Verstappen seals third F1 title and 14th grand prix win of season
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen became a three-time Formula One world champion this weekend, joining elite company.
Max Verstappen took his first win as a triple Formula One world champion on Sunday after dominating a Qatar Grand Prix peppered with pit stops and penalties for a rash of track limit violations.
The victory from pole position under the Lusail floodlights was a 14th in 17 races, and a career 49th, for the 26-year-old Red Bull driver who clinched his third successive title in a Saturday sprint.
Verstappen added his name to the list of triple Formula One world champions this weekend after Red Bull teammate and sole title rival Sergio Perez crashed out of the Qatar Grand Prix sprint race on Saturday.
Mexican Perez needed to finish in the top three to keep the title open for another day, with the main grand prix on Sunday, but his hopes ended in a cloud of dust after tangling with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg on lap 11.
The Red Bull was then stuck in the gravel, with Perez stepping out.
That meant Verstappen, who started third and finished second behind McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, was the champion for the third year in a row with an unassailable lead of 184 points and only 172 left to win.
Team boss Christian Horner read out a roll call of greats over the radio after the 26-year-old Dutch driver crossed the finish line.
“Max, you are a three-time world champion. That’s unbelievable. It’s been an incredible year for you,” Horner said.
Piastri finished second, with McLaren teammate Lando Norris third in what became a three-stop race after Pirelli warned of the risk of blowouts.
“It was a bit close for comfort, I think, in that last stint. But pace was okay. Another win, unbelievable,” said Verstappen, who finished 4.8 seconds clear of Piastri.
After winning the title on Saturday, Verstappen replied: “Yeah, unbelievable, guys. I don’t know what to say. Thank you for providing me with such a car. It’s been a lot of fun this year.
He also became the second-youngest triple world champion after the now retired German Sebastian Vettel, who secured the third of his four crowns with Red Bull in 2012 at the age of 25, and the first to win the title in a sprint event.
The last to take the title on a Saturday was Brazilian triple champion Nelson Piquet in the 1980s.
Piastri’s success ended Red Bull’s domination of the sprints this season and earned the Australian rookie his first victory in F1, even if not a proper grand prix for the record books.
“When he [Verstappen] got through to second I thought I was going to be in a bit of trouble, but the pace was good. First sprint win sounds pretty cool,” said Piastri, who finished 1.871 seconds ahead.
There was drama even before the cars had lined up on the grid when Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who ended Red Bull’s 100% win record with victory in Singapore last month, was ruled out by a fuel system problem.
It continued seconds after the start when Mercedes teammates George Russell and Lewis Hamilton collided at the first corner, with the latter accusing the younger Briton of taking him out.
Hamilton later calmed down and said he did not consider his teammate at fault.
Russell, who had started second and made four pit stops in all, ended up fourth, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fifth and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso sixth.
Esteban Ocon was seventh for Alpine, with the Alfa Romeo pair of Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou eighth and ninth and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez demoted to 10th after a five-second post-race penalty for exceeding track limits multiple times.
Verstappen, now 209 points clear of Perez at the top of the standings, led cleanly from pole position and raced away unchallenged.
The sweltering desert heat, even after dark, made it a gruelling race.
“I think what made the race was my first stint. After that, I could just manage my pace and make sure that the tyres were always in a good window,” Verstappen said.
“The McLarens were quick again today. I had to push for it. It was definitely a tough race out there.”
Four drivers collected time penalties for repeated track limits violations — Perez, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and Williams’ Alex Albon.
Stroll, Gasly and Albon were twice penalised for a total of 10 seconds each. DM