Max Verstappen knew that the stewards would not be on his side in Qatar, so focused on his driving to overcome that obstacle.
Initially set to start P2, the Red Bull driver would be hit with a five-place grid penalty for failing to respect double-waved yellows in qualifying, a decision which infuriated Red Bull and earned team boss Christian Horner a date with the stewards for his comments.
For Verstappen, the penalty came as no surprise, hinting at bias against him.
“Well no surprises there,” he told Sky F1 when asked about that five-place penalty.
“I mean I knew already last night that I never get presents from them, so it’s okay.”
Pushed on the subject of feeling hard done by, Verstappen was reluctant to go deep into the topic, but did further confirm that he felt harshly treated.
“I don’t want to talk about it too much, because I don’t want to give anyone the pleasure to talk about it even more,” he said when asked if he generally feels hard done by with the stewards.
“But it’s of course not great.”
Happy with P2️⃣ and the fastest lap 👊 Despite a really good start, the win was out of reach, but we maximized our race result. Thanks to a good strategy, we scored 19 points today. We will keep fighting to the end 💪 🇶🇦 #QatarGP pic.twitter.com/YnCL44O50x
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) November 21, 2021
However, once it was confirmed that he would start P7 instead of P2, Verstappen just focused on the racing and was able to deliver a solid P2 finish and the fastest lap, meaning he ensured that his Championship lead over Lewis Hamilton, who won the Qatar Grand Prix, was cut only to eight points.
“Once I knew I was starting seventh I was just very motivated to move ahead and that is exactly what we did,” said Verstappen.
“We had a good first lap, and then after five laps we were second again and I just tried to keep the gap small, which we did throughout the whole race so they couldn’t do an extra stop.
“And it gave me the fastest lap at the end so I was definitely happy with that.”
Verstappen did ultimately finish over 25 seconds behind Hamilton after making an extra pit stop, but before that he was keeping the gap relatively stable at around “seven or eight seconds”.
So considering that Mercedes and Hamilton held the pace advantage across qualifying and then the race, Verstappen was satisfied with that showing.
“I mean I did the extra stop, so the gap was of course a bit bigger than it was the whole race,” he said.
“In general throughout the whole race it was seven or eight seconds, so that isn’t too bad.
“We were a little bit too slow so of course that naturally means in a race after qualifying, in a race it’s going to be tricky as well, but we just need to try and stay focused.
“There are two races to go, as you can see a lot of things can happen, even in a qualifying, so anything is possible.”
But as this title battle reaches its climax, the drama surrounding it is spilling over, whether it be the Mercedes and Red Bull technical battle, or this anger over the grid penalty to name a couple of examples.
However, Verstappen said racing is not complicated, so all of this extra noise is “not relevant” for him.
“Racing is not complicated, it has a brake pedal, a throttle pedal and a steering wheel,” Verstappen responded when asked if all these extra battles going on can impact his focus.
“There is a lot of show around but I think us drivers know what to do and anything else around it that’s not really relevant for me.
“I have to just focus on my job.”