(MENAFN- The Peninsula) Doha: A strong performance from Red Bull Racing saw the gap in the constructors' championship close again in the Qatar Grand Prix, as Max drove a brilliant recovery race.
After an overnight investigation into qualifying, the stewards decided to give Max a five-place grid penalty for failing to respect yellow flags at the end of Q3, despite admitting they were“sympathetic” to the situation after confusion when it came to messages from race control. That dropped him to seventh on the grid, but a similar penalty for Valtteri Bottas - albeit three places - saw Pierre promoted to a spot on the front row.
When the lights went out, Pierre held second into Turn 1 but dropped to third at the second corner, while Max made a stunning start to be fourth through the first corner. Fernando Alonso's sweep across the track saw Max having to take evasive action and prevented him getting into third, but he passed Pierre at the end of lap three and the Alpine a lap later to quickly run second.
Sergio made a similarly good start to jump from 11th to ninth on the opening lap, while Yuki held eighth before Sergio overtook him into Turn 4. The Mexican driver then continued his progress with a good move around the outside of Carlos Sainz at Turn 1, before using DRS to clear Esteban Ocon for sixth place on the start of lap nine.
On lap 16, Sergio overtook Lando Norris for fourth place just before Max came into the pits a lap later for his first stop, switching to medium tyres. Sergio followed him in two laps later.
An impressive fight with Charles Leclerc saw Sergio move up to fifth and he then fought again with Alonso for fourth, getting the move done after going wheel-to-wheel through Turn 1 and Turn 2.
After a puncture for Valtteri Bottas on lap 33, most teams decided against attempting a one-stop strategy, with the AlphaTauri drivers stopping on lap 35 and 36, with Pierre in first before Yuki.
Max and Sergio then both made their second pit stops on lap 41, with Max retaining second place but Sergio dropped to seventh and needed to fight his way through towards the podium positions.
He cleared Lance Stroll for sixth with 11 laps remaining and then went around the outside of Esteban Ocon at Turn 1 for fifth a lap later, before inheriting fourth when Norris stopped. Unfortunately a late Virtual Safety Car prevented any further progress and Sergio fell just short of third place, but still added 12 points to the team's tally.
Max had delivered the fastest lap just before the VSC period and made a pit stop for softs during the delay, confirming the extra point on his final lap to cap an excellent recovery with 19 points, retaining his lead in the driver's championship. The 31 points scored by Red Bull Racing also brought the team to within five points of the leaders in the constructors' standings.
Unfortunately for Pierre he was unable to chase down Sebastian Vettel for the final point and finished 11th, with Yuki 13th as AlphaTauri's impressive qualifying pace failed to translate into race trim.
Commenting on their performance, Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda Racing F1 Technical Director, said:“The first ever Qatar Grand Prix turned out to be an exciting race for us, with both Red Bull Racing Honda drivers doing a lot of overtaking. Max, who had an unfortunate grid penalty, immediately moved up the order from starting seventh to get up to second place quite quickly to finish on the podium, while Checo also produced a strong drive to go from eleventh to fourth. '
'Today, we really got everything out of our package. Things did not go so well for Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda. Pierre inherited a front row grid position because of penalties for others, but neither he nor Yuki, who started eighth, had enough race pace today and finished outside the points,' Tanabe said.
'In general, this was not an easy weekend for us, but the result was important, as Max still leads the Drivers' classification and Red Bull has closed the gap to Mercedes in the Constructors.' Now, we have a one week gap without a race, so we will work hard with both our teams to see how we can improve our performance for the final two races of the seasons,” Tanabe said.
Verstappen said:“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.”
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