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Max Verstappen’s Q3 Lap at Jeddah: An Unfinished Masterpiece

Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Ishani Aziz

Image credits - Hasan Bratic/picture alliance via Getty Images

The rapidly-urbanising port city of Jeddah played host to the penultimate round of the 2021 Formula 1 season. The race was held at the sparkling, eye-catching Jeddah Corniche Circuit, on the banks of the Red Sea. F1 had forayed into the Middle East much earlier, but this was the first time the caravan headed to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom had played host to the Diriyah E Prix in Formula E since 2018, with the event being shifted from November to January from 2021, and thus, F1 wasn’t the first major single-seater racing series to head to the land of Saudi Arabia.

Racing on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit was expected to be far from straightforward, and for good reason. A street circuit with an expected average speed in excess of 250 km/h (160 mph), second only to Monza, Italy; a staggering 27 corners, the most of any track on the calendar; and at 6.174 km (3.836 mi) long, it was the longest street circuit on the calendar. With little to no run-off, barriers situated at the proximity of the racetrack, and a hotly-contested championship battle between the Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton set to take centre stage once again, all the elements were present to provide an eventful and action-packed weekend of racing.

Free Practice took place on Friday, and Saturday evening, with drivers exclaiming at the challenging nature of the track layout. There were plenty of close calls, with drivers pushing hard and getting as close as possible to the barriers at the edge of the circuit, to gain crucial lap time. Apart from Charles Leclerc’s big crash at Turn 22 in Free Practice Two, the drivers kept their machinery on track and away from the barriers.

By the time qualifying came on Saturday at 20:00 (local time), the drivers took to the track with “anger”, driving bravely but with skill. While Q1 went ahead without any surprises, Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz went wide at Turn 10 twice, ultimately costing him Q2 due to minor damage to his rear wing.

The remaining top ten were in a shootout, with the circuit playing to the strengths of the Mercedes. Verstappen was still pulling out one splendid lap after another, keeping in touch with the Silver Arrows. Both teams adopted contrasting strategies for the session, Red Bull sending Verstappen out for one fast lap before a tyre change, and Mercedes fueling Hamilton’s car for the entire session. And this would prove to be the right decision, as the Briton had an off at Turn Nine. He went fastest after his next lap, but was eclipsed by Verstappen going 0.382 seconds quicker.

Despite the margin to Hamilton, the Red Bull driver was heard requesting for his teammate Sergio Perez to give him a tow along his fast lap, in order to gain lap time along the straights. The fuel burning off saw Hamilton set a faster lap, going 0.142 seconds quicker than Verstappen, and it would take a mighty lap to upstage the Briton’s lap time and snatch pole position. But who better to challenge that lap time than the Dutchman himself? Although, nothing could have prepared anybody for what was next to come.

Driving with the same spirit as former World Champions such as Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher, Verstappen was pushing his Red Bull as close to the walls as possible, on fresh red-walled soft tyres. Having almost clipped the barrier on the exit of Turn Two, the Dutchman proceeded to thread the needle through the following Esses section, nailing every apex with pinpoint accuracy, acing the challenging exit of Turn 10, lighting up the timing screens with a fastest sector, 0.107s up on Hamilton. After another great run through the left-hander of Turn 13, and keeping it clean through Turns 14, 15, and 16, Verstappen got ever close to the outside barrier at Turn 17, with fans watching in awe. He once again set the fastest sector, now extending his advantage to 0.244s quicker than Hamilton. A reasonable final sector would see him get pole position, but knowing Verstappen, he wasn’t going to take it easy until he’d got the job done.

Verstappen stopped on track; Image credits - Getty Images

However, his type would catch him out just a few corners later. While he made a good exit from Turns 22 and 23, and carried tremendous momentum along the final speed section of the track, Verstappen went a touch deep into the final corner, the left-hander of Turn 27, and locked-up his left-front tyre. As he tried to get a good run to the finish line, his right-rear tyre clipped the barrier, and he ground to a halt in the middle of the track. After his spectacular efforts, much to the shock of fans, Verstappen would start from third instead of pole position for the race.

What was turning out to be a masterpiece, and would have been one of the greatest laps in modern day Formula 1, was brought down to earth right at the final hurdle. The F1 community still relives the incredible sequence of moments, and continues to ponder “What could have been” had Verstappen completed the lap.

Watch the highlights from that qualifying session here:


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