Lewis Hamilton insists he has no time to celebrate back-to-back wins as he stormed to victory at the Qatar Grand Prix to move eight points behind title rival Max Verstappen.
With arguments, press conference sideshows, grid penalties and questions over even racing in a country with a poor history of human rights dominating the build-up to Sunday’s race, it was Hamilton who put on a show under the floodlights at the Losail International Circuit.
Sporting a rainbow helmet in support of the LBGTQ+ community, a gesture criticised by the 2022 Qatar World Cup chief executive, the Mercedes driver cantered to a win ahead of Verstappen – who came home over 25 seconds adrift.
But having also won the Brazilian Grand Prix last weekend and with two races remaining in the season – both back here in the Middle East with a debut appearance in Saudi Arabia followed by the return to Abu Dhabi – the most enthralling title fight in years looks set to go to the wire and Hamilton is keen to keep pushing.
“There is no time to celebrate, no time to rest, we just keep our heads down and keep racing,” he said.
“This past three weeks have been so difficult for everyone with such big distances between the races.
“Of course the race was made a lot easier with the penalties that the guys received for the mistakes they made yesterday, that made it a lot more straightforward so it was about managing the gap at the front and keeping everything safe.
“I feel great, I feel in the best shape physically than I have been all year. The car is feeling better than ever and I feel positive going into the next couple of races. I feel they should be quite good for our car and I’m looking forward to the battle.”
Gareth Southgate take note, with exactly a year to go until the World Cup kicks off in Doha, Hamilton came here and showed England how to win with ease.
Having had a brief chat with Qatar ambassador David Beckham and rubbed shoulders on the grid with World Cup winners Andrea Pirlo and Cafu as the likes of John Terry, Yaya Toure and Peter Schmeichel also watched on, Hamilton turned on the style.
The Three Lions lost the final of Euro 2020 on a shoot-out and penalties were the talk of the paddock in the build-up to the race.
Verstappen had survived potential sanctions hanging over from Sao Paulo but was hit with a five-place grid penalty here, relegating him from second to seventh, for not sufficiently slowing under double-waved yellow flags in the closing stages of qualifying – the decision coming under two hours before the start of the race.
The Dutchman was fourth by the end of the first lap and second to his fellow title protagonist just five laps later.
That is where he stayed, at least setting the fastest lap to take an additional point ahead of the maiden Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in a fortnight.
“I knew I was going to get a penalty last night,” Verstappen said.
“When I saw the result I was not shocked or surprised, you just focus, you just have to pass a few more cars than you would usually like.
“Quite early on in the race I saw that (winning) was not really on so I just did the best I could do to keep that gap.
“It is exciting, of course, I would like to make it a bigger gap but when you don’t have the pace it is impossible, we will just try to come back better and stronger.”
As a surprising aside, former two-time world champion Fernando Alonso secured his first podium finish in over seven years.
The 40-year-old Spaniard started and finished third for Alpine, capitalising on Valtteri Bottas retiring for Mercedes following a puncture.
“It feels good obviously,” he said. “A long wait from the last podium in 2014 and I am happy for this one. I think we executed a good race, a one-stop strategy and the car was great all weekend long.”
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the second Red Bull with Esteban Ocon coming home in fifth for Alpine.
Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin beat the Ferrari pair of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc with Lando Norris’ McLaren and the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel rounding off the top 10.
While there was little drama during the running of the grand prix, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was summoned by the race stewards to answer questions of essentially bringing the sport into disrepute with his quotes questioning the actions of a marshal, landing him an official warning from the FIA.