Bulls close gap in constructors championship fight at Qatar GP

Max Verstappen recovered from a five-place grid penalty to claim second place and the point for fastest lap at the Qatar Grand Prix, limiting the damage to his championship lead over Lewis Hamilton, as the Mercedes driver won F1’s first race at the Losail International Circuit from pole position.

Sergio Pérez, meanwhile, recovered from a Q2 exit in qualifying and an 11th-place start to surge through the pack and claim a hard won and well-deserved fourth place at the flag.

Just two hours before the race, the Dutch driver was demoted to seventh on the grid after the stewards ruled that he had not obeyed double waved yellow flags at the end of qualifying.

However, when the lights went out at the start, the championship leader made a brilliant getaway, slipping between Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz as they headed to turn one. And after cleverly hugging the inside line through the opening corner he found himself in P4 after turn two, despite kicking up the dust when Alpine’s Fernando Alonso drifted wide as they approached the apex.

Max was then quickly past Gasly. The AlphaTauri man went wide in the final corner as DRS was activated and Max breezed past on the pit straight. And on lap five he made the same move past Alonso to claim P2.

Max made his second pit stop at the end of lap 41, taking on medium tyres in a superb 2.1s stop and ultimately finished in P2 behind Hamilton. The Dutchman, who had earlier set the fastest lap, made sure of the extra point on offer by taking on soft tyres for a final tour of 1:23.196. 

On his P2, Max Verstappen commented “I’m of course happy with the result today. This weekend has been quite difficult for us as a Team and we are still lacking pace, I tried everything I could after the five-place grid penalty so to finish in second and score the fastest lap is really good.

“I had an exciting start and I knew that the first few laps were really important, I had a good launch and I was fairly quickly back in to second place, from there I tried to keep the gap small and that worked out quite well. I had fun today, especially when going for the fastest lap.

“It’s a shame that Checo didn’t make it to the podium today, he scored good points for the Team. I’m also happy for Fernando, we all know how good he is, there’s no doubt about that. For now, we need to stay focused, there are still two races left to go and a lot of things can happen, anything is possible.”

Checo on lap 41 pitted for mediums, re-joining in P7 with Stroll, Ocon and Norris. The race then took another turn in the final laps as Norris and both Williams drivers, who were both attempting one-stop races, suffered front-left punctures, Mercedes driver Bottas also suffered the same fate.

Checo was now just six seconds behind Alonso under the caution but with a single lap of racing left when the track eventually went green again, the Mexican driver was forced to settle for fourth place behind Alonso, who took his first podium finish in seven years.

Discussing his race, Sergio Perez said: “We managed to recover from qualifying and moved through the grid quickly from P11, we were in a very good position to be on the podium but unfortunately it didn’t work out.

“It was a very exhausting race, I was flat out the whole time, overtaking and pushing. We were changing our strategy throughout the race; at some stages we were going for one stop and at others two, but others’ tyres were exploding so we had to protect ours to prevent getting a puncture and maximise our position in the Constructor’s Championship.

“I think we had the podium in our pocket but for the second week running a virtual safety car has potentially cost us. I don’t know if without it we would have definitely caught up with Fernando, but we would have been close.

“It is a bit of a shame but we managed to minimise the damage from Saturday and Valtteri didn’t score any points which is a big benefit to us. Ultimately, I think from a Team point of view we had to play it safe with the constructors in mind. Where we have finished today is a good result for the Team and the longer-term picture, we just have to keep pushing hard and improve our performance in the next two races.

“Now I am looking forward to Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi because we are going to give it everything, we have a big chance to come on top of the Constructor’s Championship, there is five points in it, it’s all to play for and that is the target.”

While we enter the final throws of the 2021 season, Max and Sergio went head-to-head in a brand new quiz, Box Box Box, to answer questions about all things Mobil 1. Click here to watch the full film.

Max’s P2 leaves him eight points ahead of Hamilton and Checo is only 13 points behind Bottas in P4 with two races remaining.  In the Constructors’ battle, the Team is now five points behind Mercedes in second place.

Commenting on the race, Team Principal Christian Horner exclaimed: “Today was a big day, I think Max’s recovery on the first lap was stunning and his first two corners were sensational. Mercedes had a quicker car with Lewis today, but we were able to come back at them in the second and third stint.

“Whilst we haven’t got quicker, our straight-line speed was competitive today and the fact that Max was able to get the fastest lap before switching to softs was encouraging. Checo was unlucky not to finish on the podium today, I think without the VSC he would have been right with Alonso on that last lap, but he had a great drive and earned us some valuable team points. It’s been a long time since Fernando was on the podium so it was also nice to see him up there.

“We are now just five points behind in the constructors’ championship and eight points in front in the drivers’ championship, so there are two very big races to come and it’s all to play for. We are going to work hard next week and improve the car as much as we can and see what we can do in Jeddah.”

The paddock now takes a break after the third race in as many weekends, recommencing for the penultimate race of the season in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 3 December.  The 2021 season is one of the most competitive in recent years and ExxonMobil continue to support Red Bull Racing Honda's fight in the Drivers and Constructors Standings.