Max Verstappen was as serene as ever in winning the Qatar Grand Prix for Red Bull but in his wake an altogether more tempestuous wind was engulfing Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate George Russell. The pair clashed at the Lusail circuit in the most serious flashpoint between them since they became teammates in 2022.
At first, both individuals pointed fingers at each other. Russell was visibly angry since he was not at fault, but Hamilton eventually took responsibility for the collision that ultimately led to the end of his race.
The coronation ceremony for Verstappen, who won his third title on Saturday, was meant to be a joyous occasion. However, it was marred by a humiliating debacle regarding concerns about tyre safety.
Verstappen remained in full command of the race and secured yet another victory, while McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris finished in second and third place respectively. Piastri had a strong performance, earning his best finish in a Grand Prix after also winning the sprint race on Saturday.
The collision between Hamilton and Russell on the first lap will have more significant consequences.
At the start of the race, Verstappen maintained his position in first place as he entered turn one. However, as Hamilton attempted to overtake Russell on the outside, their cars made contact and Hamilton’s car spun out of control, resulting in the loss of his right rear wheel. It appeared that Hamilton was turning towards Russell, leaving him with no room to maneuver due to Verstappen being on his inside.
“Seriously, two consecutive races?” Russell expressed his frustration, recalling how Hamilton forced him to the side in the previous round at Suzuka. “I was eliminated by my own teammate,” Hamilton admitted.
Russell expressed remorse to the team, but maintained that he had no other options. “My apologies, guys. I wasn’t paying attention to what was behind me,” he explained. “I was solely focused on what was ahead and he appeared out of nowhere.” This is the first instance where Hamilton has been eliminated from a race due to a collision with a teammate since Nico Rosberg collided with him at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.
“I believe George did not have any options, and I am willing to take the blame,” Hamilton stated upon his return to the paddock. “It is extremely disheartening to have an outcome like this.” He later expressed regret on X, previously known as Twitter, and assured that the incident would not impact his friendship with his teammate.
During the qualifying round for the Spanish GP, stewards issued a warning to Russell after he abruptly changed direction and collided with Hamilton. This incident is particularly significant as Mercedes has been facing difficulties with their speed and is currently battling for second place in the constructors’ championship. Therefore, the team may consider this clash between their second and third place drivers on the starting grid as unacceptable.
Bradley Lord, Mercedes’ head of communications, stated that they will discuss the issue and review it in order to prevent it from occurring in the future.
During a intense race between Hamilton and Rosberg, which involved the Finn colliding with the British driver at Spa in 2014 and other incidents in Austria, Canada, and Japan, the team implemented stricter guidelines for the pair. These guidelines allowed them to compete against each other, but with the condition of not causing any collisions. This situation could lead to the team reinstating boundaries for their drivers.
The dynamic between Hamilton and Russell has been amicable and courteous, but this conflict will create tension between them. Despite being the younger teammate, Russell, who is in his fifth season in F1, has asserted that he will not be intimidated by Hamilton. He proceeded to make a strong comeback and finish in fourth place, expressing confidence that he and Hamilton will communicate and resolve any issues.
The team will still need a thorough review. Mercedes aims to compete with Red Bull in the upcoming season, and if they want to succeed, they cannot afford to lose points due to incidents within their own team.
Formula One also needs to acknowledge the factors that led to its participation in a race on a track that sparked significant concerns, resulting in the implementation of mandatory restrictions on tire usage during the event. This situation made the sport, which is worth billions of dollars and has a global presence, appear unprofessional.
Pirelli, the manufacturer of tyres, discovered the issue on Friday night. The 50mm “pyramid” kerbs used at Lusail were causing damage to the tyre sidewalls, increasing the risk of a blowout. In response, the FIA, the governing body of the sport, implemented a maximum stint length of 18 laps for the Grand Prix.
In 2021, the Lusail circuit hosted its first and only race. During this event, there were several tire failures that were determined by Pirelli to be caused by the kerbs. Despite this, the track was deemed safe to use. However, prior to Friday, there had been no Formula 1 cars or other events held there, which could have alerted to any potential issues.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished in fifth place, while Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin took sixth. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon claimed seventh, followed by Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou in eighth and tenth place, respectively. Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez rounded out the top nine.