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He celebrated his brand new title with the fourteenth victory of the season, after a tedious race in Losail. Max Verstappen crossed the chequered flag ahead of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, who confirmed McLaren as second force on the grid. After the initial disaster of Mercedes, which lost its two drivers in the first corner due to a collision, little more could add Fernando Alonso, sixth at the finish 49 seconds behind the winner. Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, could not even take the start, victim of a breakdown in the fuel system of his Ferrari.

Verstappen's performance, with no one to bother him, could be analyzed in the light of two events. With 26 laps to go to the chequered flag, track engineer Giampiero Lambiase asked for a "sustained increase" in pace. "What's that?" asked the three-time champion with his almost comical haughtiness. The other point of interest came nine laps to the end, when he doubled his partner Sergio Pérez, protagonist of another disastrous performance.

To know who would accompany Max on the podium had to wait for the last of the three mandatory stops, when the McLarens were launched almost in parallel. Norris had entered the pits just one turn after Piastri, who held second place with total orthodoxy. When the Australian already lost more than 10 seconds in front of the lead, Verstappen still had to score the fastest lap (1: 24.319).

Glaring error

Given the performance of the weekend, Mercedes started with serious options of a double podium, with which it would extend its margin against Ferrari in the Constructors' World Championship. Lewis Hamilton, on soft tyres, understood it in his own way. That is, badly. At the arrival at the first corner, the heptachampion turned violently, as if George Russell, on the inside, did not pass through there. His maneuver, perhaps deserving of a punishment for the next race, went almost unnoticed by the stewards, who preferred to open a file for walking across the track. Toto Wolff, absent in Qatar because of a knee injury, clarified the voice in his radio message: "George, let's do our best from now on."

The catastrophe of the Silver Arrows left Alonso in a situation of certain privilege. Although he had to brake urgently to avoid the crash, the Spaniard was third, in the wake of Piastri, whose spectacular staging propelled him from sixth to second place. Without benefits with which to threaten the Australian, the Spaniard had to face Charles Leclerc, the only representative of Ferrari, and the other McLaren of Norris.

Because Sainz could not even take form on the grid, because of a sudden setback. "An hour before the pit-lane opened we refueled the car. There was a problem with the fuel system and it was too late to change things," explained Fred Vasseur, Scuderia's team principal. Perhaps for assuming his share of grotesque, Nico Hulkenberg occupied the vacant place of the Madrid, so he was penalized with 10 seconds.

The fate of the race, as had been evident since Friday, would be resolved by strategy. Among other reasons because the FIA had decreed in the previous one the obligatory nature of three pit-stops to change the tires, which were undone without remedy on the asphalt of Losail. Therefore, the useful life of the Pirelli could not exceed 18 laps, which extremely conditioned the calculations of the engineers.

Almost desperately, Russell gained positions, with a fabulous overtake on Pierre Gasly on the outside of Turn 1. Nor could Sergio Perez, condemned to start from the pit-lane for last-minute repairs to the chassis after his accident on Saturday. Driving above his means, the Mexican exceeded the track limits three times for a cumulative 15-second penalty.

Sargeant's fainting

In that troubled river, with three seats almost as a gift, Alonso was used thoroughly despite the notorious inferiority of his Aston Martin. During the seventh lap he suffered a violent whiplash that sent him to one of the escapes. After the first pit stop he overtook Leclerc, about to snatch the position. So he kept the type for 27 laps, before losing the podium place to Norris by an overcut. Six turns later, his second excursion through the gravel was aggravated by a dangerous return to the asphalt, with the pertinent investigation.

The spectacle, rather sad for the strategic requirements, was only animated by the fainting of Logan Sargeant. "I don't feel well and I need to stop," admitted the American before returning his Williams to the garage. The heat of the desert was so tight that by lap 15 Esteban Ocon had had to vomit inside the cockpit. And behind the checkered flag, Lawrence Stroll and Alexander Albon had to go to the medical center. Too much suffering for such a poor show.

  • Max Verstappen