Hamilton wins in Qatar, leads in Verstappen points
Lucille Lewis Hamilton moved closer to the top of the Formula 1 championship with a dominant victory on Sunday at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix to clinch back-to-back wins and overtake Max Verstappen’s points.
Hamilton, who also won Brazil last week, cut 11 points off Verstappen’s lead in the title race in seven days. Verstappen is still eight points ahead with two races remaining in one of the most dramatic F1 title battles in at least a decade.
Hamilton said: “The last two weeks have been great, just amazing. There is no time to celebrate. I don’t have a lot of feelings. But it has been amazing to be able to get so many points in these last two races.”
The seven-time champion started from pole position for Mercedes and faced no challenge at the Losail International Circuit as Hamilton won his 102nd race of his career. It was his seventh victory this season.
Verstappen finished second with Red Bull, 25 seconds behind Hamilton.
“I was pretty lonely up front,” said Hamilton, who is enjoying the challenge from Verstappen. “Love it. I love the close fight and the pressure and the demands it puts on you and the whole team. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Verstappen was hit with a penalty before the race even started when he was dropped five points on the starting grid for violating the yellow flag in Saturday’s qualifying. The Dutchman qualified for second but the hosts ordered him back into the grid after Sunday’s hearings for Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz.
The three were accused of not following the yellow flag rules towards the end of the playoffs. Bottas, who qualified for third, was penalized three times from the start. Sainz was not punished.
Red Bull were baffled by a Verstappen penalty, who missed any chance of challenging Hamilton for victory when he was penalized. Red Bull boss Christian Horner criticized the penalty when it was issued, blaming it on ‘Marshall’.
Horner has been called to a post-race meeting with the stewards for comments that could “cause moral damage or loss” to the FIA.
“We’re really struggling to understand that,” Horner said. “This is a decisive blow for us in this world championship.”
Despite the penalty, Verstappen only needed five laps to recover and get back to where he was originally scheduled to start.
“Our position at the beginning was a bit compromised,” Verstappen said. “I know it’s going to be hard to the end but I think that’s cute. She keeps the excitement going.”
But he said he was ready for the challenges ahead in Saudi Arabia and eventually in Abu Dhabi.
“I feel fine,” he said. “It will be tight.”
Hamilton, winner of four titles in a row, has all the momentum now. The British driver is seeking an eighth world title in Formula One, which would overtake Michael Schumacher.
“I feel really good, I’m really happy with this car,” said Hamilton. “I feel fitter than ever, which is a positive.”
Fernando Alonso of the Alps finished third on the podium for the first time since 2014. He assisted him in the penalty shootout before the race for Verstappen and Bottas, which put the Spaniard third on the podium. This was only the second podium of the season for Albin, which was a surprise win for Esteban Ocon in Hungary.
“Finally, finally,” said Alonso, two-time F1 champion.
Sergio Perez finished fourth to help Red Bull in their quest to beat Mercedes in the constructors’ championship.
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