Following a late mechanical retirement in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir, Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing struck back with vengeance and an early championship statement after claiming a late victory in the second annual Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Sunday, March 27.
The reigning Formula One champion, who qualified in fourth place and raced towards the front for the entire event, battled and overtook Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on Lap 46 of 50 before proceeding to fend off the Monégasque over the final five laps to win by half a second under a safety car virtual caution and claim the first victory of the 2022 season for the Dutchman and Red Bull Racing.
The victory was Verstappen’s 21st overall in Formula One competition and the first since winning the 2021 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit, where he claimed his maiden F1 title.
“[The battle] was a tough one,” Verstappen said. “It’s not easy, especially in the beginning. To follow was quite difficult. It was very easy to open up the tyre and then you have no performance anymore, but I think once we swapped to the hard tyre, it went well. I think we played the long game on the tyres, especially after the last VSC [Virtual Safety Car period]. We had good tyre grip. We could make the most from that. Yeah, tough battle. I really enjoyed it with Charles. It’s not easy to get past him. At the end, we did it. We can be very proud. I’m sure [me and Perez] have plenty of races to make up for that. Patience is always key, especially when you want to fight for the championship. You have to fight hard, but of course, I think you need to score some good points. That’s what we did today. We raced hard, but of course, we also want to score the points. ”
“Great racing between all the drivers, but particularly, Max and Charles again,” Christian Horner, Team Principal of Red Bull Racing, added. “They did it last week in Bahrain. This weekend, more overtaking, more great close racing. A great motor race. You can see that they’re both great racers. That was absolute quality from two of the best guys out there. It was an enjoyable race. These cars, it does feel like you can follow a bit closer. The overtaking is a bit more possible. Max, he just played it cool, he waited for his moment and then, he struck and he made it stick. The season is very long. We need to be consistent. Today maybe, Red Bull was a tiny bit stronger, but we brought both cars home in good places. Good points for the team.”
Leclerc, who notched a dominant victory at Bahrain a week ago, settled in second place after leading a race-high 30 of 50 laps. Despite falling one position short of the victory, Leclerc continues to lead the drivers’ standings over teammate Carlos Sainz Jr., who grabbed his second consecutive podium result in third place.
“I really enjoyed [the battle with Verstappen], but obviously, disappointed with a second place,” Leclerc said. “We’ve been leading for the big part of the race and then to lose the lead at the end, it’s a shame, but it’s like this. We took a bit of a different approach this weekend with a bit more downforce compared to Max and Red Bull in general. It was extremely difficult for me to defend with the straight line speed they had. It’s like this, but it’s the way it is and now we need to keep working and hopefully, do a step forward in Melbourne.”
Meanwhile, Sainz settled in third place for his eighth career podium in F1 competition as he was eight seconds behind the two leaders.
“[It was] A better feeling with the car than in Bahrain,” Sainz said. “I think I did a step forward in the right direction. I also know exactly where I’m lacking and where I need to improve with the car. Apart from that, I think we are gonna get there. While I’m not feeling 100%, I’m still getting good points, finishing in the podiums. It’s coming. As soon as I put a car a bit more to my liking and I adapt a bit to my driving, I think [a win] will come and we are gonna be in a strong place.”
Perez, who became the first Mexican competitor to start on pole position after claiming the top qualifying spot on Saturday and who led the first 14 laps before losing the lead during the first virtual safety car period for Latifi’s accident, settled in a disappointing fourth place with a potential podium and victory evaporating from his grasp while George Russell claimed his second consecutive top-five result of the season in fifth place.
Esteban Ocon claimed sixth place in front of Lando Norris, who managed to secure the first points of the season for the McLaren F1 Team. Pierre Gasly, who finished dead last at Bahrain, came home in eighth place in front of Kevin Magnussen, who earned points in his first two events since reuniting to Formula One and with Haas.
Meanwhile, Sir Lewis Hamilton, who qualified in 15th place but methodically carved his way into the top 10, settled in 10th place and collected a single point during the event after making a late pit stop following the second virtual safety car period.
The first competitor to finish outside of the points was rookie Guanyu Zhou, who received two different penalties during the main event: the first for cutting a corner following an early battle with Albon and the second for failing to serve the penalty while pitting. Nico Hülkenberg, who filled in as an interim competitor for Sebastian Vettel and the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team, finished 12th. Teammate Lance Stroll ended up in 13th place, the only competitor to finish a lap behind the leaders, after he was involved in a late on-track collision with Alexander Albon, who was unable to finish late in 14th place.
Valtteri Bottas, Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo all retired in 15th, 16th and 17th due to mechanical issues along with 18th-place finisher Nicholas Latifi, who wrecked and retired on Lap 16.
Prior to the event, there were two competitors who did not participate in the Grand Prix. The first was Yuki Tsunoda, who stalled his AlphaTauri during the formation lap and retired due to a suspected drivetrain issue. The second was Mick Schumacher, who was involved in a vicious accident during his qualifying session on Saturday and was flown to a local hospital, where he was evaluated without any serious injuries but resulted with Haas electing to field one car for Magnussen for the main event.
1. Max Verstappen, 25 points
2. Charles Leclerc, 19 points
3. Carlos Sainz Jr., 15 points
4. Sergio Perez, 12 points
5. George Russell, 10 points
6. Esteban Ocon, eight points
7. Lando Norris, six points
8. Pierre Gasly, four points
9. Kevin Magnussen, two points
10. Lewis Hamilton, one point
11. Guanyu Zhou
12. Nico Hülkenberg
13. Lance Stroll, +1 lap
14. Alexander Albon – Retired
15. Valtteri Bottas – Retired
16. Fernando Alonso – Retired
17. Daniel Ricciardo – Retired
18. Nicholas Latifi – Retired
19. Yuki Tsunoda – Retired
Following the second event of the 2022 F1 season, Charles Leclerc continues to lead the drivers’ standings by 12 points over teammate Carlos Sainz Jr., 20 over Max Verstappen, 23 over George Russell, 29 over Lewis Hamilton and 31 over Esteban Ocon.
Ferrari continues to lead the constructors’ standings by 40 points over Mercedes, 39 over Red Bull Racing RBPT, 62 over Alpine Renault and 66 over Haas Ferrari.
Next on the 2022 Formula One schedule is the return of the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Australia, which will occur on April 10.