The Formula 1 title fight is heading for an epic final two rounds.
Lewis Hamilton won Sunday's Qatar Grand Prix and now trails Max Verstappen by 8 points heading into the final two races of the season. Hamilton started first and led for the entirety of the race as Verstappen had to climb from seventh to second thanks to a five-place grid penalty before the race.
Verstappen got the race's fastest lap in the waning minutes to save his points lead from going from 14 to 6. He scored 19 points to Hamilton's 25 for winning the race thanks to the extra point for getting that fastest lap.
Fernando Alonso finished third to get his first podium finish since he returned to F1. The race was slowed in the final laps because of a virtual safety car for the wounded car of Nicholas Latifi. While that VSC hurt Hamilton's chances of getting the fastest lap, it helped Alonso keep Sergio Perez at bay for third.
Verstappen was penalized hours before the race for ignoring double-waved yellow flags in the final round of qualifying on Saturday. Verstappen didn't slow down as Pierre Gasly slowed with damage from a curb in the final seconds of qualifying.
Hamilton's Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas got a three-place grid penalty for ignoring a single yellow flag in the final round of qualifying as well. Bottas started sixth and a spot ahead of Verstappen but got a terrible start and was 11th a few corners into the race. Verstappen, meanwhile, had a fantastic start and found himself in fourth at the end of the first lap.
By the time Verstappen got into second place five laps into the race, Hamilton was already over four seconds ahead. He kept extending that lead throughout the first stint of the race and maintained a lead of over six seconds through the race's two pit stop rounds.
Red Bull pitted Verstappen earlier than Hamilton both times in an attempt to get the Mercedes team to do something different or make a mistake. That did not work as Mercedes matched Hamilton's pit strategy to Verstappen's perfectly.
Formula 1 is off on Nov. 28 before races in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 5 and Abu Dhabi on Dec. 12 to finish the season.
Hamilton's special helmet for Qatar Grand Prix
Hamilton said before the race weekend that F1 and other sports leagues needed to do more to highlight the horrible human rights records of countries like Qatar when they host events in them. The seven-time F1 champion has never been shy about speaking out on social justice issues and got in his car on Friday with a helmet supporting the LBGTQ community.
Sunday's race marked the start of the one-year countdown to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. FIFA executives were on hand for the race with the World Cup trophy as Qatar started its festivities ahead of a winter World Cup because of the hot summer temperatures in the desert.