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Hamilton beats Verstappen in Qatar, Alonso scores podium

Lewis Hamilton claimed a comfortable victory over title rival Max Verstappen at the Qatar Grand Prix to cut his championship lead to just eight points with two races left.

Behind the title rivals, Fernando Alonso conclueded a remarkable third, his first podium finish since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix. 

Hamilton won by 30 seconds, although the gap was larger than it might have been as Verstappen stopped late on for a fresh set of tyres. However, Verstappen had never been closer than six seconds during the race itself. 

Crucially, in the context of the championship, Verstappen took the bonus point for fastest lap after Hamilton held it for much of the race. In doing so, Verstappen ensured Hamilton took six points and not eight out of his championship lead. 

For Verstappen, it was a race of damage limitations after a five-place grid penalty ahead of the race, incurred for not slowing for yellow flags at the end of qualifying. Verstappen rose from seventh to second in the opening four laps but was never close to threatening Hamilton’s lead. 

Verstappen’s grid penalty created the chance for Pierre Gasly and Alonso, who started second and third. Hamilton held the lead into Turn 1 at the start and Gasly soon faded, but Alonso kept himself in contention by staying at the front end of the pack. 

The Spaniard executed a sublime one-stop strategy to hold on to third position.

Alpine resisted the temptation to pit late on as Norris and both Williams drivers suffered punctures while trying a similar strategy in the closing moments. 

Alonso crossed the line two seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, thanks in part to a late Virtual Safety Car period which stopped Perez from having a chance to use his tyre advantage to get by. 

Valtteri Bottas did not finish after suffering a puncture midrace. By the time he had got back to the pits his front wing was also damaged and he emerged in 14th. 

Towards the end of the race, Mercedes called Bottas in to retire the car. That permitted Red Bull to cut the deficit to Mercedes in the constructors’ championship to five points, meaning both title fights are finely balanced heading into the penultimate race in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 5. 

Esteban Ocon completed a strong race for Alpine in fifth ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Ferrari pair Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc. Norris had been running fourth until a late pit stop when McLaren detected a puncture, dropping him to ninth. 

Vettel claimed the final point of the race in 10th, ahead of Gasly, who was unable to convert his front row start into a points finish. 

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