Rookie Oscar Piastri announced himself in style by clinching the sprint race at the Formula One Qatar Grand Prix Saturday, but it was Max Verstappen who celebrated the most as the Dutchman secured his third straight world title at the Lusail International circuit.
With the floodlights on, Qatar’s renovated and refreshed motorsport venue glittered as the grandstands filled in huge numbers. The fast and flowing track only made it more spectacular on the night.
The 19-lap or 100km long dash provided enough adrenaline rushing moments for the fans as safety cars were deployed three times due to collision and retirements. While the 22-year-old Piastri, starting from pole, kept his cool to take his maiden win on his McLaren, Red Bull’s Verstappen followed him home just under two seconds adrift to seal his domination of the season.
The 26-year-old joins an exclusive group of drivers with three F1 crowns, including Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, leaving quadruple champions Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel next up on the all-time list. Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher share the outright record with seven titles each.
"Of course it's a fantastic feeling, it's been an incredible year and lots of great races,” said Verstappen, moments after jumping out of his car and launching himself into the waiting arms of his family and crew. “I feel super proud and super proud of the job of the team. It's been so enjoyable to be part of that group of people and to be three time world champion is just incredible," he added.
Last night’s fourth sprint of the year offered Verstappen a first chance to score the three points he needed to wrap up the championship. But with his closest rival and team-mate Sergio Perez crashing out on the 12th lap, Verstappen had already become a world champion during the mid-race.
Now Verstappen would want to mark his championship win in style as he starts from pole position for Sunday’s main Qatar Grand Prix. Having won 13 out of 16 races this season, it would be hard to bet against the Red Bull driver.
Piastri and his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris, though, could pose the toughest challenge for Verstappen. While the 22-year-old Piastri made full use of McLaren’s reinvigorated MCL60 car to top the shootout first and then win the sprint, Norris overcame a dreadful start to finish third last night.
Mercedes rival George Russell jumped into the lead, but having gone in with softer tyres he was easily overtaken by Piastri, Norris and Verstappen, who were all driving with medium rubber.
Former champion Hamilton finished fifth after starting 12th and cashing in on the collisions ahead of him. Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were sixth and seventh with Williams' Alex Albon taking the final point of the night.
“It was a very stressful race,” said a relieved Piastri. “When all the drivers with soft tyres came through at the beginning I thought we were in trouble, but then they fell away pretty quickly. I think we did a very good job. First sprint win sounds pretty cool.”
Off the track, there were plenty of things to look forward to for the fans as a host of celebrities, including football legends Ronaldinho and David Beckham were present at the Lusail Circuit.
The fan zone too was a hive of activity, blending cultural and entertainment pursuits suitable for all age groups. Highlights included captivating visual narratives of F1's journey in Qatar, mesmerising LED Light shows, and immersive events echoing Qatar's rich heritage.
Spectators also got a chance to test their skills on F1 simulators, while Swedish DJ Alesso rounded up the night with his world-renowned brand of music.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the championship.
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (C) celebrates his third world championship with his team after the sprint race ahead of the Qatari Formula One Grand Prix at the Lusail International Circuit Saturday.
McLaren's Oscar Piastri celebrates after winning the sprint race. REUTERS
Drivers compete at the start of the sprint race at the Lusail International Circuit Saturday.
McLaren's Oscar Piastri and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. in action during the sprint race