No rest for F1 champion Max Verstappen with 14th victory of season at Qatar Grand Prix

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen shares the podium with McLaren drivers Oscar Piastri, center, and Lando Norris. (Getty)

LOSAIL, Qatar — Max Verstappen is the Formula One champion again. He isn’t easing off.

A day after clinching his third title in a sprint race, it was clear the celebrations had taken nothing out of Verstappen’s pace as he cruised to his 14th Grand Prix win of the season in familiar style at the Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday.

The Red Bull driver started on pole, stayed clear of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell colliding alongside him at the first corner, and was then comfortably ahead of the rest of the field on his way to his 14th Grand Prix win in 2023.

Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris finished second and third in a double podium finish for McLaren.

“I think what made the race was my first stint, and after that I could just manage my pace, making sure that the tires were in a good window,” Verstappen said. “But the McLarens were quick again today. I had to push for it. It’s definitely a tough race out there.”

The two Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton started behind Verstappen on the grid but collided at the first corner, ending seven-time champion Hamilton’s race. Piastri charged through for second place as Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc ahead of him slowed to avoid the crash.

Second place continues an impressive streak for Australian rookie Piastri, who achieved his first career podium finish at the Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago and won the Qatar sprint race Saturday.

Piastri told his team it was “probably the hardest race I’ve ever had in my life,” adding his thanks for “whoever bowled everyone over at turn one,” in a reference to the Mercedes crash.

Norris has been on the podium for four races in a row including the sprint — though a first career win still eludes the British driver because of Verstappen’s domination.

Hamilton told his team on the formation lap that he was concerned about being “a sitting duck” at the start with faster cars behind. His race was over at the first corner.

With Hamilton to his left and Verstappen to his right, Russell had nowhere to go when Hamilton turned in on him and both Mercedes span into the gravel. Russell was able to continue but had to pit for damage and dropped to the back. He fought his way back through the field to finish fourth ahead of Ferrari driver Leclerc and Aston Martin’s Alonso.

Hamilton initially blamed Russell for the crash over the radio but accepted responsibility in later comments.

Esteban Ocon was seventh for Alpine, the two Alfa Romeos of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu eighth and ninth, and Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez 10th.

Safety concerns over the tires meant drivers were banned from using the same tires for more than 18 laps. That meant a minimum of three pit stops in the 57-lap race, so strategy played a prominent role.

Piastri likened the race to “57 qualifying laps” since the frequent stops meant little need for drivers to ease off and prevent tire wear.

At one stage, Verstappen even lapped his teammate Perez, who had another disappointing performance after repeated penalties for going off track.

Perez had to start from the pit lane after a change of power unit following his crash in Saturday’s sprint, but was soon racing against Russell. Unlike Russell, Perez made little progress fighting up the field.

Perez won two of the first four races this season but has not won since then. Perez remains second in the standings but has picked up just five points from the last three rounds of the championship, including retirements at the Japanese Grand Prix and in Saturday’s Qatar sprint race.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr., the only non-Red Bull driver to win a Grand Prix this season, did not start the race because of what Ferrari called a fuel system issue on his car. He had qualified 12th.

American driver Logan Sargeant retired from the race on lap 40 of 57 after feeling unwell and being told over the radio by his Williams team engineer that there would be “no shame” in stopping. Williams said Sargeant had suffered “intense dehydration” and had raced despite having been ill earlier in the week. He was assessed and cleared by the medical team at the track, Williams added.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

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