Race Report: Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi Arabia GP

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The Saudi Arabia Grand Prix was an unknown but with two sectors seemingly favoring Mercedes and one sector favoring Red Bull, it was always going to be a close run thing. Saturday’s last lap effort from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ending in the wall, put the team on the back foot for Sunday and they needed some luck and risk-taking strategy to make it a win.

The race was fraught with two red flags, three standing-starts and multiple Virtual Safety Cars and with all of that chaos, trying to stay on top of tire wear, track position and real-time strategy would be a nightmare but the teams managed as best they could.

With an average initial start and ho-hum second start, Red Bull took advantage of the second red flag to put medium compounds on Max’s car to improve his start and it worked but what transpired next over the remainder of the race garnered a 5s penalty for Max for running Lewis wide and gaining an advantage as well as Lewis running into the back of Max’s car as he slowed to cede the position back to Lewis. This garnered another 10s penalty for Max. Lace this with a quick repass after ceding a position and throw in some worn medium tires and you end up with a race full of chaos, accusations and bitterness leaving both drivers square on points heading into the final race of the season.

In the end, Max was voted Driver of the Day at f1.com but the Sky sports team, as well as Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, were keen to label him as unsportsmanlike, over the limit and above the rules while Max said that F1 has become more about penalties than driving and Red Bull executive, Helmet Marko, saying that the team gets treated differently than Mercedes.

In short, it was a very controversial race but made more so by Sky Sports and media pundits casting aspersions, drivers suggesting the circuit was “dangerous” and other drivers using the event to scold the nation over it’s position on cultural issues. It’s hard to not walk away feeling like you’ve been witness to one of the more heated and controversial races this season given the amplification by just about everyone who covers the sport. When coupled by lots of ire for FIA race director Michael Masi’s management of the race, you get something I doubt that F1 or the race promoters would have wanted for the first race in Saudi Arabia but then if you follow Bernie Ecclestone’s approach, hey….at least people are talking about it.

Win

A win for Lewis Hamilton who managed to pull even with Max at 369.5 points in the Driver’s Championship. Sure, they would have liked a DNF from Max but coming out with a win and tied in the points is a good result nonetheless. Given all of the wackiness of the race, it’s a great result to be honest.

A win for Valtteri Bottas who sank to the midfield but managed to redeem his race by passing Esteban Ocon on the final corner to take third and a hefty lead for Mercedes in the Constructor’s Championship.

A big win for Esteban Ocon who somehow kept his race clean and managed to lead the race, briefly, finishing an amazing 4th and a terrific points haul for the team.

Equally a win for Daniel Ricciardo who finished in 5th and ahead of both Ferraris and that was important for the team. It was a quiet race but he did have a great battle with Bottas.

A win for Pierre Gasly who scored more points in 6th place and, as usual, kept the Alpha Tauri team in the points and at the sharp end of the grid. Antonio Giovinazzi had a decent race to 9th as well but a dollar late and day short for his F1 career in 2022.

Fail

In the end, it was a fail for Red Bull with a total of 15s in driving penalties during the race and the error during qualifying. Max received a 5s penalty for the turn 3 incident and an additional 10s penalty for braking heavily while trying to let Lewis pass him in order to cede the position. On the surface, you could argue that it was a bad move, and it was, but if you think both drivers were not keenly aware of where that DRS line was, you would be missing some context as to why Lewis wasn’t passing Max but hanging on his tail and why Max braked hard to get Lewis to go around him ahead of the line. Lewis is no chump, he knew Max was slowing to cede the position but he also knew where that line was and what Max was planning.

Both knew what they were doing and before you get too amped over the braking incident, recall Baku when Lewis braked heavily leaving Sebastian Vettel to clout the rear of his car and then deliberately turn in on Lewis out of frustration…many argued that Seb, as a world champ, should have been more head’s up instead of running into the back of Lewis regardless of how Lewis was braking. Now don’t get upset with me, just go back and look at everyone’s comments back then.

Regardless of where you fall on Lewis or Max during the race, from my perspective, the Merc is just too fast and Max is trying everything he can to get that Red Bull in front and keep it in front. The Red Bull doesn’t have the pace of the Merc and the prime reason they have done as well as they have is down to very hard work by the team and equally hard work by Max to the point of being too aggressive in order to get a result that the car just isn’t as interested in getting as Max is. It is producing cracks in the defensive armor for Red Bull and Max in a car that is being hunted by Lewis in a superior car. You can get very upset with all of the action but in the end, we head to the final race even on points, is this not the entertainment value you wanted from F1? Or would you rather litigate the results? Asking for a friend.

A fail for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez who got clouted by Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari which ended his race and removed most hope for Red Bull in the Constructor’s championship.

A fail for Mick Schumacher who managed to bring out the first red flag by disagreeing with the rear end of his car and having a serious conversation with the wall ending his race. Equally bad was Nikita Mazepin for running into the back of George Russell ending both their races.

WTH

Not sure who else needed to hit Sebastian Vettel during the race but there were a few more laps in which to do so after Kimi took the side of his car off.

Not sure what Fernando Alonso was struggling with given Esteban’s pace and ability to finish higher but certainly the red flags and VSC’s played a role in seeing the Spaniard toward the back of the grid which is a shame given his recent podium performance.

Sad to see Lando Norris mired in the back, losing out to the Safety Car, but he did manage to recover to 10th so that was a recovery drive for sure. Was hoping he would have been more in the mix of things.

I’m interested to see what F1 or the race promoters have to say after Sky Sports and a few drivers spent the weekend either questioning or flat out accusing the circuit of being too dangerous and, in David Croft’s mind, an obvious oversight on the designer’s part as a high-speed street circuit was always going to have lots of safety car periods, debris and more.

Are we starting to see some real concern over Michael Masi’s ability to manage a race and I am curious how this bartering system is working out prior to Michael telling mom on you if you don’t take his offer? The way teams are operating these days, I’m thinking there may need to be a new look to how races are managed and adjudicated on the fly.

I am reading all of the hate toward Max today and while I understand, very much, the notion that he’s an aggressive driver, I am reminded of what it takes to beat Lewis (watch the 2016 season to see Nico Rosberg do what he had to do to beat him) and when you consider just how dominant that Merc is and what Max is trying to achieve, I think it’s quite obvious that you have to get your elbows out and bully Lewis around a bit when your car is a bit slower than the Merc. Typically Max goes into a corner committed and either they both exit or they don’t but as he was leading the championship, he wasn’t about to lift or make it easy in any corner for Lewis. It was Lewis who had to have a more measured approach and like the champ he is, he lifted, drove around Max’s elbows and patiently waited. He knew Max was trying to let him by just ahead of the DRS line and wasn’t about to pass Max so Max hit the brakes trying to force him to. It didn’t work and that’s a lesson for Max and his race craft. He got schooled a bit and even after the race, Lewis had a sort of “I dunno know what was going on” sort of mentality. That’s an act, Lewis is no one’s chump, he knows darn well what’s going on out there…that’s why he has 7, soon to possibly be 8, titles.

Pirelli Key Moments:

  • Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won a dramatic race characterised by two red flags, as well as extensive safety car and virtual safety car periods that interrupted the action and disrupted strategy. Hamilton changed from medium to hard tyres (on lap 10) before the first red flag period, and then maintained them until the end.
  • His title rival Max Verstappen, who finished second for Red Bull, swapped from the hard tyres he had selected during the first stoppage to mediums during the second red flag period, making one more change than Hamilton.
  • The race was red-flagged for the first time after the Haas of Mick Schumacher hit the wall. The teams were allowed to change tyres as well as carry out other maintenance. After a second red flag, Hamilton re-started on the hard, with Verstappen able to use the extra speed of the medium to get past him off the grid.
  • Apart from Hamilton, nine other drivers used just two sets of tyres. Seven drivers used three sets of tyres, and two drivers used four sets.
  • Weather conditions remained consistent with the rest of the weekend and throughout the grand prix: the almost two and a half hour race started in 29 degrees ambient and 31 degrees of track temperature.

Saudi Arabian GP Results:

PosNameCarLapsLaps LedTotal TimeFastest LapPitstopsPts
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes50182h6m15.118s1m30.734s326
2Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda5031+11.825s1m31.488s218
3Valtteri BottasMercedes500+27.531s1m31.408s315
4Esteban OconAlpine-Renault501+27.633s1m31.797s212
5Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes500+40.121s1m32.716s210
6Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda500+41.613s1m32.297s28
7Charles LeclercFerrari500+44.475s1m31.601s36
8Carlos Sainz Jr.Ferrari500+46.606s1m31.851s24
9Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari500+58.505s1m32.865s22
10Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes500+1m01.358s1m31.914s31
11Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes500+1m17.212s1m32.804s30
12Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes500+1m23.249s1m32.751s30
13Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault490+1 lap1m31.633s40
14Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda490+1 lap1m32.506s30
15Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari490+1 lap1m32.778s30
Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes440DNF1m32.778s30
Sergio PérezRed Bull-Honda140DNF1m34.138s20
Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari140DNF1m37.043s10
George RussellWilliams-Mercedes140DNF1m36.13s20
Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari80DNF1m36.043s00
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Melton Ricke

IMHO, There were so many infractions just between Mercedes and Red Bull that it’s hard to judge whether or not Masi or the stewards were fair or unfair to either of the teams. The championship is coming “down to the wire” and tensions are running high. Lots of money and glory on the line, and the pressure is real as everyone who watched the race could see.

Bathurstfan

I know the winner has to be celebrated, but why did we miss the Bottas/Ocon pass and repass? Was anybody seriously thinking Max was just going to suddenly turn up the wick and win? I mean, the last lap was just watching Lewis drive by himself and listening to Crofty vamp for a minute and a half.

Peter

I saw it on my TV, right at the finish line by a yard maybe.

Rijk

Yeah it feels like this is a rule they have, that the winner must be shown the entire last lap, we’ve missed brilliant battles in the past this way too

Glen Mhor Whisky

I much prefer listening to the BBC Radio commentary team, I find them to be more grounded and realistic. It was a chaotic race with all sides (including the Race Director) taking away some learns, hopefully. Anyway, if you haven’t checked them out it’s worth a listen. The commentary was interesting though, suggesting that you cannot race someone like Max who ‘doesn’t care if he crashes’ and some of the antics of Red Bull, but also criticisms for Mercedes. Amidst all the fanfare, what I took out of it was they need to look at the Red Flag rule, which… Read more »

Ian Bell

I think the error was having the first red flag for that short a time… what was it about 8 mins or so ?

Rijk

I stopped listening to the BBC Chequered Flag podcast a few years ago because they were so in love with Lewis and bashing or downplaying Max all the time. I mean I understand with them being British, but I can only take so much.

Glen Mhor

You should listen again as they picked Max to win the final race

Rijk

It’s all become a bit nasty with various opponents throwing their comments into the melting pot. I just want a clean race with the winner takes all next weekend. 

By the way, with a championship on the line and the pressure so high I think it was never going to be a clean race. Both teams and drivers will grab onto everything they can to win — and that’s exactly why they are the ones in F1 and not someone else.

Xean Drury

If they take each other out, Max wins. Will that factor in? Stay tuned!

Fabio

Just got to see the race. Yeah, pretty much agree with all of what you said. Unfortunately Max and Christian are coming out of it very well.
Going into the last race on equal points, it reminds me of a famous quote by a certain Mr A. Senna about Going for gaps

Myles

I’m not sure that having the FIA/Team radio live on broadcast is helping the sport or not. It sure is entertaining, but the last few races it just feels a bit amateur hour. It’s one thing to have it come out months later in drive to survive, but another thing to have it right in the middle of the race.

It’s nice to see Max and Lewis push to their limits to win the championship, I wish it didn’t feel like brothers fighting, where it slowly escalates until mom has to slap one of them on the wrist.

Peter

we’re all waiting for Todd and Paul’s broadcast…

Peter

Next circuit favors Mercedes. I see no way for Max to win unless he hits Lewis or gets Peres to do so…. we’ll see.

J T

Watching the race, I felt like it was a farce from start to finish on a clearly unsafe track… I’m sure Liberty Media will be having wet dreams over it all week though as they get to relive the manufactured drama through social media posts. It’s getting bad enough with gimmicky sprint ‘races’, but I fear that this type of GP with crashes, red flags, safety cars and petty controversy will be pushed as the template for future prospective tracks.