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Return of The Sprint: The 2023 Qatar Grand Prix

Publish Date: 10/04/2023
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
In all it's glory: The Lusail International Circuit lit up as night falls

We’ve got one championship in the bag, and there’s another one to chase as Max Verstappen edges closer to a third consecutive drivers’ title. However, there are a bunch of other exciting battles unfolding throughout the field. So, here are a few topics that are getting us pumped as we head to Lusail.

Mercedes vs Ferrari

Whilst Verstappen’s closest rival to sealing his third consecutive world championship is Perez, that battle isn’t the only thing to keep an eye on at the moment. Red Bull managed to clinch the constructors’ championship in Japan, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty about who will be the season’s runner-up. Mercedes and Ferrari are duking it out for the title of “best of the rest.”

Mercedes has been racking up points consistently all year, but Ferrari has been on a hot streak since their home race in Monza. They nabbed third and fourth places there, right behind the Red Bulls, and then Carlos Sainz pulled off a win in Singapore. At Suzuka, Charles Leclerc finished fourth, ahead of Lewis Hamilton, and Sainz even beat George Russell. Now, there’s only a 20-point gap between the two teams.

Right now, Ferrari has the momentum, but it was Mercedes that finished strong last year. With all four drivers making significant contributions, it looks like we’re in for a nail-biting showdown until the end of the season.

McLaren vs Aston Martin

There’s some tension brewing between Aston Martin and McLaren in the world of F1, but this rivalry has taken a slightly different shape.

Aston Martin started the year strong, coming in as the second-best team after Red Bull. Fernando Alonso even secured multiple podiums after they made some major improvements during the winter break. However, McLaren has caught up since then. They only had 17 points in the first eight races of the year, but they’ve added a whopping 155 points to their tally since upgrading their car in Austria.

The Japanese Grand Prix was a significant weekend for Andrea Stella’s McLaren team, with Lando Norris finishing second and Oscar Piastri coming in third. This helped narrow the gap to Aston Martin in the constructors’ standings to just 49 points. We were already keeping an eye on the numbers before Suzuka, but over the past eight races, there’s been an impressive swing of 88 points in McLaren’s favor (155 to 67).

However, the last time we raced in the Middle East, it was Aston Martin that had the upper hand. They’ll be looking to regroup during this gap between the double-header races and make a strong comeback.

Max on The Verge of Joining The All Time Greats!

It’s been pretty much a done deal for Max Verstappen since early in the season. After fending off an early challenge from his teammate, Sergio Perez, Verstappen has taken a commanding lead in the championship standings. He’s so far ahead that he’s on the verge of clinching the title with more than five races still to go.

When Verstappen won the championship in Japan last year, there were only four rounds left in Austin, Mexico, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi. But this time, we have an extra race in Las Vegas. In fact, he might become champion even before the race in Qatar. In doing so, he would ensure his place amongst the all time greatest Formula 1 racing drivers.

Here’s why: It’s a Sprint weekend (I’ll explain that in a bit), and with a massive 177-point lead, all Verstappen needs to do is make sure Perez doesn’t outscore him by more than six points on Saturday to keep his title. This means that even if he finishes sixth in the Sprint race (which offers three points, with a maximum of eight for a win), it would be enough, no matter what Perez does.

Over the entire weekend, Perez would have to snatch 32 points away from Verstappen’s lead. To achieve that, he needs a strong result in the Sprint and must win the main race itself. But there’s been nothing in Verstappen’s recent form to suggest that’s likely to happen. Perez hasn’t managed to finish ahead of his teammate in a race situation since Baku back in late April.

Sprint Racing Returns to Qatar!

The last time we hit the track in Qatar was our first-ever Grand Prix there, and it was right in the middle of the intense title showdown of 2021.

The drivers absolutely loved the track because of its high-speed layout, and it delivered some thrilling moments, even though it was added to the calendar relatively late due to the Covid pandemic. Now, with two years to get everything ready for its permanent return, the Lusail International Circuit has undergone a makeover, complete with a fresh pit and paddock area to roll out the red carpet for the teams.

There’s more excitement in store because Qatar marks the fourth out of six Sprint events this season. This means we’ll have competitive sessions on all three days of the race weekend. What’s even more intriguing is that it’s the first Sprint event to happen under floodlights. The previous venues like Silverstone, Monza, Brazil, Imola, Austria, Baku, and Belgium all had daytime races for the Sprints.

So, on Friday night, we’ll have qualifying under the lights, followed by Sprint Saturday, where the Sprint Shootout will sizzle in the daytime heat before the shorter race. Finally, we’ll wrap up the weekend with the Grand Prix itself as the sun sets on Sunday evening. Given that FP1 also takes place in daytime temperatures, it’s going to be quite a challenge for the teams to dial in their setups for the rest of the weekend.

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