Hamilton wins in Qatar, cuts Verstappen lead
LOSAIL, Qatar (AP):
Lewis Hamilton inched closer to the Formula One (F1) championship lead with a dominating victory yesterday in the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix to earn back-to-back wins and chip away at Max Verstappen’s points advantage.
Hamilton, who also won last week in Brazil, has trimmed 11 points from Verstappen’s lead in the title race in seven days. Verstappen still holds an eight-point lead with two races remaining in one of the most dramatic F1 title fights in at least a decade.
“The last two weeks have been fantastic, just amazing,” Hamilton said. “There’s no time for celebration. I don’t really have too much emotion. But it’s been amazing to be able to get so many points in these past two races.”
The seven-time champion started from pole for Mercedes and was never challenged on the Losail International Circuit as Hamilton won his 102nd career race. It was his seventh victory of the season.
Verstappen finished second for Red Bull, around 25 seconds behind Hamilton.
“It was pretty lonely at the front,” said Hamilton, who is enjoying the challenge from Verstappen. “I love it. I love the close battle and the pressure and the demands it puts on you and the whole team. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Verstappen was hit with a penalty before the race even began when he was dropped five spots on the starting grid for violating a yellow flag in Saturday’s qualifying. The Dutchman had qualified second but the stewards ordered him to drop back on the grid after hearings for Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz yesterday.
All three were accused of not following yellow flag rules near the end of qualifying. Bottas, who had qualified third, was penalised three starting points. Sainz was not punished.
Red Bull was mystified by the grid penalty for Verstappen, who lost any chance to challenge Hamilton for the win when he was penalised. Red Bull principal Christian Horner criticised the penalty when it was handed down, blaming it on a “rogue marshal.”
Horner was summoned to a post-race meeting with the stewards for comments that could “have caused moral injury or loss” to the FIA. He was issued a warning after the meeting and the FIA said Horner “explained that his reaction was one that was made under the pressure of competition after the penalty imposed on the driver.
Despite the penalty, Verstappen needed only five laps to recover and drive back to where he was originally set to start.
“Our starting position was a bit compromised,” Verstappen said. “I know it’s going to be difficult to the end but I think that’s nice. It keeps it exciting.”
Verstappen said he was ready for the challenges ahead in Saudi Arabia and the finale in Abu Dhabi, two tracks that Horner believes will favour Mercedes.
“I feel good,” he said. “It’s going to be tight.”