How Hamilton dominated in Qatar despite his lack of Mercedes advantage

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Toto Wolff has no doubts that Hamilton’s reaction to his result being disqualified from the Interlagos qualifiers has catapulted him to his best performance. Hamilton put all his energy into a thrilling win in the middle of a three-race series. But he’s back to repeat his dominant performance on his first F1 visit to Qatar.

Hamilton was at his best although he lacked one of the major Mercedes strengths that would have made him even faster.

Hamilton has run from the front row for the 171st time in his illustrious career. Meanwhile, Pierre Gasly made his debut on the front row. Everyone wondered what the Alpha Tauri driver could do by heading into the race against Hamilton to help Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen, after the Dutchman received a five-place penalty for breaking yellow flags in the third division.

That incident originally came after Gasly went off the track and crossed violently on the curb at the penultimate turn 15, which broke his front wing and punctured his tyre.

When the lights went out, Hamilton immediately advanced to cover Gasly on the inside of the long straight, making it to the first right and driving away on his own ever since. By the first lap out of 57, the Brown Leopard had increased its advantage to 1.9sec.

“I didn’t feel under much threat in general,” Hamilton said of his start, adding: “I’ve been able to cover the space since the start and have been focused on trying to build a difference since then.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Pierre Gasly, Alpha Tauri

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Pierre Gasly, Alpha Tauri

Photography: Motorsport Pictures

Meanwhile, Verstappen started from seventh place after a mistake in the third section. The Dutchman managed to pass Valtteri Bottas – who is also penalized – after the Finn had no grip on his cold tyres.

Reaching Turn 1 and in the midst of a battle between Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. on the outside, Verstappen took advantage of the high downforce of his Red Bull to cross the inner lane and jump to fourth, right next to Fernando Alonso – after the Albin driver caught Hamilton and Gasly at Turn 1 after advancing into the corner. Third place on the net following penalties from Verstappen and Bottas.

Suddenly Verstappen was in trouble then, as Alonso, who was out of his sights, moved straight onto the race line by entering Turn Two. Verstappen had to avoid any contact and crossed the lawn to his right, fell behind Alonso, and almost fell behind Norris.

Meanwhile, Alonso made an amazing exit at Turn 2 and was next to Gasly and then overtook him on the inside line at Turn 4, which was not an easy pass. The Spaniard started chasing after Hamilton, while the two former Red Bull teammates were behind him.

But it wasn’t long after Verstappen complained he was “stuck” behind Gasly, and the Alpha Tauri driver spun off the track in the final corner, clearing the way for the Red Bull driver to overtake him at the start of lap three. Verstappen took advantage of the DRS system on the next lap to pass Alonso on the main straight and put his rivals behind Hamilton again.

But he was no match for him. By the time Verstappen got ahead of Alonso, Hamilton’s advantage had risen to 4.2secs, a difference that nearly doubled over the next 11 laps. Verstappen was out in the fresh air alone, suffering excessive cornering in Turn 1 and poor cornering response the rest of the circuit due to some damage to his front wing during the first two laps of the race.

“When I was trying to follow my washers I had trouble turning and crossing the spurs, she was aggressive and noticed some sparks,” Verstappen said of how his wing was damaged.

The rusting was the main reason why the race turned out like this in the end.

Fernando Alonso, Albin and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing and Pierre Gasly, Alpha Tauri

Fernando Alonso, Albin and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing and Pierre Gasly, Alpha Tauri

Photography: Motorsport Pictures

The white and burgundy initial rustlings were really smooth. But if you pass it, you will pass the other curbs at Turns 4-5, 13, 14 and 15, which are painted green.

These were “record socks between the FIA ​​and what we’ve seen in Austria” according to race director Michael Massi, and similar to those cornering at Red Bull Ring, the combination of sews punished the wings and tyres.

The problem was that crossing over the initial smooth brims was the deciding factor for fast laps and it was too easy to touch other aggressive brims. This later became apparent in the race.

With Hamilton alone in front, Red Bull – which entered the race with the intention of making a one-stop with Verstappen according to team principal Christian Horner – decided to take the aggressive option as their only option to annoy the leader.

This meant that Verstappen started to push harder and then Verstappen was called to make his first stop at the end of lap 17. He replaced the ‘Medium’ with ‘Hard’ ones.

Despite Hamilton’s outcry about the condition of his medium tires and his ability to continue driving on them, Mercedes decided to call him in as well to keep up with Red Bull’s movement and its cover.

It came with no threat from any other driver, with Alonso being 20 seconds behind them after 10 laps, and was 34.3 seconds away by the time Verstappen stopped and was back in front of him.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Photography: Motorsport Pictures

Realizing in the second period that victory was out of reach, Verstappen asked Red Bull to let him “enjoy a bit” and press regardless, and the fastest lap point became the leaders’ minds at that point. They exchanged the fastest lap over the first laps of the second period. But after 15 laps of Hamilton’s pitstop, it became a worrying concern.

After his poor start, Bottas started to advance from the 11th position he was in at the end of the opening lap. After his early struggles, the Finn had unexpectedly easy chances to overtake in the first corner and started making significant progress since then.

He overtook Lance Stroll, then Esteban Ocon and Norris in the first period, and was helped by Alpha Tauri’s strategy by sticking to the two early stops, which put both drivers on hold.

Bottas stayed on the track on the “Medium” tyres he had started on by lap 33 and was hoping to get to the podium, but the thunderbolt struck. In a scene similar to the 2020 British Grand Prix, the left front tire got a puncture at Turn 1 and had to complete a slow full lap to get back to the pitlane. The floor of his car took a lot of damage as a result, which later forced the team to recall him again to withdraw from the race.

“I don’t know what happened,” Bottas later said, adding, “There was no warning, no vibration. The pace was steady and the grip was good. It just happened suddenly. I think the wind got stronger at first when I was on the straight because the car started swerving, And then the hole happened in the first corner.”

So Mercedes knew they had to “keep Lewis off the rim”, according to Andrew Shovlin, the team’s track engineering director, but Hamilton later insisted he was “nowhere near any of them”.

Nevertheless, he and Verstappen reported tremors as they approached the last 15 laps. Red Bull called Verstappen again on lap 41 to put him back on medium tyres, so Mercedes responded and did the same for Hamilton. The difference between them never decreased after the first stops, as the strategy of an earlier stop was not providing any gains at the Losail circuit, but Verstappen managed to reduce the gap with Hamilton to 6.3 seconds before the latter returned to move away and widen the difference before the second stop.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Photography: Motorsport Pictures

With everyone focused on the fastest lap battle for the lead and Alonsos pursuit of his first podium – which Bottas’ withdrawal would boost his chances of achieving if he manages to resist the threat of Sergio Perez – puncture dramas are back in action.

On lap 49, George Russell suffered a puncture in his left front tire while crossing the curb at Turn 8. Heading into the race, Russell knew that the outside shoulder of the left front tire was limited, and that the tire would give life at some point if the drivers kept pushing it. But as he pressed to stay ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, his smashing into the curbs along with his tire wear led to a puncture. This scene kept repeating…

“High wear certainly played a role,” said Mario Isola, who is in charge of the motorsport program at Pirelli, promising an investigation into the problem. “That’s because all the tires were completely worn out. The smashing happened at high speed, and it happened almost every lap, along with The fact that the tyres are broken. It’s hard to say if it was the result of something else or if it was a loss of pressure.”

Nicholas Latifi in the other Williams then slowed down with his left front tire also punctured, while Norris slipped from fourth to 11 shortly thereafter when the same thing happened but at Turn 14 with eight laps to go. But Latifi’s problem had an additional impact on the race, as he was ordered to park his car at the curb from Turn 6 to pull off (unlike Russell and Norris who were back in the pits).

With the Marshals working to put away the Latifi, it was decided to adopt the virtual safety car system, and it had two main effects.

As for the leaderboard, Red Bull chose to call up Verstappen a third time to ensure he hit the fastest lap he already had at that point. That put him 35secs behind Hamilton and with racing restarting on the last lap the Dutchman was on soft tyres. The leader had passed the first two corners on the last lap when the VSC system expired, which denied him the opportunity to push for the fastest lap.

But the biggest impact came to the third-place battle between Alonso and Perez, with Gasly’s threat evaporating from his shock pace in the race, and Norris was unable to threaten the Alpine driver before his personal misfortune and Bottas’ puncture exit.

Perez made good progress in the rankings after his poor starting position and got the same strategy as his teammate Verstappen. The Mexican questioned that after his second pit stop saw him fall behind Alonso, who had already overtaken him after a heated battle in Turn 1 and 2 of lap 33. But he later accepted that Red Bull “has chosen the safer way to avoid tire blowouts, and I thought about the bigger picture”.

Nicholas Latifi, Williams

Nicholas Latifi, Williams

Photography: Motorsport Pictures

But he would have had a chance to reclaim third because he was 0.46sec. per lap faster in the 13 laps before the VSC – including laps for passing Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon, who was unable to replicate the defensive performance his Hungarian teammate succeeded in disrupting Hamilton advanced as Ocon was heading for victory in Hungary.

But Alonso insisted that “he had an extra margin to keep pushing more if he needed to”.

In any case, the timing of the virtual safety car system caused Perez to cross the line 2.8 seconds behind Alonso, giving the Albin driver his first podium since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix. Up front, Hamilton secured his 102nd victory in 25.7 seconds About Verstappen, and about a full minute ahead of Alonso. This result allowed him to reduce Verstappen’s advantage at the top of the championship to eight points, with two races remaining at the end of the season.

Hamilton’s advantage was clear and he is still at its highest level since the Brazil adventure, but on the other hand, Red Bull appeared to have miscalculated when it came to tires on the roof of the Losail circuit. This asphalt has not changed since it was first laid in 2004, and when the teams headed out to Continent Three in three weeks’ time, they discovered that the surface of the track was much smoother than expected. This meant that its predictions and simulations did not match what the drivers had found on the ground since the first practice session.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Photography: Motorsport Pictures

This unexpected smoothness resulted in the tires needing to apply more pressure in order to reach the appropriate heat-working range on the harsher Pirelli formulas, which seemed to have an impact on Red Bull’s level of performance. That was evident from Perez’s exit from the second division, with Verstappen referring to his struggles in this aspect during his post-race press conference when answering Motorsport.com’s question about what he thinks made the final difference between his team and Mercedes in the event. Diameter.

“These tyres,” Verstappen said. “You get to master them sometimes and get some grip. But if you don’t, other times it can make a difference.”

But there was a surprising recap from Mercedes after the race. Hamilton wasn’t racing with the new engine he got in Brazil, which Red Bull believes is 0.2 seconds per lap. Mercedes has saved him to harness his strength when heading to Jeddah’s high-speed Corniche circuit in two weeks’ time.

“We’ve got two engines to race with,” Shovlin said of Hamilton’s engines, adding, “We had the least powerful of the two on the car given the nature of the track.”

No one should lose sight of the fact that Hamilton could have outperformed Verstappen if he had all the engine power.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photography: Motorsport Pictures

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