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Hamilton cruises in Qatar to close gap to Verstappen but tyre failures strike

Hamilton cruises in Qatar to close gap to Verstappen but tyre failures strike

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Hamilton cruises in Qatar to close gap to Verstappen but tyre failures strike

Hamilton cruises in Qatar to close gap to Verstappen but tyre failures strike

Lewis Hamilton scored back-to-back victories for the first time since earlier this year to close the gap on F1 championship leader Max Verstappen to eight points.

Under the stars at the Losail International Circuit, as Qatar welcomed F1 for the first time, Hamilton finished 25.7secs clear of Verstappen who also netted the fastest-lap point.

It was another race of damage limitation for the Red Bull driver, who had started from seventh after being handed a five-place grid penalty just 90 minutes before the race for ignoring double-waved yellow flags during qualifying.

With just a double-header remaining of this 22-race season, in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, it is now too close to call as to who will become champion, although Mercedes and Hamilton certainly have the momentum at present.

From the 102nd pole position of his F1 career, it is now 102 wins for the Briton who was never troubled once he held off second-on-the-grid Pierre Gasly and Alpine's Fernando Alonso in third on the run down to turn one.

The Spaniard went on to claim third, his first podium since the 2014 Hungarian GP after a 104-race gap.

On the grippier side of the track, Verstappen quickly cleared Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas who had started sixth after his own penalty for ignoring single-waved yellows.

Bottas was one of four drivers who sustained a puncture to the front-left tyre along with Williams duo George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, and McLaren's Lando Norris.

On the run down and through turn one, Verstappen switched to the inside line as Norris and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz tussled with one another again, at least avoiding a touch as had occurred a week previously in São Paulo at the start.

Heading into turn two Verstappen had made up three places and was running fourth behind a leading trio of Hamilton, Alonso and Bottas.

But there was a serious moment of alarm in those opening exchanges as he put the right-hand side of the car on the grass approaching turn three, kicking up a shower of sand and dirt but managed to keep control of his car

Veteran Alonso had claimed second after moving past Gasly, who had been the first Frenchman on the front row since Romain Grosjean in 2012, between turns two and three.

Once the DRS was made available after the first two laps, Verstappen eased past Gasly on the main straight at the end of lap three and then Alonso at the start of lap five.

At that stage, Verstappen found himself just under four seconds behind Hamilton, and despite an initial burst once in clear air to close to just over three seconds, the charge halted there.

Apparently suffering with slight front-wing endplate damage, Verstappen soon fell back. The lead duo, however, were in a different category as they were lapping two, 2.5secs faster than any other driver.

After 17 laps, third-placed Alonso was over 33 seconds adrift of Hamilton and 26 behind Verstappen, allowing Red Bull a free stop at that point.

The Dutch driver switched from medium to hard tyres and came out in front of the two-time champion, with Hamilton following a lap later despite a radio message saying his tyres were "good" and requesting he avoid boxing too early.

At the halfway stage of 29 laps, Hamilton's gap to Verstappen was 7.3s, with Bottas third and one of only two drivers not to have stopped - Haas' Nikita Mazepin was the other.

From sixth on the grid following his penalty, Bottas had suffered a miserable start on the dirty side of the grid and by the end of the opening lap had dropped to 11th.

The Finn even received a 'hurry up' call from Toto Wolff after a handful of laps as he struggled initially to make progress before finally pulling off moves, as well as others making stops.

From 11th on the grid at the start, Red Bull's Sergio Perez was running fourth, a place he would hold on to to the end.

Despite initial concerns overtaking would be at a premium, they proved unfounded as with DRS moves were able to be made along the straight.

Then on lap 33, Bottas' hopes of a podium were destroyed due to a puncture to his front-left tyre that sent him off into the gravel, and with half-a-lap to make it back to the pits.

With the car dragging on the floor, showers of sparks were sent flying into the Qatari night air before he finally made it back for a tyre and front-wing change, dropping to 14th.

Red Bull and Mercedes took no chances with the hard tyres, the former calling in Verstappen and Perez after 41 laps for fresh mediums, with Hamilton following a lap later.

Bottas eventually retired with seven laps remaining due to damage to the car, while Russell and Latifi also both sustained a front-left puncture in quick succession.

Latifi retired soon after, leading to a VSC given his position on track.

Holding the fastest lap at that stage, Red Bull called in Verstappen anyway for soft tyres and he duly cemented what could be a key point with the best lap on the final tour.

Behind the top four, Alpine's Esteban Ocon was fifth ahead of Lance Stroll in his Aston Martin and the Ferrari's of Sainz and Charles Leclerc, with Norris ninth and Sebastian Vettel 10th in his Aston Martin.

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