Lewis Hamilton has won the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but it wasn't a straightforward affair as Max Verstappen pulled off some questionable manoeuvres during the eventful race. Valtteri Bottas finished third by passing Ocon on the finish line.
As the top 5 enjoyed a clean start without position changes, Gasly dropped down two positions and Tsunoda was even worse off, ending up 12th after starting from 8th. Contrary to AlphaTauri, both McLarens and Alpines made strong starts with all four drivers gaining positions. Alonso was the best of the foursome, moving up from 13th to 10th by the end of the second lap.
Further back, Sainz gained three positions and Russell lost three, re-gaining a place on Stroll on the third lap after the Canadian had made a fairly optimistic pass off-track in the first lap.
While Sainz continued his march forward after the initial few laps, Alonso lost contact DRS contact with Ricciardo and then moved backward when he was re-passed by Giovinazzi and later, on lap 8, by Sainz as they switched for 11th position.
As the front three remained closely matched in a fairly eventless first stage of the race, matters were shuffled when Mick Schumacher crashed off on lap 9. He escaped unharmed but badly ruined his Haas car. The resulting safety car period was obviously a headache for the strategists.
Hamilton immediately dove into the pits, followed by Bottas after the latter slowed down seriously to make sure Hamilton had left the pits when he entered it. Verstappen was unhappy, but ended up in front after not pitting.
Leclerc, Perez, Norris, Alonso, Stroll and both Williams pitted as well, resulting in Hamilton and Bottas being second and third, followed by Ocon, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Gasly, Perez, Sainz and Giovinazzi.
4 laps into the safety car period, race director Michael Masi decided to stop the session, forcing everybody to return to the pits while marshalls could move the car away and repair the punctured outer layer of the tecpro barrier. The decision was a blow for those who opted to stop for new tyres, as the race stoppage allowed everybody to change tyres while being stood in the pitlane.
So, 45 minutes after the original start, cars left the pitlane for another warm-up lap and to take their positions for a new standing start. On that warm-up lap, there was quite a bit of moaning, first Hamilton complaining about Verstappen making a "practice start" in the pitlane, then Verstappen questioning the slowness of the safety car and the distance Hamilton left behind him.
The restart was very different from the original one with Hamilton getting the much much better start and easily charging ahead into the first corner. Verstappen though had none of it, and braked later, went wide and off-track to get the advantage in the subsequent right hander to maintain the lead. The move cost Hamilton second place as Ocon slipped into second place.
But, apart from the battle for this race and the championship, much more trouble happened behind them, as Perez cut past Leclerc. Leclerc escaped, but Perez spun and stepped out of the car when the race was red flagged again to clear the debris.
At the same time, Russell and Mazepin also tangled up, resulting in both their retirements.
When happened next was a stunning deal-making procedure between Red Bull and Mercedes versus the race director, where Masi offered Red Bull to move Verstappen back into third place, behind Ocon and Hamilton. After some confusion about the offer, and Red Bull initially offering to start Verstappen from second, behind Ocon and ahead of Hamilton, they accepted Masi's proposal to avoid a steward's investigation.
For the restart, 1h 15minutes after the original start, grid positions were Ocon (hard), Hamilton (hard), Verstappen (medium), Ricciardo (medium), Bottas (medium), Gasly (hard), Leclerc (hard), Giovinazzi (hard), Sainz (medium), Vettel (medium).
When the lights went out, Hamilton charged into the lead, but Verstappen enjoyed an even better start and it was three abreast into the first corner, enabling Verstappen to take the corner from the inside, leaving Hamilton to be sandwiched between him and Ocon. Ocon went off track and rejoined, but with Verstappen having better traction, he shot into the lead.
Hamilton followed up in third and then into second one lap later after passing Ocon cleanly into Turn 1.
On lap 22 it was time for another crash, this time Tsunoda and Vettel tangling up in Turn 1, leading into the Virtual Safety Car period. The Japanese AlphaTauri driver managed to get out of the way and return to the pits after some difficulty getting away while not dragging his front wing along the track. Vettel escaped damage but was sent into a spin, dropping him into 11th as both Ferraris and Stroll managed to make it past him. Tsunoda was later penalised with a 5s time penalty.
Vettel tangled up with Raikkonen another lap later and thereby lost a part of his right hand side barge board. As frustration grew with the German, another brief VSC period was created to allow for a marshall to quickly get a piece of carbon out of there.
Another minute later, Alonso reported more debris just about everywhere, leading into another VSC. This triggered Alonso to call for a proper safety car. That safety car didn't happen, but instead another 4 laps were done at slow speed under VSC conditions before the race was on again.
On lap 35, Hamilton gets a draft on Verstappen and makes it past the Red Bull round the outside, but again, Verstappen braked hard to defend the place and then failed to make the corner himself. Hamilton quickly fumed "this guy is crazy man".
Verstappen was subsequently told to give the position back, but he did so aggressively, surprising Hamilton, leading to them colliding and breaking off Hamilton's front right endplate. The event left Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff furious, slamming his headphones to the ground as Mercedes were dumbfounded by the events that happened.
They both got on with it, but Verstappen was then again told to give the place back. It took a few laps, but he did so, only to take it back at the end of the same straight. Clearly, an action that was previously frowned upon when done by other drivers, so he was again requested to give that place back, which he duly did, only to find out his tyres were gone.
As Verstappen nurtured his tyres to the end, Bottas tried to move up into third by challenging Ocon. The Finn eventually made it on the final straight, crossing the line with his fist up in the air. Ocon on the other hand was seen slamming his steering wheel for losing that podium finish.
So, in a race dominated by debris and tense battling between both Championship protagonists, Lewis Hamilton leaves Jeddah with the win and the fastest lap while Max Verstappen was voted driver of the day. The result is an equal amount of points for both contenders as they enter the final race, though with a slight advantage for Verstappen as he has won more races.
|2||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||50||+11.825s||18|
|4||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||50||+27.633s||12|
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Mclaren Mercedes||50||+40.121s||10|
|6||10||Pierre Gasly||Alphatauri Honda||50||+41.613s||8|
|9||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||50||+58.505s||2|
|10||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||50||+61.358s||1|
|11||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Mercedes||50||+77.212s||0|
|12||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||50||+83.249s||0|
|13||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||49||+1 lap||0|
|14||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Honda||49||+1 lap||0|
|15||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||49||+1 lap||0|
|NC||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Mercedes||44||DNF||0|
|NC||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Honda||14||DNF||0|
|NC||9||Nikita Mazepin||Haas Ferrari||14||DNF||0|
|NC||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||14||DNF||0|
|NC||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||8||DNF||0|