Max Verstappen made the historic sprint at the Lusail International Circuit (LIC) memorable.
The Red Bull star sealed his third consecutive drivers’ world title after finishing runner-up in the Formula 1 Qatar Airways Qatar Grand Prix sprint – the first-ever sprint to take place in the Middle East.
The 26-year-old’s triumph in a “consistently dominant” season overshadowed a maiden victory for McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri, who won the 19-lap race with a time of 35:01.297secs.
“Unbelievable. Guys, I don’t know what to say. It’s been a pleasure so far this year,” Verstappen told his teammates on radio shortly after he finished the race, 1.871secs off Piastri.
The Dutchman then stood atop his car raising three fingers for his three world crowns before he was mobbed by his team members to celebrate a remarkable victory.
Verstappen has relished a phenomenal 22-race season, winning 13 out of 16 races that include his spell of 10 straight wins, an all-time Formula 1 record.
Max Verstappen (centre) celebrates with his Red Bull Racing team members after winning his third world championship. AFP
“A fantastic feeling, it’s been an incredible year. I feel super proud, but super proud of the job of the team. We’ll keep on pushing but of course I’m incredibly happy at the moment,” said the Dutchman.
“This title is my best of the three titles. The first one was emotional but my performance has been the best this season. I want to keep this momentum going,” said Verstappen, who will start Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix from pole position having an unassailable 184-point lead.
Needing only a sixth place finish on Saturday, Verstappen was deemed to have sealed the title even before the end of the sprint as his teammate Sergio Perez, the only driver with a chance to catch him in the title race, crashed out after being struck by Esteban Ocon’s Alpine.
With his third world title, the Dutchman joined an elite club of three-time champions including Jack Brabham, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Jackie Stewart. The third straight title also brought him alongside Juan-Manuel Fangio, Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
“It’s been by far the most dominant so it’s come as no surprise but to see Max join some of the great names he spoke about earlier he’s in that bracket now.
The way he’s driven this year has been out of this world and I think you have to take a moment to reflect and be in the moment and everything he’s done this year is phenomenal,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
“That’s his make-up and I think he’s the most competitive driver that I’ve ever met, the determination that he drives with, the passion, the heart, the commitment and of course, the abundance of skill that he has. He’s up there with the very very best, some of the greatest the sport has seen and I think this season has just surpassed anything we’ve seen,” he added.
FROM LEFT: Formula One CEO Stefano Domenicali, Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen, McLaren’s Australian driver Oscar Piastri, McLaren’s British driver Lando Norris and FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem pose for a photograph after the sprint race at the Lusail International Circuit. AFP
Meanwhile, yesterday’s sprint day was outstanding for McLaren as Lando Norris claimed third position in the sprint with Piastri being the winner after the pair had secured a team 1-2 in the sprint shootout ahead of Verstappen.
“It was a very stressful race, when all the soft guys 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,” said the 22-year-old Piastri.
Norris said: “First of all congrats to Oscar, and congrats to Max. First win, before mine, so well done. It was a tough fight, not the best of beginnings but a good ending. I’ve been trying [to win] for a long time, but Oscar has done a better job, so hats off to him.”
Mercedes teammates George Russell and Lewis Hamilton claimed fourth and fifth positions respectively ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
Alex Albon of Williams finished on eighth position while two-time champion Fernando Alsono ended on ninth position followed by Alpine’s Pierre Gasly.
Meanwhile, festivities continued on the sidelines of the action-packed day as fans took part in many activities for a second consecutive day.
Football legends David Beckham and Ronaldinho were present among the spectators to attend the action.
The day culminated with a breathtaking performance from superstar Alesso. Global megastar Bruno Mars is set to dazzle fans after Sunday’s Grand Prix.