Qatar Grand Prix 2023
This article was written by Maxime Baillieux, Year 11
A weekend of twists and turns
The 2023 Qatar Grand Prix provided us with a weekend filled with surprises, intense battles, and some unexpected outcomes. From the challenging new track conditions to dramatic moments on the circuit, the race had it all. Let's dive into the thrilling journey that unfolded over the weekend.
Friday's 10-Minute Session: Familiarising with a Changed Track
The weekend started with a 10-minute session for the drivers to acquaint themselves with the altered track; the turn 12-13 section had been changed. The main reason for this was that tyres were showing signs of not lasting long. Additionally, high vibrations were reported when cars passed over the kerbs, adding an extra layer of complexity to the race.
The first qualifying session of the weekend proved to be a nail-biter. Max Verstappen, the reigning world champion, managed to secure the top spot, while Lewis Hamilton faced a close call but managed to advance. Unfortunately, it was a tough session for Liam Lawson, who missed out on Q2. The eliminated drivers featured familiar names such as Sargeant, Stroll, Lawson, Magnussen, and Zhou.
The second qualifying session mirrored the intensity of Q1, with Verstappen continuing to impress. Yuki Tsunoda, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Alexander Albon, and Nico Hulkenberg were among those who missed the cut. It was clear that this race weekend had the potential to shake up the grid with two of some of the best drivers in the best cars already out.
The top five in Q3 showcased the competition's fierceness, with Verstappen, George Russell, Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Oscar Piastri leading the pack. The stage was set for a captivating race day.
Sprint Qualifying 1 (SQ1):
The excitement continued on with the Sprint Qualifying session, adding a unique twist to the race weekend. However, it wasn't all smooth sailing, as track times were deleted left, right and centre due to violations of the track limits. Lance Stroll, as per tradition we could say, faced a challenging sprint session. George Russell shone by posting the fastest time in SQ1, while Liam Lawson managed to outpace Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately, Logan Sargeant couldn't secure a valid time. The wind, notably in Turn 5, added an extra challenge. The elimination list featured Stroll, Albon, Tsunoda, Magnussen and Sargeant, while Russell topped the charts.
Sprint Qualifying 2 (SQ2):
SQ2 brought more excitement, with Russell leading the charge for the flying laps. Hamilton had his time deleted for track limits, adding suspense to the session. In the final minutes, both Ferraris were knocked out of the competition. Lewis Hamilton managed to advance but not enough to pass into SQ3. Gasly, Hamilton, Bottas, Lawson, and Zhou were those who couldn't make the cut. Norris was the fastest in SQ2, followed closely by Russell.
Sprint Qualifying 3 (SQ3):
In SQ3, George Russell opted for a strategic delay before heading out, while Verstappen was the first to hit the track on soft tyres. However, Verstappen faced a setback with his first time being deleted at Turn 5. To the surprise of many, it was Oscar Piastri who clinched pole position, shaking up the established order of Verstappen ahead, and everyone else behind. The top five in SQ3 consisted of Piastri, Norris, Verstappen, Russell, and Alonso.
Sprint Race: Piastri Takes the Spotlight
The sprint race on Saturday provided more drama. Russell, Sainz and Leclerc opted for soft tyres, hoping for an advantage. Verstappen suffered a poor start, allowing Russell to climb to second place after the initial lap. Unfortunately, Liam Lawson found himself stranded in the gravel, bringing out the safety car with Piastri leading.
Russell took advantage of Piastri’s lack of experience in F1 restarts to pass him shortly after the restart. Alonso had a fierce battle with Norris but eventually got overtaken by Ocon. The safety car made another appearance on Lap 4 and the race was far from over. Russell faced relentless pressure from Piastri, who eventually passed him with the assistance of DRS on the main straight. Lap 11 marked a significant moment as Verstappen secured his World Champion title due to a collision involving Hulkenberg, Ocon, and Perez.
Despite Russell's desire to pit, his team advised against it, and the safety car came in at the end of Lap 14. Russell was then overtaken by Verstappen.
Piastri clinched victory in the sprint race, with Leclerc receiving a 5-second penalty that dropped him to 13th place after the race.
Race Day: Drama Unfolds
The main event on Sunday did not disappoint either. Lewis Hamilton, starting on soft tyres, experienced a dramatic crash with Russell at Turn 1 on the first lap, eliminating him from the race and triggering the safety car. Piastri swiftly moved up to second place as a result.
Safety car conditions persisted until the end of Lap 4. Perez and Russell also had a tussle on the track. Russell showcased incredible determination and skill as he managed to steadily climb up the leaderboard. By Lap 13, he was already in third place.
Max Verstappen was dominant, leading the race comfortably and pitted on Lap 17. Albon briefly took the lead on Lap 18. Meanwhile, Russell continued his charge, ultimately pitting on Lap 33. He demonstrated remarkable tyre management and even set the fastest lap on hard tyres, a feat quite hard to achieve.
Piastri managed to maintain a solid 4-second gap to Norris, while Sergio Perez received another 5-second penalty for track limits on Lap 40. McLaren achieved a remarkable feat with a 1.8-second pit stop on Lap 28, setting a world record.
Russell was targeted fourth place by his strategists and pitted again on Lap 50, switching to soft tyres for a final push. Gasly and Stroll were both penalised for track limits. The race concluded with Verstappen's victory, accompanied by the fastest lap. Piastri, Norris, Russell, and Leclerc rounded out the top five. Russell's daring final push on softs ultimately didn't work. Was it the weather that caused his lack of pace?
The 2023 Qatar Grand Prix really was a mix of emotions, pace and cars in places where they often weren’t. The conditions at the track were so bad it even forced Logan Sargeant to retire because he was feeling too sick to continue. Will we see Qatar again next year? Officially, yes, but at a different time of the year, hopefully, the tyres will be able to last longer and not have mandatory pit stops every 18 laps!