The Saturday in F1 Qatar GP sprint got tasty with a non-Red Bull win but still Max Verstappen took limelight amid host of incidents.

It was a hectic Saturday in F1 Qatar GP after Pirelli’s investigation and changes made by the FIA to the track and tyre usage. The drivers had to be extra careful using the kerbs with potential danger of damages and possible punctures.

The sprint race in itself was hectic due to multiple safety car periods for multiple offs and incident. This actually helped McLaren’s Oscar Piastri who secured the win ahead of Red Bull’s Verstappen to register the first non-Red Bull sprint win of 2023.

Piastri did hold himself well despite losing out to Mercedes’ George Russell but teammate Lando Norris was left frustrated even though he climbed up to third after losing out at the start. The Brit was more irritated at himself rather than the team for the mistakes.

But it was still a McLaren 1-3 in a good show even though Verstappen took the limelight after securing the F1 2023 championship after teammate Sergio Perez had his crash. The Dutchman too had to fight back and the safety car didn’t help him much.

It did help Russell to a certain extent as he ended up fourth while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz also managed to score. His teammate Charles Leclerc did hung on but track limits caught him out, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton rose up well after a slow start.

Piastri: “I was obviously happy to win the Sprint. I have to say, it’s a bit of a weird feeling because it’s not a race win. It does feel a little bit strange. But no, very, very happy. I think, you know, it’s just been a really good day. And I felt like, as a race, more than the result, I was really happy with how I managed things. Obviously a difficult race with tyres as well. So, yeah, I think good learning for tomorrow and I guess happy that I executed well. Yeah, and the fact that it gives me a number one trophy at the end is a bonus. As for the race, I think I probably got a bit of a better launch than Lando and Max. And then there’s obviously the Safety Car, which spaced everyone out a bit more for me. Yeah, once George got past I thought I was in a lot of trouble, because I tried to stay on the outside of him and it was like he had the grip turned up double. So yeah, that was difficult. And I think staying in front of the Ferrari at Turn 1 was pretty important for me.

“I think if I had gone behind I would have been in a bit of trouble. So that was a pretty important moment in the race. And whenever you’ve got Max behind you, it’s not the most confidence-inspiring feeling, I’ll be honest. You know, I think the pace was actually probably better than I expected. But yeah, pushing flat out, you know. When there’s two or three laps to go at that point just trying to hang on as best as I could. And the pace was solid. That last Safety Car was pretty nice for me, I’ll be honest. So yeah, I knew that I had to try and get as much of a gap whilst Max was behind George, as quickly as I could. Which… managed to get out enough and then the pace at the end was also pretty good too. So yeah, but once, I think was about 10 laps to go, or eight laps to go at that point, I thought it might be a tough ask to the end. So, I’m thanking the Safety Car drivers today.”

Verstappen: “I think Lando and myself, we got eaten up a bit in the start. And, yeah, we lost quite a few positions there because of the Soft runners coming through. And that made it, of course, a bit more difficult. Plus, I think in general, we’re always quite strong on tyre deg, but with two Safety Cars in the Sprint, it’s not ideal, let’s say, for us. So, that definitely worked against us. And also, I was about to pass George just before that Safety Car came out, so, yeah, I had one more lap behind him where I lost a lot of time, because in high speed, he had no front tyres left, or left front. So, it was a bit of a shame. But overall, I mean, it was all about just making sure that we would win it today. That would always be nice for tomorrow. And yeah, I think we had good pace but just a bit, let’s say, unlucky in the race with the Safety Cars.”

Norris: “It was very tough. Any chance to go backwards I pretty much took!  Just, from the right-side of the grid, which was a lot worse than the left, on the Medium, was just always going to be very, very tough. But yeah, I hung on, the first few laps and then just as soon as you got in the rhythm, had the Safety Cars and so on, the same as the others. As soon as I caught the Ferrari then he had DRS, so I couldn’t get him the first lap, so I was just a little bit like out of rhythm in a way, to get past and keep up with what Max was doing. And then I caught the wet patch in Turn 2, where the guys crashed, so I went backwards again! It’s just not been my weekend in a way, and just made some mistakes here and there, but still fought well and I didn’t think I would get George, to be honest, but the DRS was pretty significant. So I managed to get him into Turn 1 from a long way back and yeah, finish with another double podium from McLaren, which is great. But obviously a big congrats to Oscar and Max.

“I feel like Max has stolen Oscar’s limelight a little bit, but both deserve it today. Me feeling low? It depends what with. With myself, I don’t think I’ve ever been so frustrated. But with the team, less than ever, you know. The team have done an amazing job. It’s always a ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ but I should have been on pole today. I should have at least had a good chance to go for it yesterday against Max, but I just made too many mistakes which have just cost me. Cost me positions today, cost me positions for tomorrow, I have to start P10 when we have a good enough car to finish in the top three easily. So I’ve just made my life tough, the team’s life tough, when it should be the complete opposite and we should be going from the front. But I guess everyone has those weekends.  This is the weekend for me. It’s just a shame I’m doing it when the car’s as quick as it is. So that’s what makes it more frustrating.”

Hamilton: “I was quite slow at the beginning on the Medium tyre. I knew that the degradation would be high though and that the race would come back to us. Did I know that I was going to be able to get back up to fifth? No, but I was hoping I could the whole time. I tried to position my car the best I could, stay out of trouble and progress one step at a time. The car is still tricky to drive but our pace overall was good. I know I’ve got the race craft on lock. I just need to work on my qualifying! That said, tomorrow we start third. That is obviously a much better place to be lining up than we were today. We should be looking to fight to hold that position. We know it will be difficult to hold the McLarens behind. They are a little further back though, so we will be doing our best to do that. We will be giving it everything we’ve got as always.”

Russell: “I really enjoyed that! The first lap was a little bit wild. I had turn six in my mind as the overtaking opportunity on the Medium runners. I knew I would have the advantage at the beginning, so I was pleased to pull off the move on Piastri. I was surprised by how quickly the Soft tyre dropped off and we were fortunate that there were a number of safety car interventions. Without that, we may have finished outside the points. That is what can happen during a sprint weekend though where you have limited practice and limited knowledge on the tyres. Having said that, if we were on the Medium we would have still finished P4. Nothing gained, nothing lost. It was positive to see our pace advantage over Ferrari today. We were on the same tyres as them and we were faster. We are in a great place tomorrow to fight against the McLarens too. It’s going to be interesting from a strategy perspective so let’s see what we can do.”

Sainz: “It was a very hard Sprint today. We didn’t have any data on long runs so we decided to start on the Softs to try and gain some places at the start and then manage the tyres to defend our position. I managed to get a very good start and for the first few laps it looked like we could fight at the front. Unfortunately, we started losing too much due to graining compared to our rivals who were on Mediums and sixth was the best we could hold on to. We’ve learned important things for tomorrow and, even though it’s going to be a very challenging race for us, we’ll push until the end to get some more points.”

The penalty to Leclerc and multiple incidents in the F1 sprint allowed Williams’ Alexander Albon to climb up well from the fag end of the field to score points in seventh on the medium tyre. His teammate Logan Sargeant, though, admitted mistake in off.

It was same for AlphaTauri’s Liam Lawson who just lost out on his own at the start. Like the two offs, the incident between Perez, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg was just unfortunate situation which was deemed as a racing incident.

While Ocon could have been blamed but the situation was just that the trio stayed away from it. Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas felt good in Top 10, while Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso revealed sacrificing sprint for the main F1 race on Sunday.

Albon: “We capitalised on everyone’s difficulties today and this resulted in a point, which is now two points following Charles’ penalty, so I’m very happy! We took a gamble with set-up, and we made it work, so I think it came down to good strategy and some good fortune. We’re going to be in a good place for tomorrow, as long as the wind is low like it was in the Sprint, which it looks to be.”

Perez: “It was wrong place, wrong time. The race didn’t start particularly well because we were on the medium tyre, it was very low grip to start the race on that tyre. We were recovering, we were making good progress, but unfortunately as I was making more progress we had this contact and I paid the price, I had massive damage on my car. It’s been a very frustrating day, but tomorrow it’s a new opportunity and we will give our best.”

Ocon: “We had the soft tyres, so we started very well. We made up some good places from P10 to P7, some good fights with Fernando also. Unfortunately we were dropping back, and we were more on the defensive side than the attacking side, and obviously we had that incident when we were three abreast. I got a touch on the rear right, the next thing I see when I opened the eyes is I’m in the gravel. It is clear that I saw Nico, I knew he was there, but it is impossible for me at that point to see Sergio on the right side. Three abreast is not a good idea on that corner unfortunately, so I think it’s a racing incident”

Hulkenberg: “It all happened very quickly, very unfortunate. I was attacking Esteban into Turn 1 and then on the outside line, very little grip with the sand, but undercut him and then had a good exit out of Turn 1 and kind of side-by-side a little bit into Turn 2. And I was obviously racing him, and mainly seeing him, and then I saw Checo appearing very late. And I knew it was going to get very pointy and tight. I tried to bail out, but it was too late. So, yeah, very unfortunate for all three of us. I would like to give Esteban the blame. But I think in this case, we can’t, because I don’t think he was able to see Checo. And therefore he probably thought I had space to move more to the right. One of those things, but frustrating because I think today with the medium it was looking good for us. I think we were we could have scored one or two points. And obviously that’s very frustrating for us.”

Alonso: “We had to throw one race away. We throw this one and not tomorrow. We don’t know what will be the strategy tomorrow. So we have to cover all the scenarios and we have to throw away one race. We decided today that starting P9 it was just possible, maybe one or two points, and it was not worth the risk.”

Bottas: “Today has been an interesting day: we learnt that we have decent race pace, which allowed us to fight with those around us and, although we didn’t get into the top eight, we gained a couple of positions on track, giving us confidence ahead of tomorrow’s main race. I was happy to be on the medium tyres, as the softs seemed to be dropping off quite a lot; unfortunately, I think the last Safety Car lasted a couple of laps too long, and therefore we couldn’t try and build something up in the final stages of the Sprint. Still, tomorrow we’ll be starting from a more favourable position, within the top ten, so we’ll hopefully get to build on today’s pace and get a more realistic shot at a points finish.”

Lawson: “Today, the speed in SQ1 was there, but unfortunately, I made a mistake during my last lap, took too much kerb, and my lap time got deleted. My apologies to the team, because they did a really good job and worked hard overnight to make a big step forward from yesterday. On lap 1 of the Sprint race, the biggest thing was the sand offline. I had a bad start on the dirty side of the track, but then I went into Turn 1 on the racing line, had a strong corner, and made up a few places. In Turn 2, I went offline and lost the rear very quickly. I’m massively sorry to the team, because with everything that happened in the race, we maybe could’ve scored some points today, but my mistake cost us. The car seems okay, and going into tomorrow, I’ll learn from what happened today. The tyre degradation was quite high so it will be a tough, long race, but I’ll look at the data tonight and apply it tomorrow.”

Sargeant: “I asked for too much when I turned in off the entry curb and the rear went super light. A silly mistake but the positive is that I’ve been driving well all weekend. The pace has been good, and we’ll carry that into tomorrow and try to have a good Grand Prix. So, that’s the plan and I’m looking forward to having another go in a better starting position on the grid.”

Here’s how the crash happened:

Here’s how F1 Qatar GP sprint panned out