RUMBLE IN THE DESERT IN 2021
In its first Grand Prix in Formula 1, Saudi Arabia provided a wild race that had Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton battling for key points in their championship duel. Hamilton, who was trailing his Dutch rival in the standings but put himself in a strong position by clinching pole position, and his teammate Bottas helped in the matter by taking second in qualifying to put Verstappen in the difficult position of third place.
If Verstappen wanted to have any hope of extending his championship lead, he would need a great start to the race to attempt to pass the two Mercedes in front of him. On race day the starting lights went out and Bottas got the jump on his teammate, getting off the line cleanly but was not able to pass Hamilton heading into the first turn. Hamilton maintained his lead and Mercedes was in prime position to control the race with Verstappen stuck in third place with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc pressuring him from behind.
SCHUMACHER CRASHES, FIRST RED FLAG
On lap 8 HAAS’ Mick Schumacher lost his back-end heading into turns 21-22 crashing into the barriers and forcing a safety car on lap 10. During the safety car session, controversy began to brew when Bottas was accused by Verstappen and Red Bull of driving slowly, preventing the pack of cars behind him from closing the gap on Hamilton in the lead.
Mercedes used this opportunity to pit both their drivers, which at the moment placed Verstappen in first place because he elected to stay out on the track. Some luck came Red Bull’s way when race stewards waved a red flag on the race because of the need to repair the barrier Schumacher had crashed into. This provided a free pit stop for Verstappen and Red Bull where they could put on a fresher set of tires.
Once again, all the teams lined up on the grid to restart the race, but this time Hamilton would need a great start to pass his rival. Hamilton, who is the master of great starts did not disappoint his fans as he launched himself ahead of Verstappen only to have the Dutchmen pull up right beside him heading into the first corner and nearly colliding.
Hamilton, who tried closing the gap into the turn, forced Verstappen off the track and into the lead. Esteban Ocon also had a great start, he was in fourth place and took advantage of Hamilton. Hamilton who was forced wide by Verstappen’s return to the track, allowed Ocon to take the inside line on the next turn placing him in second place.
What was a dream start for Mercedes at the beginning of the race had become a nightmare after the second restart of the race. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on which driver you were rooting for, the lap could not even be completed because another yellow flag was waved if not for a brief moment before the race was red-flagged once again.
SECOND RED FLAG
There were two incidents that caused the second interruption of the race between three drivers; Williams’ George Russell, HAAS’ Nikita Mazepin, and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. Perez, who was battling for the position was clipped from behind by a Ferrari spinning the Mexican into the wall and losing his front wing. Perez was unable to return to the race.
Because of the Perez incident, George Russell slowed down significantly heading into a turn putting him in a vulnerable position. Mazepin, who could not see the chaos around the bend, was still accelerating and henceforth slammed into the back of Russell’s Williams. Luckily both drivers were uninjured.
VERSTAPPEN LOSES THE LEAD
With the third restart of the race looming the race stewards gave Red Bull an offer they couldn’t refuse asking Verstappen to give back the position he had gained on Hamilton at the second restart. It was deemed that Verstappen surpassed track limits to gain an advantage on his opponent. Red Bull agreed to the proposition and on the restart Alpine and Ocon now sat in first with Hamilton in second and Verstappen in third.
THE THIRD START IS A CHARM
In fifteen laps the action was already breathtaking, and the championship swayed between the two rivals like mad. The third restart did not allow F1 fans a chance to catch their breath because once again incredible action took everyone’s breath away.
The lights went out and the top three drivers on the grid all had great starts creating a Hamilton sandwich with Ocon and Verstappen on both his sides evenly. Verstappen made the boldest move throwing himself on the inside corner while Hamilton tried to hold off Ocon on the outside which had the two gently touched without causing damage.
Ocon was forced off the track and now sat in first place which only lasted until the next corner where Verstappen passed him with no difficulty. Hamilton followed suit and took advantage of the slower Alpine passing Ocon on a straight with ease placing him now in second.
Fans were finally allowed to breathe again as the race settled down without any severe incidents occurring for the next twenty or so laps. It was hammer time for Hamilton to chase Verstappen and on lap 37 after using DRS put Hamilton in prime position to pass the dutchman heading into turns 1-2.
It looked as if Hamilton had completed the task streaming past his rival on the straight only to have Verstappen dive once again, breaking late on the inside of the turn which ran him wide nearly crashing into Hamilton who wisely let up letting his rival pass. Both drivers exited the track and Verstappen now had a wider gap ahead of Hamilton because of the incident that transpired.
HAMILTON HITS VERSTAPPEN
It did not take long for the Red Bull to analyze that situation and understand that Verstappen had to give Hamilton back the lead. What would ensue boggled the minds of everyone watching when Verstappen slowed on a straight to allow Hamilton to pass him easily and amazingly Hamilton hit the back of Verstappen’s car.
Apparently, Hamilton did not know that Verstappen was giving up his position and thought the Red Bull would be accelerating and by that time it was too late. In what could have been the moment that clinched the driver’s title for Verstappen, Hamilton survived the incident and was able to keep racing.
VERSTAPPEN GETS CHEEKY
Verstappen still needed to give back the position he had gained on Hamilton and decided to do so before heading into a DRS zone. Hamilton took the lead back for a brief moment before Verstappen used DRS to slip past the Brit once again. The stewards who had their hands full monitoring this crazy race gave Verstappen a five-second penalty for the incident at turns 1-2.
VERSTAPPEN PAYS THE PRICE
Hamilton, who was stuck behind Verstappen took matters into his own hands passing the Dutchman on Lap 42, and never relinquished the lead he had gained. After the race, Verstappen received an additional ten-second-time penalty for the collision that he had with Hamilton but that would not change the final standings due to Verstappen’s substantial lead over third place.
The stage was now set for the final race in Abu Dhabi because Hamilton’s victory in Saudi Arabia was now tied with Verstappen in the championship standings.
BOTTAS BY A NOSE
The battle for third place which was overshadowed by the front runners had Bottas hunting down Ocon who was in third place on the final lap. Bottas heading into the final straight and with his DRS open he managed to cross the finish line ahead of Ocon by one-tenth of a second.
WHAT A RACE!
The first Saudi GP proved to be one of the most entertaining races of the year including one safety car, four virtual safety cars, and two red flags. Fans had plenty to chew on with the championship duel that was now immersed heavily into controversy.
In 2022 the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix will be the second race of the season taking place from March 25 to March 27