Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
8:36 PM 8th October 2023

Max Verstappen Seals Third Title In Qatar

After Formula 1’s latest longhaul trips to Singapore and Japan, this weekend’s visit to the Middle East felt much closer to home, with Qatar currently just two hours ahead of UK time, and following yesterday evening’s Sprint event Red Bull’s 26-year-old Max Verstappen became the World Champion for a third consecutive year. McLaren’s Australian rookie Oscar Piastri led the Dutch racer to the chequered flag for his own first F1 win and Verstappen went on to take his 14th win of the season in this evening’s Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen enjoying that title winning feeling yesterday
Max Verstappen enjoying that title winning feeling yesterday
On the news front since Japan, it was announced last Monday by the FIA governing body of the sport that it had given the green light to America’s Andretti Formula Racing application to join the Formula 1 grid with effect from the 2025 season onwards, albeit subject crucially to a commercial agreement to this effect also being reached with Formula One Management. Therein lies a potential stumbling block though, as, although the Andretti application is well backed financially by General Motors, most of the ten current teams have expressed potential opposition to a further outfit being allowed to join them, even though this stance may be in conflict with business competition laws. Time will tell and Andretti lining up two additional cars on the F1 grid in 2025 may happen, but this is still far from a foregone conclusion.

2023 Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr27m39.168s
2 Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +4.833s
3 Lando Norris (McLaren) +5.969s
4 George Russell (Mercedes) +34.119s
5 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +38.976s
6 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +49.032s
7 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1m2.390s
8 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1m6.563s
9 Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) +1m16.127s
10 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) +1m20.181s
11 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1m21.652s
12 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +1m22.300s
13 Alex Albon (Williams) +1m31.014s
14 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
15 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) Lapped
16 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) Lapped
17 Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri) Lapped
18 Logan Sargeant (Williams) Retired
19 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) Retired
20 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) Did not start
In driver news and very much as expected, Daniel Ricciardo’s return to his AlphaTauri seat didn’t happen in Qatar as he continues to recover from a fractured metacarpal bone in his left hand. This enabled the young Kiwi Liam Lawson to have at least one more opportunity in the limelight, with the intention being for the Australian Ricciardo to appear back ontrack in two weeks’ time.

On the subject of Formula 1 pedallers past, present and future, I’m often asked when we might next see a female racer on the grid. My own view in these days of equality is the sooner the better as long as justified by ability and pace and there’s no physical or mental reason why this should not happen. Recently the Aston Martin driver ambassador Jessica Hawkins was fortunate enough to have her own first taste of contemporary F1 equipment when she took to the Hungaroring circuit just outside Budapest in the team’s 2021-specification car. The 28-year-old Brit, who was a podium finisher in the now defunct all-female single-seater W Seres Championship and is a former British karting title winner and James Bond stunt driver, shared the ontrack test with the regular Aston Martin reserve driver Felipe Drugovich.

In advance of the much awaited secret outing Hawkins had worked closely with the team’s simulator team back at their Silverstone HQ to prepare her for the sheer acceleration, braking and grip levels of a modern F1 car and, come the trip to Hungary, there was the usual initial installation lap to check that all was well with both the car and the driver. Unfortunately heavy rain then delayed proceedings, but Hawkins was thrilled to ultimately complete 26 tours and fulfil the expectations of both the team and herself. Due to her age she is fully realistic about her future career direction, but she continues to be a fine role model for younger female drivers aspiring to reach Formula 1 in the future.

Jessica Hawkins recently became the latest female driver to test a modern F1 car
Jessica Hawkins recently became the latest female driver to test a modern F1 car
Prior to Qatar 28-year-old Nyck de Vries, who had been unceremoniously dropped by the AlphaTauri F1 team earlier this season following a succession of poor results, revealed that he is set to return to the all-electric Formula E Championship in 2024 on a multi-year deal with the Mahindra outfit. The Dutch racer had previously taken the Formula E title at the end of the season which spanned 2020-21. Also, the Williams Formula 1 team principal James Vowles indicated that the team hopes to retain rookie Logan Sargeant for next season despite questions understandably being raised about the young American driver’s own performance levels.

The inaugural Qatar Grand Prix was held back in November 2021 and this weekend was F1’s second visit to the Losail International Circuit, which features an interesting mix of medium and high speed corners, not unlike Suzuka in Japan. Also, the circuit had been completely resurfaced, adding an additional factor for the teams to be aware of. The ontrack action began on Friday with a free practice session before a qualifying hour for today’s Grand Prix, leaving yesterday for Sprint qualifying and the shorter race. The practice period was impacted by high winds and low grip conditions as Verstappen led the way ahead of the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc plus the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.

Come the subsequent qualifying session to form today’s grid Verstappen again topped the timesheets and track limits indiscretions for McLaren’s Lando Norris and Piastri benefited Mercedes’ George Russell and Sir Lewis Hamilton, who were promoted to second and third as a result. Alonso claimed the other second row grid slot just ahead of Leclerc, but the latter’s team-mate Sainz was only 12th fastest. Meanwhile Sergio Pérez’s Red Bull difficulties continued when the Mexican posted only the 13th quickest time.

Yesterday the focus shifted initially to the Sprint Shootout qualifying process and the subsequent race, but prior to this there was an unforeseen development after inspection of the Pirelli tyres used the day before had revealed serious safety concerns. It was clear that there was evidence of sidewall separation between the topping compound and the carcass cords, which could lead to a significant air loss if the tyres were overstressed - a situation which may well have been related to a new style of kerbing being used at certain parts of the track. The FIA therefore introduced an additional 10 minute practice session before the start of Sprint qualifying to enable drivers to become familiar with some revised track limits, with further tyre analysis to follow. Driver safety rightly receives more attention these days than ever before and particularly in the litigious world we live in where the FIA and its race control officials must always be seen to be acting with care and caution.

The Sprint Shootout qualifying proved to be dominated by the resurgent McLaren team as Piastri edged pole position from Norris, with Verstappen and Russell the best of the rest, and the sun had already dipped below the horizon as the 20.30 local time start of the Sprint event neared. It may have consisted of just 19 laps, but what an incident-packed thriller it proved to be. Piastri made a strong start in his medium shod McLaren, but Russell made great use of his soft specification rubber to jump from fourth to second place by the opening corner, followed by the pair of Ferraris. A short Safety Car intervention quickly followed after Lawson had beached his AlphaTauri in the Turn 2 gravel, but we were soon racing again and Russell swept past Piastri into the lead. Sadly Sargeant headed into the gravel in his Williams just one tour later, with the Safety Car again required. The action resumed on lap seven and soon fifth placed Verstappen found a way past both Ferrari drivers to move up to third before Piastri swept past Russell to regain the lead.

The Safety Car was then called upon for a third time after a three-into-one sandwich involving Pérez, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and the Haas of Nico Hülkenberg, all of whom were forced to retire. When racing resumed we witnessed a five lap blast to the chequered flag, during which Verstappen was quickly able to claim second place behind Piastri and Norris put in a brilliant late charge to move up from sixth to the final podium position.

(L-R) Michael Andretti, boss of Andretti Formula Racing, with the FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem
(L-R) Michael Andretti, boss of Andretti Formula Racing, with the FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem
After the excitement of yesterday’s Sprint race and the subsequent McLaren and Red Bull celebrations it was time for everyone to prepare for this evening’s Grand Prix. Earlier today the FIA had introduced, on safety grounds, an 18 lap limit on the use of all tyres, with any driver who transgressed facing disqualification. This would lead to multiple pitstops during the 57 lap race, although this wasn’t going to be a problem for the unfortunate Sainz as a fuel system issue meant his car never left the pit garages. The formation lap began at 20.00 local time and, when those famous red lights went out, it was Verstappen who converted his pole position into an immediate lead.

There was high drama at Turn 1 though when the pair of Mercedes cars clashed as they fought for second place. It was reminiscent of the opening lap of the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona back in 2016 when the Mercedes cars of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg made contact and crashed out of the race. Tonight though, although both cars flew off the track, Russell managed to survive Hamilton’s overly ambitious lunge around the outside towards him while the latter was instantly out of the Grand Prix with a wheel missing. As in Japan at the previous race, an understandably angry Russell quickly questioned the overly aggressive driving towards him of his supposed team-mate and described the incident as “******* unbelievable!” over the radio. Team principal Toto Wolff was again absent from this race weekend, but still joined in on team radio trying to calm Russell down and Hamilton, although initially trying to blame his team-mate, was subsequently contrite and accepted full responsibility for the incident.

After starting second and third on the grid Mercedes’ fortunes were now solely down to Russell due to the intra-team clash, but he had to pit immediately for a new front wing, forcing him onto a four rather than a three stop strategy. The Safety Car was required to slow the pace until Hamilton’s car was removed and when racing resumed on lap five Verstappen led from Piastri. The limitation on how long tyres could be used meant that the running order constantly changed due to the multiple stops and only became fully clear after the drivers had completed their quota of pit lane visits. Medium and hard specification tyres tended to be the preferred choices and it increasingly became apparent that the top six runners as the race neared its conclusion were Verstappen, Piastri, Norris, Russell, Leclerc and Alonso.

So it remained to the chequered flag, with McLaren having already told its drivers to maintain station, even if Norris questioned the instruction, and Russell having been unable to threaten the papaya cars after a late stop to switch from hard to soft rubber. Verstappen also succeeded in claiming the additional point for the fastest lap of the race. Elsewhere, several drivers, including Pérez, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Williams’ Alex Albon, proved themselves to be incapable of not repeatedly breaking the track limits regulations and were duly penalised. Alonso was also due to be investigated by the stewards after the race for seemingly rejoining the track in an unsafe manner after flying off the circuit and a sanction may follow in due course for the veteran Spanish double champion.

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri looks to have a brilliant future in F1
McLaren’s Oscar Piastri looks to have a brilliant future in F1
Next up in a fortnight’s time comes the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, just outside Austin, Texas. This is a circuit and a part of the USA I can personally very much recommend visiting if you ever get a chance. The 2023 Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship titles may well have been wrapped up by Verstappen and Red Bull, but there is still pride plus points to be raced for between now and the end of the season in Abu Dhabi late next month to determine the final 2024 rankings and related prize money allocations. So, much is still to play for, but at the same time the teams are also now concentrating hard on the ongoing development of next year’s cars in the hope of starting on the front foot.

2023 Formula 1 Qatar Sprint

1 Oscar Piastri (McLaren) 35m1.297s
2 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +1.871s
3 Lando Norris (McLaren) +8.497s
4 George Russell (Mercedes) +11.036s
5 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +17.314s
6 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +18.806s
7 Alex Albon (Williams) +19.864s
8 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +21.180s
9 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +21.742s
10 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +22.208s
11 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +22.863s
12 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +24.860s
13 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +24.970s
14 Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) +26.868s
15 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +29.523s
16 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) Retired
17 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) Retired
18 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) Retired
19 Logan Sargeant (Williams) Retired
20 Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri) Retired

2023 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship

1 Max Verstappen 433
2 Sergio Pérez 224
3 Lewis Hamilton 194

2023 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship
1 Red Bull 657
2 Mercedes 326
3 Ferrari 298