Verstappen Wins 3rd Championship!

Max Verstappen has now entered the elite company.  Only four other drivers have accomplished the feat of winning three championships in a row (Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton).  Max won his third championship during yesterday’s Sprint when his teammate crashed out on lap 11 of the Sprint race.  Verstappen also won his 14th Grand Prix this season and his 49th victory overall.

While Max Verstappen’s feats are a great story, perhaps the most interesting story of the weekend is the resurgence of McLaren.  Rookie driver Oscar Piastri earned the teams first P1 finish of the year during yesterday’s Sprint and followed it up with a P2 finish today.  His teammate Lando Norris earned P3 in both races.  McLaren’s late season pace is blistering but not enough to overtake Red Bull during the Grand Prix.

McLaren started off the race weekend on the front row for the Sprint race.  At the start of the Sprint, George Russel blasted off at tremendous pace, overtaking Verstappen and Norris before turn one.  Verstappen and Norris’s start was so poor that Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc followed Russell around both drivers right before the yellow flag flew for Liam Lawson’s spinout into the gravel.  When green flag racing resumed, Russell quickly overtook Piastri to lead the grid.  Russell’s seemingly blistering pace was short lived as he ate up his soft tires.  Piastri, Norris and Verstappen were all running on mediums, and they eventually overtook Russell as the Sprint unfolded.  McLaren is laying an outstanding foundation for next year’s run.

McLaren driver Oscar Piastri of Australia leads at the start of the sprint race ahead of the Qatar Formula One Grand Prix at the Lusail International Circuit, in Lusail, Qatar, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, Pool)

Mercedes has been finding their pace late in the season as well.  They thought they could challenge Red Bull this weekend.  At the start of the race today, Russell and Hamilton attempted to put pressure on Verstappen before turn one.  Verstappen pulled away as Hamilton attempted to pass his teammate and instead took Russell and himself out at the apex of turn one.  As the podium winners chatted in the cool down room, Oscar Piastri remarked “Thank you, Mercedes”.  Verstappen looked at the McLaren drivers and asked, “Do you know what they call that?  The law of the Jungle.”

Though Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc qualified ahead of McLaren, the papaya cars overcame qualification day.  Unfortunately for Sainz, he had a fuel leak and could not start the Grand Prix.  Leclerc and Alonso just didn’t have the pace.

The Qatar Grand Prix is a grueling energy sapping race despite the fact it’s at night.  Logan Sargeant became sick during the race and had to retire at lap 40.  During lap 27, Alonso complained that his seat was getting hot, presumably due to the massive amount of electronics packed behind it.  George Russell attempted to get air on his wrists on the straights and lifted his visor as he drove into the pit lane.  At the conclusion of the race, Verstappen jokingly queried to the McLaren drivers, “where are the wheelchairs”.  Piastri laid on the cool floor of the cool down room, while Norris sat in a semi daze recounting the race.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, second right, poses with second placed McLaren driver Oscar Piastri of Australia, left, and third placed McLaren driver Lando Norris of Britain after winning the Qatar Formula One Grand Prix auto race at the Lusail International Circuit, in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Though the championship is locked up, there is still important battles for 2nd and 3rd place for both the drivers and the teams.  Five races remain.  McLaren is a mere 11 points behind Aston Martin who is currently sitting in fourth.  Sixty-Two points separate Aston Martin from Ferrari.  Third thru Fifth is the current battle for the constructors’ final results.

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