Lewis Hamilton dominated the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix from pole to take victory ahead of championship leader Max Verstappen, who recovered from a grid penalty to finish second.
Fernando Alonso scored his first podium finish in more than seven years with third place for Alpine ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
There was drama less than two hours before the start, when Verstappen was handed a five-place grid penalty for a double-waved yellow flag infringement in qualifying, dropping him to seventh, while Valtteri Bottas was demoted three places to sixth for a single-waved yellow flag offence.
That meant that Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly – who had caused the yellow flags at the end of Q3 – was promoted to the front row alongside Hamilton, while Alonso was moved up to third.
Hamilton left nothing to chance when the lights went out by moving his Mercedes clear of Gasly, while a great start moved Red Bull’s Verstappen up to fourth, and a bad one dropped Bottas to 11th for Mercedes.
Verstappen was squeezed slightly onto the grass before turn two as he tried to challenge Alonso for third and, a couple of corners later, Alonso took Gasly for second while Hamilton pulled away at the front.
Gasly ran wide exiting the final corner on lap three, allowing Verstappen into third, and one lap later the championship leader was past Alonso into second.
By this stage, Hamilton had a four-second lead over his title rival, and that gap grew to over six seconds before Verstappen pitted at the end of lap 17, switching from medium to hard compound tyres.
Hamilton pitted one lap later, also making the switch to the hard tyres, retaining his lead over Verstappen on rejoining. The gap between the pair increased to over nine seconds before Verstappen stopped for a second time after 41 laps, while Hamilton pitted on the following lap, emerging with his advantage intact.
Verstappen was unable to make inroads for the remainder of the race, and pitted with two laps to go during a virtual safety-car period to ensure he scored an extra point for fastest lap before coming home second.
Hamilton took his second victory in a row by 25.7s to close the gap in the title race to eight points with two rounds remaining.
McLaren’s Lando Norris passed Gasly for fourth during the early stages, while Alonso remained in third until pitting after 23 laps.
That promoted the recovering Bottas, who had earlier been given the hurry-up on the radio from team principal Toto Wolff while struggling to make up places, to third. But the strategy of running a long first stint backfired, the Finn suffering a left-front puncture on lap 33 before sliding into the gravel.
Bottas was able to rejoin and limp back to the pits, but emerged on fresh tyres a lap down 14th, and returned to the garage and retired in the closing stages.
Having recovered from 11th on the grid, Perez moved up to third – having earlier pitted and then fought past Alonso after a feisty wheel-to-wheel battle – and followed team-mate Verstappen into the pits again after 31 laps.
The Mexican used his fresh tyres to pass Esteban Ocon for sixth, holding on to the place after the Alpine driver fought hard to try and regain the position.
A puncture forced Norris to pit from fourth with seven laps to go, allowing Perez to gain another place.
But Perez was unable to catch the one-stopping Alonso for third, the Spaniard scoring his first podium finish since the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2014.
Ocon completed a good day for Alpine by finishing fifth, having withstood pressure from Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, and the Ferrari pair of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, in the closing stages.
Norris took ninth after his puncture ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who completed a double-points finish for Aston Martin.
Gasly faded after making his pitstop to finish out of the points in 11th ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who had a difficult race for McLaren.
Nicholas Latifi caused the late virtual safety-car period after retiring with a puncture, while Williams team-mate George Russell suffered the same issue and was 17th of the 18 finishers.
Race result (57 laps)
- Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull
- Fernando Alonso, Alpine
- Sergio Perez, Red Bull
- Esteban Ocon, Alpine
- Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
- Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
- Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
- Lando Norris, McLaren
- Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
- Pierre Gasly, Alpha Tauri
- Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
- Yuki Tsunoda, Alpha Tauri
- Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
- Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
- Mick Schumacher, Haas
- George Russell, Williams
- Nikita Mazepin, Haas
Nicholas Latifi, Williams
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
Featured image credit: @MercedesAMGF1 twitter