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Podium joy for Alonso as Hamilton takes victory

Qatar Race Report 21/11/21

An interesting race with dominance from Hamilton saw a much-deserved and popular return to the podium for Alonso. The first-ever F1 race at Qatar and it proved to be a punishing circuit for the cars, but one the drivers seemed to enjoy. There were concerns overtaking may not be possible, but that was unwarranted with many moves being made into turn one, and even a few elsewhere.

More drama before the race as last-minute grid penalties were handed out to Bottas and Verstappen—for failing to slow under yellow flags during qualifying. Therefore Hamilton would start on pole with championship rival Verstappen in seventh. Gasly lined up second with Alonso in third.

Off the line Hamilton took the lead, Gasly got a good start and was briefly in second before Alonso flew around the outside of him in turn two to claim the position. Further back Ocon, Perez, and both Alfa Romeos made good starts, with Bottas and Vettel losing out. Verstappen soon made up positions and ran in second place by lap five. Ultimately Red Bull knew they would not have the pace to catch and pass Hamilton, so second would be damage limitation, and a good position to pick up the pieces if anything went wrong in the Mercedes camp.

As Hamilton and Verstappen split away from the rest of the drivers their teammates worked their way through the field. Bottas—after a poor start—and Perez—who qualified eleventh—both running in third place for sections of the race.

A mix of one a two-stop strategies saw cars dropping back down the order—whilst others maintained track position—and enabled more overtaking as the different strategies played out. Alonso—for instance—went for the one-stop. Pitting on lap twenty-four from third position he dropped down to eighth—remaking ground as those in front pitted. However, Perez went for the two stops. After initially making his way from eleventh to fourth, his first stop dropped him down to twelfth, where he worked his way up to third, only for his second stop to drop him down to seventh from where he gained places to finish fourth. This made for great viewing as the Mexican carved his way through the field three times, but it did seem he had to work hard for his result. Initially, it seemed perhaps an odd choice to opt for a two-stop for drivers like Perez, but Pirelli—the tyre manufacturer—had advised against a single-stop race, due to tyre degradation. And on lap 34 we saw why, as Bottas suffered a front left puncture whilst running in third. He managed to limp around and have the tyre changed but later retired from the race completely. Over thirty laps seemed a little stretch for the tyres here. Thus making anyone on a one-stop strategy feel slightly uncomfortable,

Near the end of the race Norris—who had been in fourth position—pits, after feeling a failure with his tyre. Then on two consecutive laps, each Williams suffers the same front left tyre failure. Russell is able to limp into the pits, but Latifi has to stop the car on the edge of the track, near an exit road. Now all eyes are on Alonso and Perez—Perez is on the much faster newer tyres, making his way up through the pack. Alonso has position but is on the older tyres which will be slower, but also have the potential to fail. Perez is over a second a lap faster and chasing down, Alonso’s teammate Ocon manages to hold the Red Bull up for a few seconds, but with a much faster car, Perez was soon past. With only a few laps to go a Virtual Safety Car period is announced—a safety measure where all drivers must reduce their speed. This is to ensure the safety of the marshals recovering Latifi’s car. The race does get underway again, but there are not enough laps for Perez to chase down Alonso, and the Spaniard takes a very popular third place—his first podium since 2014. There’s more close racing behind Perez as Ocon, Stroll, and the two Ferraris—a battle that had been brewing nicely before the Virtual Safety Car period—cross the line within milliseconds of each other.

Despite the top two checking out this race still provided a nail-biting finale for third, tyre strategy drama, and lots of overtaking.

The Teams

Mercedes- Hamilton 1st, Bottas DNF: A strong race for the team as the car looked very fast. Hamilton was on fantastic form again and unassailable out front. One can’t help thinking the swing in momentum is in his favor with regards to the championship at the moment—despite Verstappen still being ahead by eight points. Bottas was able to come back very well from the setbacks of the grid penalty and poor start. Perhaps an oversight on the team’s part not to run the two-stop strategy—I understand why they didn’t, because the one-stop was faster—if it worked. But for them, it did not. Looking at where Perez finished, Bottas would probably have come in fourth or fifth on the two-stop strategy.

Red Bull- Verstappen 2nd, Perez 4th: A good race for the team, but the car was not as fast as Mercedes, which does not bode well for the next few races. Verstappen had a great recovery drive and second was the best he could have hoped for. Grabbing the fastest lap extra point was a big win for him here today. Perez just kept pushing all race, never dropped pace, kept overtaking, making moves, and gaining positions to cross the line in a very well earnt fourth, he was a little unlucky with the VSC not to claim the final step on the podium.

Ferrari- Sainz 7th, Leclerc 8th: An ok race for Ferrari, who couldn’t find real pace all weekend. Sainz struggled in the race and did well to finish where he did. Leclerc had little pace in qualifying and a change of chassis saw him find more in the race, a good recovery drive for him saw him gain five places to finish eighth.

Mclaren- Norris 9th, Ricciardo 14ht: Norris was running a solid fourth—looking set to finish fifth as a resurgent Perez closed in—this was before his tyre failure, however. Unlucky in a way to suffer that, but lucky in the respect he felt it, was able to come and change the tyres, continue and come home with some points. Ricciardo had issues with the car and had to nurse it to save fuel levels, which massively hampered his race. It looks like Mclaren may have to settle for fourth in the constructor’s championship with two races remaining and Ferrari almost forty points ahead.

Alpine- Alonso 3rd, Ocon 5th: Team of the day, undoubtedly. A great performance here. The car showed real pace at this track, the team may not be sure why, but they’ll be analyzing the data and working that out right now. Although they didn’t have the pace of Mercedes and Red Bull, they were the best of the rest, and a much-deserved 3rd and 5th. They went for the risky one-stop strategy with both cars, but it seems like the Alpine was much better on its tyres than the competitors. Alonso went for it at the start and that move around the outside of Gasly set him up for the third position finish. Ocon too helped by defending from Perez and slowing him by 2-3 seconds. Ocon also held off Stroll and the Ferraris for his fifth-place finish. Well done all around!

Alpha Tauri- Gasly 11th, Tsunoda 13th: Kind of the opposite to Alpine, the team didn’t have pace here, and don’t seem to know why. Again, I’m sure they’ll be analyzing all the information they can to find answers. Despite a good qualifying session the team didn’t have the pace here and couldn’t capitalize on that front row start. Without decent pace, they were also unable to make the two-stop strategy work—unable to gain ground and re-take positions after losing them during the stops. Neither driver had a particularly bad performance, just the car didn’t seem to have the pace.

Aston Martin- Stroll 6th, Vettel 10th: Good performance from Aston Martin here today. Stroll showed some really strong running and made some nice overtakes, his sixth position very much deserved. Vettel ran wide in the first corner at the start and was running down in seventeenth at one point, so a really good drive from him to move back up into the points.

Williams- Russell 17th, Latifi DNF: Not a very strong showing for the Williams team here. Both drivers were well out of the points when their tyres failed.

Alfa Romeo- Raikkonen 14th, Giovinazzi 15th: The team didn’t show a great deal of speed here this weekend. Both drivers got good starts—as they normally do—gaining four places each. From then the Alfa’s didn’t make much headway. This result seems an accurate reflection of their pace.

Haas- Schumacher 16th, Mazepin 18th: Schumacher seemed to outperform the car a bit here today, at some points almost keeping up and in amongst the other teams. Overall though, another forgettable race weekend for Haas. I do hope their 2022 car is worth the sacrifice they have made of their 2021 season.

Final Thoughts

Truly fantastic to see Alonso back on the podium! A driver of his caliber would be fighting with Verstappen and Hamilton without a doubt if he had the machinery underneath him. The team celebrated third place like a victory—Ocon breaking from the press pen to congratulate Alonso was a wonderful moment and the whole team does seem to have a strong camaraderie. Alonso seems to be waiting for the regulation changes of next year and hoping it provides him with a potentially championship-winning car, and after his performance today I think many F1 fans are hoping the same too!

Hamilton and Verstappen were in a league of their own today and sailed off into the distance. It was a far more exciting race if you ignored those two! We had a close running field and overtaking, Perez repeatedly charging through the pack—treating us to a nail-biting final with Alonso for third, tyre failure dramas, and very close running between Alpines, Ferrari, and Stroll.

As for the top two, it is coming down to the wire. Red Bull is still claiming foul play on Mercedes part, and the momentum does seem to be with Mercedes and Hamilton. With only an eight-point gap to Verstappen ahead and two races of the season left the season finale is looking very exciting!

Driver of the Day: Alonso
Honorable Mentions: Perez, Ocon, Stroll, Hamilton, Verstappen

Qatar Grand Prix Race Results

  1. Hamilton
  2. Verstappen (Fastest Lap)
  3. Alonso
  4. Perez
  5. Ocon
  6. Sainz
  7. Leclerc
  8. Stroll
  9. Norris
  10. Vettel

Next Time

We’re off to Saudi Arabia to a brand new track. A very fast track with lots of sinuous corners, this will be the fastest street circuit ever seen on F1.

Where to watch

USA: Sunday 5th December Live on ESPN race start at 12:30 pm EST
UK: Sunday 5th December Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 5:30 pm GMT
Highlights on Sky Showcase and Channel four Sunday 5th December, time TBC.

Written by Jenny Alderton

Jenny is a freelance writer based in Wales with keen interest in Motorsports. An avid follower of Formula one for over twenty years she has recently branched out into watching other vehicles driving around in wiggly circles. Namely, Motogp, World Superbike championship, and British Superbike championship.

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