Lewis Hamilton wins in Qatar to tighten F1 title fight; Verstappen second after penalty

Hamilton Verstappen Qatar grid
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LOSAIL, Qatar — Lewis Hamilton inched closer to the Formula One championship lead with a dominating victory Sunday in the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen overcame a grid penalty to finish second.

Hamilton, who also won last week in Brazil, has trimmed 17 points from Verstappen’s lead in the title race in a week. Verstappen still holds an eight-point lead with two races remaining in one of the most dramatic F1 title fights in at least a decade.

“I’m really, really grateful for these points. It’s been a hell of a year,” Hamilton said. “To be at this point in the year and have back-to-back wins is a great feeling.”

The seven-time champion started from pole for Mercedes and never was challenged on the Losail International Circuit as Hamilton won his 102nd career race. It was his seventh victory of the season.

Verstappen finished second for Red Bull, nearly 25 seconds behind Hamilton.

“It was pretty lonely at the front,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen was hit with a penalty before the race even began when he was dropped five spots on the starting grid for violating a yellow flag in Saturday’s qualifying. The Dutchman had qualified second but the stewards ordered him to drop back on the grid following Sunday hearings for Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz.

All three were accused of not following yellow flag rules near the end of qualifying. Bottas, who had qualified third, was penalized three starting sports. Sainz was not penalized.

Red Bull was mystified by the grid penalty for Verstappen, who lost any chance to challenge Hamilton for the win when he was penalized. Red Bull principal Christian Horner criticized the penalty when it was handed down.

“We’re really struggling to understand it,” Horner said. “That’s a crucial blow in this world championship for us.”

Despite the penalty, Verstappen needed only five laps to recover and drive back to where he was originally slated to start.

“Our starting position was a bit compromised,” Verstappen said. “I know it’s going to be difficult to the end but I think that’s nice. It keeps it exciting.”

But he said he was ready for the challenges ahead in Saudi Arabia and the finale in Abu Dhabi.

“I feel good,” he said. “It’s going to be tight.”

Hamilton, winner of four straight titles, has all the momentum now. The British driver is seeking a record eighth F1 title, which would move him past Michael Schumacher.

“I’m feeling really good, I’m really, really happy with the car,” Hamilton said. “I feel fitter than ever, so that’s a positive.”

Fernando Alonso of Alpine finished third for his first podium since 2014. He was aided by the prerace penalties to Verstappen and Bottas, which moved the Spaniard up to third on the starting grid.

Sergio Perez finished fourth to help Red Bull in its push to beat Mercedes for the constructors championship.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.