Saturday, December 9, 2023

Verstappen faces his first match ball in Qatar to close the championship

Qatar, home of the seventeenth Grand Prix of the year and one of the four Middle Eastern countries that host Formula One World Championship races – along with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi -, faces its second edition in the premier class this weekend. That will once again make it the center of international news attention, given the imminent third coronation of the Dutchman Max Verstappen (Red Bull); that It will most likely occur this Saturday.without even waiting for Sunday.

If two years ago, when it hosted an F1 World Grand Prix for the first time, a luxury podium was completed at the Lusail circuit, with the only three world champions currently on the track – the Englishman Lewis Hamilton (seven titles) won ahead of Verstappen and the Spanish double world champion Fernando Alonso-; On this occasion, barring true misfortune for the interested party, ‘Mad Max’ will be crowned for the third time in a row, having just completed -last Saturday- the 26 years.

Verstappen –thirteen times victorious in the first 16 races of the year– will have two chances in Qatar, since they are only three points away from mathematically certifying their third title. And, in the fourth of the six Grand Prix of the year with sprint format, he could become world champion again without waiting for Sunday’s race: it would be enough for him to finish sixth in Saturday’s short test; and even not finishing among the eight that score in the reduced test, as long as his partner, the Mexican Sergio Pérez – whom he improves by 177 points (400 compared to 223) – does not finish among the first three.

Qatar, which did not participate in last year’s calendar – focusing entirely on the organization of the football World Cup – will organize this Grand Prix and, in principle, will continue to do so during the next nine yearsin which it will continue to host one of the stops of the world’s main automobile championship.

In 2021 it became the third Middle Eastern country to host an F1 race, just two weeks before Saudi Arabia became the fourth. Hamilton encouraged, by winning those two races, the most exciting World Cup in history, which was resolved –not without controversy– on the last lap of the last race: in Abu Dhabi and in favor of Verstappen. That day he dethroned the spectacular and eccentric Stevenage champion.

Bahrain -where the Asturian double world champion Fernando Alonso, new flagship of Aston Martin, won three times; and the Mexican ‘Checo’ Pérez, a – was the first country in the Arabian Peninsula to host a Grand Prix of the premier category. At the Sakhir circuit and in 2004: the same year in which Qatar began to host one of the events of the Motorcycle World Championship, whose calendar it already integrates on a regular basis.

It was exactly the 4th of the 4th of the 4th: Sakhir hosted the first Bahrain Grand Prix on April 4, 2004, with victory for the German Michael Schumacher, whose seven world titles equaled Hamilton (Mercedes) three seasons ago.

The following two years – those of his two titles – it was Alonso who triumphed on the track on the outskirts of Manama; and the Asturian genius – fourth in this World Cup, 16 points behind Sir Lewis (190-174) – scored a third victory in 2010, with Ferrari.

Bahrain became the usual venue and in 2020, in the World Cup of the pandemic lasts, ‘doubled’ on the calendar, with a second race that was called the Sakhir Grand Prix and was won by ‘Checo’, who on December 6 of that year signed the first of his six victories in F1, with Racing Point.

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, was the second Middle East venue to enter the calendar. In 2009. With the victory of the German quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel, who a year later would celebrate the first of his four titles with Red Bull at the Yas Marina circuit, in one of Alonso’s saddest nights, whom that day He missed what would have been his third World Cup, in his first season with Ferrari.

In Abu Dhabi, Verstappen decided in his favor, at the last breath, the 2021 World Cup; just a week after Hamilton relegated him to second place in the debut of the Jeddah street circuit, in Saudi Arabia. In which ‘Mad Max’ won a race last year in which the other Spaniard, Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) finished third -fifth overall, 24 points behind Alonso-; and where this course ‘Czech’ prevailed.

Last March, the brave driver from Guadalajara scored his first victory of the season – and the fifth of the six he has had in F1 – on the aforementioned Saudi urban circuit. In a race in which Alonso, a great cheerleader of this World Cup, climbed to the second of the seven podiums he has had this season, confirming that he is experiencing a second youth42 years old.

The podium previous to these seven had been achieved the brilliant Asturian pilot two years ago in Qatar, who arrived with the intention of staying; and which, for the moment, attracts international attention by hosting the second edition of its F1 Grand Prix.

An edition that, barring a major surprise, will mark the third coronation of the Dutch star, whose ceiling is unknown, and the first of the next ten that the Lusail circuit will host – with a track of 5,419 meters and 16 curves (six of them at the left)-, located just under 30 kilometers north of the Qatari capital, Doha; and thirteen from the stadium of the same name that hosted, a year ago, the World Cup final. In which the Argentina of Lionel Messi won – after the penalty shoot-out – against France Kylian Mbappé.

Before last year’s World Cup, Qatar had already successfully organized, among other international events, the handball, in 2015; and that of athleticsfour years later.

Next February will host the World Cup swimming; and in 2027 it will host the basketball. This weekend and at least for the next nine seasons, Qatar will be the center of international attention thanks to the F1 races that Lusail will host.

On this occasion, two tests – the sprintabout a third of the distance of the Sunday test (scheduled for 57 laps, to complete a route of 308.6 kilometers) – which will be decided at night and with artificial light.


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