Red Bull's Max Verstappen secured his third successive Formula 1 World Championship on Saturday and celebrated in style by winning the following day's Qatar Grand Prix.
The Dutchman started Saturday's Sprint race needing to finish sixth to seal his hat-trick and battled to second behind McLaren's Oscar Piastri to confirm his success, becoming the first 'Saturday champion' since Nelson Piquet in 1983.
Verstappen then won Sunday's race from pole. While he lost the lead for a short spell after his first pit-stop, which was required due to rules surrounding tyre mileage, he regained control and came home ahead of Piastri and the Australian's McLaren team-mate Lando Norris.
The 26-year-old's victory on Sunday was his 14th in 17 races in 2023 and he is the 11th driver to reach three or more world titles and just the fifth to claim three in a row.
|What||US Grand Prix|
|Where||Circuit of the Americas, Houston, Texas|
|When||20:00, Sunday 20th October|
|How to watch||Sky Sports F1|
|Odds||Max Verstappen 2/9, Lando Norris 12/1, Oscar Piastri 12/1, Sergio Perez 18/1|
The weekend in Lusail had an extra element, with a Sprint race contributing to the schedule and enhancing the excitement in the desert.
Tyre issues dominated the build-up to Saturday's Sprint race, with Piastri, Verstappen and Norris beginning the 19-lap contest on the medium compound tyre.
Mercedes' George Russell and the Ferrari pair of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc went for the softs, provoking a tight dash off the line, with all involved in the run to the first corner.
The medium runners started to gain greater control as the race wore on, with Piastri taking charge of what he admitted was a "very stressful" race.
Norris was third, but the key result was Verstappen finishing second to claim seven points and seal the world title, aided by Red Bull colleague Sergio Perez crashing out.
However, despite their strength in the Sprint race, McLaren fell foul of track limits in qualifying. Piastri could only start sixth and Norris 10th, with Verstappen on pole.
Pole proved decisive, with Verstappen in control for almost all of the race on Sunday.
The short blip was down to teams and drivers being restricted to 18 laps on each set of tyres following Pirelli's discovery that their product struggled over the high-speed kerbs in Lusail.
That issue contributed to a stop-start race, with the teams almost figuring out their strategy on the run, while the frequent gusts that left the desert circuit caked in dust and dirt hardly helped matters.
Williams' Alex Albon took the lead following Verstappen's first pit-stop, partly influenced by the early emergence of the safety car for Lewis Hamilton's damaged Mercedes, after he had crashed into colleague Russell as the pair clashed for the second straight race following a similar incident in Japan.
The rules and conditions could not halt the world champion's relentless march to victory, though, coming home +4.833secs ahead of Piastri and +5.969secs clear of Norris.
Russell recovered from being tagged by Hamilton to finish fourth, with Ferrari's Leclerc running fifth ahead of Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso.
The Alfa Romeos of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanya took eighth and ninth, with Perez rounding out the top 10 in the second Red Bull.
The F1 fraternity now has a fortnight off to reset and renew before crossing the Atlantic for the United States Grand Prix in Texas on 22nd October.
Verstappen has succeeded at the Circuit of the Americas in the last two years and is 2/9 to take his 15th win of the season at the chequered flag.
It will be another Sprint race in the USA, while the same applies for November's Sao Paulo GP.
Can anyone stop Verstappen? With 14 wins from 17 races in 2023, he will take some stopping at a venue where he has dominated, as he has almost everywhere in the last three years.
After the thrills and spills of the dramatic Sprint race, we should expect more of a slow-burner in the Qatar Grand Prix.
Despite a significant amount of time behind the safety car, there was action aplenty in the 19-lap Saturday race, which was won by Oscar Piastri for McLaren.
It was only the second race of any kind this year not to be won by a Red Bull driver, but by finishing second Max Verstappen did more than enough to seal his third F1 world championship.
|What||Qatar Grand Prix|
|Where||Lusail International Circuit, Doha|
|When||18:00 Sunday 8th October|
|How to watch||Sky Sports F1|
|Odds||Max Verstappen 1/6, George Russell 12/1, Lewis Hamilton 14/1, Lando Norris 16/1, Oscar Piastri 25/1|
The Qatar Grand Prix weekend so far has been notable for two things. High tyre degradation and drivers having lap-times deleted due to exceeding track limits.
During the Sprint race, drivers who started on soft tyres made up places early in the race, but were powerless to resist the medium-shod runners later on.
Armed with that information, teams will have adjusted their strategies and we are likely to see a race that develops similarly to the Singapore Grand Prix last month.
That resembled a long horse race, as the drivers lapped the circuit at a modest pace for the first half before the race began in earnest after a safety car appearance.
Another incentive not to go flat out is the prospect of picking up penalties for track limits infringements.
Even in the Sprint race, Charles Leclerc and Lance Stroll picked up five-second penalties for repeated transgressions.
Hopefully we will not have a repeat of what happened in Austria, where the farcical number of penalties handed out meant the official result was not known until several hours after the race had ended.
Verstappen has his third consecutive Formula 1 drivers' title safely in his pocket and the odds suggest this race will be little more than a victory parade for the Dutchman.
Verstappen is a 1/6 chance to earn his 12th Grand Prix victory in the last 13 races, and starting from pole position it is hard to argue with that assessment.
McLaren again showed their strength on Sprint day with Piastri winning from pole position and Lando Norris coming home third.
However, both drivers fell foul of track limits in qualifying for the Grand Prix, leaving Piastri starting sixth with Norris 10th.
That is especially bad news, as the even-numbered grid positions struggled for grip off the start-line in the Sprint race.
With no support categories to help clean up the track, the desert circuit is still filthy and particularly dusty off the racing line. Frequent gusts of wind are not helping either.
Mercedes have seen their comfortable second place in the constructors' championship come under threat from Ferrari in recent races.
The Scuderia outscored Mercedes in five straight races heading to Qatar, and sat just 20 points behind at the start of the weekend.
However, things haven't gone to plan for Ferrari so far, as they picked up just three points in the Sprint thanks to Carlos Sainz's sixth place, while George Russell and Lewis Hamilton collected nine points for finishing fourth and fifth.
The Mercedes line up second and third on the grid for the main event, and while their advantage in terms of tyre longevity seems to have disappeared as they have developed the car, they will still be confident of getting at least one car on to the podium.
This will almost certainly be Liam Lawson's final Formula 1 outing of the year, but the New Zealander has made a huge impression in his four appearances.
Lawson was called in when Daniel Ricciardo broke his hand during practice for the Dutch Grand Prix, with the Aussie is expected to return to the Alpha Tauri seat next time in Texas.
Lawson earned the team's best finish of the season with ninth place in Singapore and has beaten his much more experienced team-mate Yuki Tsunoda in all four of his races.
Extending that sequence will be tough after he qualified only 18th, seven places behind Tsunoda, but whatever happens Lawson has already done enough to be considered a sure-fire future full-time F1 driver.
Max Verstappen can win the World Drivers’ Championship in Saturday’s Sprint session and that looks the likely outcome after he dominated Friday’s qualifying session for the main event on Sunday.
A third-successive title for the Dutchman has looked an inevitability since the first race of the season but few could have predicted the utter dominance he has shown throughout this season, winning 14 of the 17 Grands Prix so far and amassing a gigantic 177-point lead over teammate Sergio Perez.
Red Bull's lead man needs to hold a 146-point lead by the end of the weekend, meaning it could all be wrapped up in Saturday's Sprint.
Considering Sergio Perez's struggles with the car on Friday - he qualified 13th - you would be hard-pressed to find a fan who thinks Verstappen won't be crowned world champion by the time the lights go out on Sunday.
|What||Qatar Grand Prix Sprint|
|Where||Lusail Circuit, Qatar|
|When||18:30, Saturday 7th October, 2023|
|How to watch||Sky Sports F1|
|Odds||Max Verstappen 1/4, Lando Norris 14/1, George Russell 16/1, Lewis Haimlton 16/1, Oscar Piastri 16/1|
A fifth-place finish for Verstappen in Singapore had some pundits questioning whether Red Bull had been severely hampered by regulation changes, but Verstappen put that myth to bed the following race as he returned to his domineering ways.
He qualified on pole for the ninth time this season in Japan and won the Grand Prix by almost 20 seconds and, judging by Friday's qualifying, we could be seeing the 26-year-old driving off into the Qatari night in the Sprint.
Verstappen took pole position by almost half-a-second on Friday and, while Saturday's Sprint is a standalone event, it would be a surprise to see anybody challenge him in either session.
The Red Bull looked blisteringly quick in the high-speed turns but teammate Sergio Perez, who is the only driver capable of halting Verstappen's run for the World Drivers' Championship, struggled with the balance of the car and will be stuck with the same setup due to Parc-Ferme conditions.
Friday was a mixed bag for the team at McLaren but they can start afresh on Saturday and will be confident of a good points haul as they continue their quest to leapfrog Aston Martin into fourth-place in the World Constructors' Championship.
The car showed tremendous pace in the hands of both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, with the former clocking the second-fastest time in Q3 and his Australian rookie teammate seemingly putting his car on the second row.
Unfortunately for the Woking-based team, they fell foul of track limits, with Norris and Piastri demoted to tenth and sixth respectively.
Saturday's Sprint gives them the opportunity to make amends, though, and if they can stay within the white lines both Norris (7/1) and Piastri (14/1) have a good chance of putting the papaya McLaren on the front row in the Sprint Shoot-out and earning some solid points in the Sprint itself.
Alpine dropped off after a promising start to the season but their performance on Friday suggests a return to solid points could be on the cards in Qatar.
Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon will start Sunday's Grand Prix in seventh and eighth respectively and race-pace simulations have them just behind Aston Martin as the sixth-fastest team.
The French team secured just their second double-points finish in the last nine races in Japan and they could be on track for another decent haul as they look to cement fifth-place in the World Constructors' Championship.
Having finished top in qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix last time out, Verstappen will be confident he can repeat the feat in Qatar this week.
There are an abundance of high-speed corners at the Lusail International Circuit, in a similar style to Suzuka.
The track should also suit his team-mate Sergio Perez, but the Mexican did struggle for speed in Japan last month and recorded the fifth quickest time in qualifying.
After a second-place finish at the Japanese Grand Prix, McLaren’s Lando Norris has been earning plenty of praise.
The 23-year-old from Bristol has finished second on the podium four times this season and is showing signs that he might be a potential world champion in the future, if given the right tools for the job.
Norris seems to be getting the most out of his McLaren at present and currently finds himself level on points with countryman and Mercedes racer George Russell in the Drivers’ Championship on 115.
It will be an interesting battle between the two Englishmen again this weekend in Qatar, with Norris at 8/1 to record the fastest time in qualifying, while Russell is out at .
Norris’ team-mate Oscar Piastri is some way behind on 57 points in ninth place in the Drivers’ Championship, but he certainly impressed at Suzuka to finish third on the podium.
The Australian driver will have enjoyed his first podium finish in F1 and will be eager to build on that performance in Qatar.
When it comes to the best of the rest behind Red Bull, Ferrari will be disappointed they are not in second place in the Constructors’ Championship with the 2023 F1 season approaching a conclusion.
Despite being the only other team to have recorded a race win this season, the Italian outfit find themselves in third place in the standings with 20 points between them and second-place Mercedes.
Drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr had to settle for fourth and sixth at the Japanese Grand Prix, which is exactly the positions they secured in qualifying.
On a similar high-speed circuit, the Ferrari pair will know they need to post quicker times if they are to beat the likes of Norris and his McLaren team-mate Piastri to the podium this weekend.
Leclerc is 10/1 to secure the fastest qualifying time, while Sainz Jnr is likewise in the same market.
There are certainly some strong contenders to claim pole ahead of Sunday race, but all of them will know they will have to find a way past the champion-elect Verstappen.