Lewis Hamilton in ominous form as Qatar Grand Prix victory slices Max Verstappen’s championship lead

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Lewis Hamilton claimed an emphatic victory in the Qatar Grand Prix to cut Max Verstappen’s lead to just eight points in the race for the Formula One world title.

Having claimed pole position by a hefty margin in Saturday’s qualifying, the seven-time champion was handed a further boost ahead of the race when Verstappen was demoted five places on the starting grid for a yellow-flag infringement.

With Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri alongside him on the front row, Hamilton blazed clear and was, effectively, not seen again before parking up at the foot of the podium 57 laps later.

It was an ominous showing from the Mercedes star following his similar domination of the timesheets in Brazil a week ago. With just two races to go, Red Bull may find themselves outgunned as F1 takes to the long straights of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

What a contrast, then, from Verstappen’s cruise home in Mexico - which itself appeared to put the Dutchman within reach of a first championship.

The fact that the pendulum has swung so fiercely so quickly suggests it could yet happen again in December. Verstappen eased back to second place early on and the pace of the rivals’ teammates in Qatar was further evidence that these two teams have, if anything, put on even more performance compared to the rest of the pack in recent weeks.

Valtteri Bottas, dropped three places for his own qualifying penalty, and then from sixth to 11th on the opening lap, but powered back into podium contention on a monster first stint after he found his feet. That ended with a puncture for his front-left Hard tyre, and he would later be forced to retire.

Likewise, Sergio Perez launched from his 11th-place grid position to challenge for a podium - which he hunted down on a two-stop strategy until a Virtual Safety Car drew the race to a de facto close two laps early.

The VSC followed Nicholas Latifi stopping on track for the same puncture that Bottas and Williams teammate George Russell had suffered in the latter stages, with McLaren’s Lando Norris giving up a potential fourth-placed finish as his tyres gave way late on.

Sudden tremors were felt across the Losail International Circuit when those pushing the Hards to their limit discovered the consequences for overstepping it. One of which was Fernando Alonso, who started third and drove an excellent race to claim his first podium since 2014.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The two-time world champion was sweating on his Hards towards the end as Perez powered towards him, but was able to smile on the podium alongside Verstappen and Hamilton.

"It was pretty straightforward," said Hamilton. "Of course I enjoy those races when you're battling through but it was a really solid job from the team with the pits stops and the car and I can't wait to see a replay of the race to see what happened behind me.

"It has been a hell of a year, so to be at the end of the year and have back-to-back wins is a great feeling and puts us in good stead."

Verstappen’s fightback to second showed his grit and determination with echoes of Hamilton’s similar feat in Brazil last time out, although first place was always likely to evade him given the Mercs’ impeccable pace.

"Of course our starting position was a bit compromised but we had a really good start and we made it to second," said Verstappen.

“To get that fastest lap [point] was very nice because I know it is going to be difficult to decide [the title]. I feel good, it is going to be tight."

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