Qatar hero: Max Verstappen wraps up his third world championship

Max Verstappen has been crowned champion of the world after he finished second to Oscar Piastri in Saturday’s chaotic sprint round in Qatar.

The 26-year-old Dutchman has emulated Sir Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna by wrapping up his third title with six grands prix still remaining – equalling Michael Schumacher’s 21-year-old record.

Red Bull’s Verstappen has dominated Formula One since he beat seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton to clinch his maiden title at the deeply controversial season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021.

And the 26-year-old’s runner-up finish, coupled with Sergio Perez’s failure to finish in the top three – he crashed out with eight laps remaining – was enough to seal the deal under the floodlights of the Lusail International Circuit.

Verstappen’s championship parade will start at Sunday’s 57-lap Grand Prix in Qatar.

Lando Norris finished third for McLaren, one place ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, with Lewis Hamilton fifth.

“Max, you are a three-time world champion,” roared Red Bull’s jubilant team principal Christian Horner over the radio. “That is unbelievable. It has been an incredible year for you.”

After lapping up the adulation of his team, Verstappen said: “It is a fantastic feeling, and it has been an incredible year. I am super-proud of the team. It has been so enjoyable to be a part of that group of people. To be a three-time world champion is incredible.

“We will keep on pushing and try to do the best we can. Today was an exciting race, but it was good and fun out there and I am incredibly happy at the moment.”

Asked if he feels more world championships are possible, the Dutch driver added: “We will see what happens. I am enjoying the moment and hopefully we will keep this momentum going for a while.”

Qatar F1 GP Auto Racing
Max Verstappen was second in Saturday’s Sprint race (Ariel Schalit/AP)

As Russell blasted from fourth to second, a slow-starting Verstappen fell down the order, with Ferrari pair Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc leapfrogging the Red Bull man.

Verstappen momentarily got out of shape at the opening right-hander, with Fernando Alonso nibbling at the back of his machine.

The Dutchman survived and then slung his Red Bull underneath Lando Norris, who had started second, to take fifth.

Qatar F1 GP Auto Racing
Lewis Hamilton, right, was fifth for Mercedes (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Perez threatened to fight Verstappen for the championship by winning two of the opening four rounds of the season. However, the Mexican’s challenge has faded desperately – he has not won since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30.

In came the safety car at the end of the second lap, and Russell, on the speedier, but less durable soft tyres, made his move on the medium-shod pole-sitter Piastri to assume the lead.

Then, the error-prone Logan Sargeant put his Williams in the gravel. The safety car was deployed again as the American’s stricken machine was cleared from danger.

Oscar Piastri File Photo
Oscar Piastri was victorious on Saturday (PA)

First to be swatted aside was Ferrari’s Leclerc on the main straight on lap nine, with Sainz the Dutchman’s next victim on the following lap.

The race was starting to come back to those on the medium tyres, and Piastri roared past Russell to reclaim the lead at the start of lap 11.

And then the championship was officially over when Perez’s race ended in the gravel at Turn 2. Esteban Ocon attempted to overtake Nico Hulkenberg on the inside of the second corner, and with Perez to the right of the Haas driver, Ocon lost control of his Alpine and took Perez with him. It summed up Perez’s woefully disappointing campaign.

Netherlands Grand Prix 2023 – Preview Day – Circuit Zandvoort
There was more disappointment for Sergio Perez (PA)

On lap 16, Verstappen eased past Russell with Piastri 2.6 sec up the road. However, the McLaren man could not be caught.

But Verstappen, who needed to finish only sixth to be sure of the title, need not worry as he celebrated becoming just the 11th driver to win the world championship on more than two occasions.

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