Maria Fashchevskaya, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

A dramatic sprint race in Qatar, riddled with incidents and Safety car periods, witnessed a new (sprint) winner, McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, but the headline was grabbed by the racer behind him: With second in the sprint, Max Verstappen was officially crowned world champion, after a crushingly dominant 2023 season.

Max Verstappen is a three-time World Champion. Image Credits: Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

The race started with a new pole-sitter: The Australian rookie, McLaren driver Oscar Piastri started from pole, ahead of his teammate Lando Norris, and Championship leader Verstappen. The latter was chasing points on Saturday, and could seal the Drivers Championship on a Saturday — The first time since Nelson Piquet did it four decades ago, at Kyalami in 1983.

It was an outstanding start for Oscar Piastri, as he quickly led the pack into turn one. Behind him, chaos ensued: An excellent start on the red-walled soft tyres saw George Russell storm past Lando Norris, as the McLaren driver fell back and was overtaken by two Ferraris into turn one. After some snaps, he left a gap open to be overtaken by Max Verstappen, leaving Norris in sixth place.

It seemed the Red Bull driver was a touch cautious in his movements. However, the first safety car came out soon after, as Liam Lawson went off into the gravel at turn two. Replays showed later how he had spun off into the gravel.

A still of the sprint race start in Qatar. Image Credits: Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images

A short safety car period, and it was green flag racing once again, and Russell did not wait long. With much more grip in his soft tyres at the time, he pushed past Oscar Piastri and took the lead of the sprint. Alonso battled on with Norris too, further down.

Logan Sargeant into the gravel

Bernd Mayländer certainly did not expect to make much of an appearance this evening. Soon after the renewed green light on the track, Logan Sargeant went off into the gravel. This is yet another time the Williams’ driver retired from a race. After last week's comments of Team Principal James Vowles that Williams is keen to keep their current drivers, Sargeant would certainly need to improve to live up to Vowles’ statement.

During the safety car phase, some drivers reported graining on the soft tyres, a downside for the red-walled tyres. The medium tyres were coming into play at the same time, as the McLarens and Red Bulls were having them.

The safety car emerged into the pits on lap four, and George Russell stormed off, leading the sprint. He left Piastri to defend himself against two Ferraris, as Carlos Sainz went into ‘attacking mode’ right away. The Australian managed to defend, and leave the pack behind while clearing the ‘fastest lap’ with a 1:28.045 on the clock in lap nine. The question at this point was, how long would the soft tyres last, and provide optimum performance?

Max Verstappen was comfortably racing, assured of his World Championship title either way. Sergio Perez being a long way out of the points could not reach his teammate in the standings. However, Verstappen was keen to be on the podium this evening, as his race engineer talked him down from chasing Piastri, and just bringing the tyres home.

“Soft runners starting to struggle now. This race is coming back to us”, it could be heard over McLaren’s team radio. George Russell saw his chances of a podium finish fading, as his insurance on a pit stop was not granted. They would lose the already gained points for that, it could be heard from the team.

Perez and Ocon sandwiched Hulkenberg during the Sprint. Image Credits: Ayman Yaqoob/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A huge incident on lap 12 called the safety car out one more time. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Perez and Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg went into the sand, racing wheel-to-wheel. As Hulkenberg and Ocon duelled on the exit of turn one, Sergio Perez opportunistically tried to drive past on the outside of turn two. The Haas became a bystander, sandwiched in between the incoming Alpine and the opportunistic Red Bull.

It was said that the incident on lap 12 would be investigated after the race for causing a collision. Just before the safety car, Lando Norris went past Leclerc, the duo constantly battling during the sprint.

As the safety car went in, Leclerc immediately battled Norris again, and managed to go by in turn one, with a little help from his teammate Carlos Sainz, who blocked the McLaren. At the same time, Verstappen overtook Russell for second. The battle for fourth did not end with the overtake of the Ferraris. As soon as he saw an opportunity, Lando Norris spectacularly pushed past both Ferraris at the same time.

It was yet another battle in the lower points: Hamilton overtook Gasly for the final point in eighth, before overtaking his old pal Alonso for seventh position. Alex Albon followed through, finishing eighth on the road, from P17 at the start. He would be promoted to seventh following a post-race penalty for Leclerc.

Max Verstappen seemed to be following his team’s directions, as he gave up chasing Oscar Piastri for first place. However, he still took the ‘fastest lap’ of the sprint in the last minutes of it. The final gap meanwhile was just over two seconds between the Red Bull and McLaren.

“A fantastic feeling, it's been an incredible year. I feel super proud, but super proud of the job of the team. We'll keep on pushing but of course, I'm incredibly happy at the moment”, Max Verstappen celebrated after the sprint.

Oscar Piastri takes the sprint win in Qatar. Image Credits: Clive Mason – Formula 1 via Getty Images

“Very happy!”, said Oscar Piastri after coming out of his car. “When I saw all the soft [tyre] guys come through at the start I thought we were in a bit of trouble. But their tyres fell off pretty quickly, so that was good.”

However, the celebrations for McLaren did not end with Piastri. Lando Norris overtook George Russell with ease on his medium tyres, to put himself on the podium. He smiled with his first ‘celebration’ over this weekend, giving post-race interviews: “First of all congrats to Oscar and Max. A tough race for me, just a bad start. It made everything a lot trickier, but we fought back well.”

Max Verstappen and Red Bull have sealed both World Championships, in an utterly dominant season. What do you think, how will the race go tomorrow? Let us know in the comments!


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