In Qatar, Lewis Hamilton completely restored the tension in the F1 title race by convincingly winning the race. However, title rival Max Verstappen managed to limit the damage as much as possible with the second place and the point for the fastest lap. The difference with the competition was big: before the Red Bull Racing driver made his third pit stop in the final phase, the two drove almost a minute ahead of number 3 Fernando Alonso. According to Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle, it is confirmation of a statement he makes more often.
“You often hear me say that two title rivals take their level to a higher level together. They find an extra gear that allows them to maximize pressing a pedal and turning the steering wheel every turn of every lap. Under the artificial lights of Qatar, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen seemed to be racing in a different category, so high was their speed at the forefront of the hunt for crucial World Cup points,” Brundle said in his column for Sky Sports. “Remarkably, these two drivers seem to be the calmest members of their team from time to time.”
Title fight not so intense before
Where Verstappen and Hamilton battle on the asphalt, they are supported off the track by their respective teams Red Bull Racing and Mercedes. Brundle observes that things are going hard in that area too. “Never before have I experienced such intensity. This is a season that unfolds in a haze of opposing views, camera angles, images, data, information, misinformation, social media posts and more than a little bit of bitterness and mistrust. It felt more like a movie on Sunday than a race.”
Bottas and Verstappen severely punished
The battle for victory in Qatar seemed to be decided early in the race, partly because Verstappen received a grid penalty after qualifying. He ignored double yellow flags in the closing seconds of Q3 as he drove past Pierre Gasly’s stranded car at full speed. Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas was also penalized for a similar offence, although he involved a single yellow flag. Carlos Sainz was also investigated, but he was acquitted because he went off his gas. However, Brundle also thinks that Verstappen and Bottas were punished too severely.
“There were extenuating circumstances to say the least. Without yellow warning panels along the track, but with a green panel on the pit wall in front of the weighbridge I would have missed the relatively dimly lit marshal post on the left side of the track every time too,” said Brundle. He notes that the international motorsport federation has had a few tough weeks. “The FIA, which has generally done an excellent job as a referee in the highly complex world of Formula 1, has had a few turbulent and indecisive weeks since the infamous turn four incident between the title contenders was brushed aside in Brazil.”