Updated: Feb 28
Written by Hafiz Akbar, Edited by Andrea Teo.
The first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix has just concluded and whew, what a race. What a race indeed!
The race started a bit late due to a red flag incident involving Theo Pourchaire and Enzo Fittipaldi in the F2 Feature Race earlier today, in which the race format was promptly changed to a 20 minutes and one lap race.
After the shenanigans in F2, Lewis Hamilton started on pole with his Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas right beside him for a Silver Arrows front-row lockout. Max Verstappen, having started most of the season in the front row, started behind the British in third, along with Charles Leclerc in fourth.
The start was a tidy one from all the drivers, with Fernando Alonso up 3 places and Daniel Ricciardo, Esteban Ocon, Carlos Sainz, and Sebastian Vettel also up by 2 places. It’s also worth noting that Sergio Perez almost touched his teammate coming into turn 1.
An incident involving Lance Stroll and George Russell was duly noted by Race Control but was concluded as not worthy of an investigation. Meanwhile, four laps later, another incident involving Ocon and Vettel was also noted and deemed no investigation necessary.
Just a lap after, Mick Schumacher, trying to seek the limits of his Haas, reached the limit as he spun and shunted the TecPro barrier, subsequently leading to his retirement from the race. Race Control figured putting up a yellow flag would do the job but followed up with a red flag after a few laps around the Corniche under the safety car.
The race was promptly restarted with Hamilton up front and Verstappen second. This restart, however, didn’t last long as it was immediately red-flagged again due to a collision between Perez and Leclerc, taking Russell and Nikita Mazepin out of the race in the cacophony as well. This incident was noted and will be investigated after the race.
After the second red flag (never thought I’d say that after Mugello 2020), the race restarted with Ocon up top, Hamilton second and Verstappen third. The third start was not as chaotic as the last one, with Verstappen diving down the inside of turn 1 and sticking it, with Hamilton stuck between Verstappen and Ocon in a carbon fibre buzz bomb sandwich.
Vettel and Yuki Tsunoda were involved in a tangle on turn 2, where Tsunoda lost his front wing and was given a 5-second time penalty. Just a few laps later, Vettel would again be involved in a tangle with Kimi Raikkonen on the same turn, which caused damage to both his and Kimi’s car. Vettel eventually retired out of the race just laps before the finish.
Verstappen was noted by the stewards after running off the track and gaining an advantage over Hamilton and was instructed to give the place back. In the process of doing so, however, Hamilton ran onto the back of Verstappen and damaged his own right front wing endplate. Hamilton was visibly annoyed, and so was the rest of the Mercedes garage. The first notation of Verstappen’s track run-off was then finalized as a 5-second time penalty for the championship leader, as Hamilton sailed past him. Verstappen’s pace then slowly and steadily diminished as his medium tyres, fitted during the last red flag, wore off.
After a race of red and yellow flags, filled to the very brim with safety cars, both virtual and real, Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag on the newest track in the Formula 1 calendar for the second time running after a brilliant race in Qatar two weeks ago.
This is where it gets interesting. Hamilton will come to Abu Dhabi level on points with Verstappen as both have scored 369.5 points. Meanwhile, in the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes now have a 28-point advantage, thanks to Perez’s retirement from the race. This puts them firmly in the lead of the championship, which they are set to win in Abu Dhabi.
We’ll be back next week in the penultimate race of the season. Will we see a new champion be crowned in Max Verstappen or see records being shattered left right and centre by a certain Lewis Hamilton?