Hamilton wins the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, draws championship tie with Verstappen

In a race highlighted with two red-flag periods, on-track chaos, controversy and tempers flaring amongst the competitors and teams battling for the season championship, Sir Lewis Hamilton drew himself on equal points level with Max Verstappen after withstanding a late battle and contact with Verstappen to win the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Sunday, December 5.

Hamilton, who started on pole position for the 103rd time in his illustrious career, led the opening 10 laps before a hard incident involving rookie Mick Schumacher resulted with Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas pitting for hard tyres. This gave Verstappen an advantage by taking the lead and opting to have a fresh set of hard tyres on his Red Bull machine as the race was then suspended for repairs in Turn 23 where Schumacher wrecked. 

When the race restarted on Lap 15, Hamilton and Verstappen dueled until Verstappen went off the course and cut back in front of Hamilton, which caused Hamilton to step off the gas as Alpine’s Esteban Ocon went by for second place. Following another multi-car wreck and red-flag period that involved rookie Nikita Mazepin, George Russell and Sergio “Checo” Perez, Verstappen relinquished the lead and settled in third behind Ocon and Hamilton. 

Two laps later, on a Lap 17 restart, Verstappen made a bold three-wide move entering the first two turns to reassume the lead, where he dominated the evening and kept Hamilton in his rearview mirrors. 

Then, the intensity between Hamilton and Verstappen crescendoed under the final 15 laps as Hamilton narrowed the gap between himself and his championship rival. On Lap 36, Hamilton attempted to overtake Verstappen’s Red Bull machine through the main straightaway, but Verstappen went wide in Turn 2 and nearly made contact with Hamilton while refusing to yield. The Dutchman then went off the course, but returned while still leading the race. Then while instructed by his crew to relinquish the lead to avoid a penalty for going off the course, Verstappen slowed and ended up getting hit by Hamilton, with the reigning seven-time F1 champion sustaining slight front-wing damage. Despite the incident, both competitors continued running straight and in the top-two spots. 

Five laps later, Verstappen, who briefly relinquished the lead to Hamilton, reassumed the top spot over Hamilton through Turn 27 and entering the main straightaway. Then, the stewards placed Verstappen on a five-second time penalty for his off-track excursion on Lap 42. Finally, Hamilton seized his opportunity during the following lap and pushed Verstappen wide in Turn 27 to take the lead as he pulled away from his rival, who was beginning to lose the rear tyres on his car.

With no competition lurking behind him, Hamilton was able to nurse his Mercedes back to the finish line and grab his third consecutive victory in recent weeks by nearly 12 seconds over Verstappen.

By winning for the eighth time in 2021 and for his 103rd Formula 1 career victory, Hamilton left Saudi Arabia in a tie with Verstappen for the lead in the driver’s championship standings as he pursues his record-setting eighth F1 title.

“The fight [in this team] is so, so deeply great,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been with this team 10 years. I’ve seen their passion all these year. I don’t think I’ve seen as what they’ve just shown me there coming down the pit lane at the end of the race. It’s on a different level, the energy. We’re all hyped. The fight, it’s spectacular and I appreciate it. It’s difficult to fight with a driver that doesn’t work with the same rulebook, but I tried with everything I had to just keep the car on the track and do it the right way. We persevered as a team and I’m grateful for everyone’s hard work. Who would’ve thought we got to this point, it would be like this. But I felt great. Just trying to keep my head down for next week. I’ll try to deliver the best result we can.”

“I think we are all happy today, but I need to bite my words at the moment because in seven days, there will be another result and I still hope that we are going to be happy as now,” Toto Wolff, team principal of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, added. “We just need to calm down, really prepare well for next week, have a strong racing car like we had today, have no reliability should because if we have that, the championship is gone within a second and then, all the fun today was destroyed next week.”

Verstappen, who wrecked during Saturday’s qualifying session while establishing what would have been a pole-winning lap but was able to line up in third place, led twice for 31 laps and rallied from the late on-track controversy between himself and Hamilton to settle in second place for the eighth time in 2021. Despite falling back into a tie with Hamilton in the driver’s standings, Verstappen currently holds the tie-breaker for the top spot based on winning nine times throughout the season compared to Hamilton’s eight and sets his focus towards the finale at Abu Dhabi and with an opportunity to claim his first Formula One championship.

“Of course, when [the team] told me that I had the five-second penalty, it was not worth fighting anymore because I would never have pulled a gap of five seconds,” Verstappen said. “A lot of action, lot of things that happened. I think ultimately, we didn’t really have perfect pace in the race. Maybe also, the medium tyres were not amazing to the end. I think hard tyres could’ve had a bit more life. That’s obviously easy to say afterwards. There were a lot of moves [with Hamilton]. That five-second penalty, I don’t think is correct, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to talk about it too much because they don’t deserve any word coming out of my mouth.”

“[The team] told me to give the position back,” Verstappen, who addressed the on-track incident with Hamilton, added. “Immediately when I heard that on the radio, I just pulled off to the right to show that I was gonna move over. I braked, down-shift and [Hamilton] just stayed behind me, so I was just looking in the mirror and I’m slowing down and then, I think it was just a bit of a miscommunication where he then ran into the back of me.”

“Frustrating race,” Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull Racing, added. “I think in the end, we’re probably lucky to get away with second with the damage we had at the back of the car. It goes down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. I thought at the beginning of the year, it would go all the way to Abu Dhabi. Fortunately for all the fans, there’s nothing between [Verstappen and Hamilton]. There’s just one race victory between them, so let’s see where it finish…We got one chance [to win].”

Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas, who started on the front row but spent the majority of the event inside the top five, edged Esteban Ocon at the finish line to grab the final podium spot in his penultimate event with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. With the points, Mercedes increased their lead in the constructor’s standings by 28 points over Red Bull Racing Honda.

“It makes a difference to be fourth or third,” Bottas said. “Esteban had a good race and they were actually surprisingly quick. It was not easy to get him, but yeah, got him just at the end. I just kept pushing. It was worth it today not to give up…It’s gonna be a pretty exciting race in Abu Dhabi.”

Ocon, who made his way up to a podium spot since the Lap 15 restart and retained third place until the final lap, settled in fourth place while Daniel Ricciardo rallied from finishing outside of the points during the previous Grand Prix events to finish in fifth place.

Pierre Gasly, driving for AlphaTauri, rallied from finishing outside of the points during the previous Grand Prix event in Qatar to finish in sixth place followed by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. Antonio Giovinazzi came home in ninth place in his penultimate event with Alfa Romeo Racing while McLaren’s Lando Norris ended up in 10th place.

Finishing outside of the top-10 points-paying results was Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll along with Nicholas Latifi and Fernando Alonso, who pitted late for soft tyres and ended up a lap behind the leaders.

Rookie Yuki Tsunoda finished 14th following an on-track collision and incident with Sebastian Vettel on Lap 23, where he spun Vettel and destroyed the front wing of his AlphaTauri in Turn 1.

Kimi Räikkönen finished 15th in his penultimate F1 event of his career while Sebastian Vettel, who continued following his early incident with Tsunoda, retired late in the event in 16th place due to the damage on his Aston Martin car.

George Russell, Sergio “Checo” Perez and rookie Nikita Mazepin, all of whom wrecked during the Lap 15 restart, retired in 17th, 18th and 19th.

Mick Schumacher retired in 20th place, dead last, following his wreck in Turn 23. 

Results:

1. Lewis Hamilton, 26 points

2. Max Verstappen, 18 points

3. Valtteri Bottas, 15 points

4. Esteban Ocon, 12 points

5. Daniel Ricciardo, 10 points

6. Pierre Gasly, eight points

7. Charles Leclerc, six points

8. Carlos Sainz, four points

9. Antonio Giovinazzi, two points

10. Lando Norris, one point

11. Lance Stroll

12. Nicholas Latifi

13. Fernando Alonso, +1 lap

14. Yuki Tsunoda, +1 lap

15. Kimi Räikkönen, +1 lap

16. Sebastian Vettel – Retired

17. George Russell – Retired

18. Sergio Perez – Retired

19. Nikita Mazepin – Retired

20. Mick Schumacher – Retired

Verstappen and Hamilton are tied for the lead in the drivers’ standings while Mercedes continues to lead the constructor’s standings by 28 points over Red Bull Racing Honda.

Next is the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit, which will conclude the 2021 Formula One season and where a champion will be crowned. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, December 12.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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