Chaos in Jeddah

F1 held the inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix which saw the Drivers’ Championship take another turn in a season like no other as Verstappen and Hamilton now sit in a deadlock heading into a title-deciding weekend of action.


Hamilton (left) is now level on points with Verstappen (right) heading into the final race of the season. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Over the weekend, the 2021 Formula 1 season continued in Saudi Arabia for the inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix. With this being the first such event, the entire weekend was critical for drivers and teams to perfect their setup and get used to a track that was only finished weeks before the event.

When it came time for qualifying, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton grabbed provisional pole ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas who was provisionally in second. However, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was setting purple sectors with the fastest times and putting together one of the best laps of the season. However, Verstappen went too deep in the final corner and his RB16 hit the wall, ruining his qualifying lap and gifting pole and the front row to Mercedes. Verstappen qualified in third, his teammate Sergio Perez in fifth and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in fourth.

When the lights went out, everyone got away cleanly with the top three remaining the same and Perez still in fifth. However, the race took its first out of many twists and turns on lap 10. Haas’ Mick Schumacher crashed out of the race and triggered the safety car. Both Mercedes pitted immediately under the safety car with Leclerc and Perez following them in. 

Verstappen stayed out and took the race lead. Despite that, Hamilton had the advantage. Since he pitted under the safety car, he now had fresh tires and could go the distance on them. Verstappen would eventually need to pit and Hamilton would retake the lead and hold onto it once he did. 

However, on lap 13, the race was red-flagged and all the drivers had to return to the pits. The tires can be changed during a red flag, which swung the advantage to Verstappen because he now led the race and had brand new tires. He led ahead of Hamilton who was in second and Bottas in third. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was in fourth after not pitting under the safety car and using the red flag to change tires. Leclerc was then in fifth followed by Perez in sixth.

The race was to resume with a standing start. Once the grid went around the track to their slots, the lights went out again with Hamilton getting a better start than Verstappen. Verstappen went wide and appeared to go off track on turn one and stayed ahead of Hamilton. At the same time, Ocon got away cleanly and passed Bottas before passing Hamilton after turn two. Not even five seconds after that, another red flag was thrown with three more retirements: Schumacher’s teammate Nikita Mazepin, Williams’ George Russell and Perez. Perez was tagged by Leclerc as he was sandwiched going into turn two. Due to Perez crashing out and debris going across the track, Mazepin rear-ended Russell and took them both out of the race.

During the second red flag session, the race director Michael Masi looked at Verstappen’s move on turn one to remain in first. Since Verstappen clearly went off the track, Masi was on the radio with Red Bull, making a deal with them that would see Verstappen go behind Hamilton. After a couple of minutes which felt like a Deal or No Deal segment, Red Bull accepted the deal and Verstappen restarted the race in third behind Hamilton, promoting Ocon into first. 

Once again, it was a standing start. Both Hamilton and Verstappen had a better start than Ocon when the lights went out for the third time. Verstappen went to the inside and retook the lead with Hamilton eventually passing Ocon the following lap. The two title protagonists were now in a straight battle for the win. 

Verstappen was ahead but on a softer tire than Hamilton. However, after several virtual safety car periods due to debris, Verstappen’s tires could go longer and now be in a position to finish the race. 

It all came to a head on lap 37. Hamilton lunged on the outside of turn one with the drag reduction system. However, Verstappen was later on the brakes and ended up missing the apex and had to go into the runoff area to keep his position. Since Verstappen went off track, Hamilton also did not make the full corner but made an attempt to get back onto the track at the apex. Verstappen kept the lead and now had a slightly bigger gap which was due to him going off the track.

That same lap, Verstappen was told to give the position back, but in a strategic manner. Verstappen slowed down before a drag reduction system point to give the position to Hamilton. This was so Verstappen would be behind Hamilton and would have DRS to overtake. 

However, this did not go to plan. Hamilton went into Verstappen’s back as the title rivals collided. Once Verstappen realized that he was hit, he sped up and kept his first place. Verstappen let Hamilton by on lap 42 but used the DRS to retake the lead. At this point, Verstappen was given a five-second penalty for the lap 37 incident which meant that he needed a five-second gap if he wanted to win.

Hamilton finally got ahead on lap 43 and did not look back. After 50 laps, Hamilton won one of the most chaotic races that I have ever seen with Verstappen in second and Bottas placing third, beating Ocon by a tenth for the final podium spot. Verstappen was later given a post-race 10 second penalty for the lap 42 incident, but it did not affect his second place since he was very far ahead of Bottas.

The Drivers’ Championship is tied after one of the season’s best races. Both Verstappen and Hamilton are tied on points with Verstappen ahead by winning more races in the season. This is the first time since 1974 where the gap is at zero points. 

It is a straight battle in the finale. They only need to beat each other to win the title. It is as simple as that, finish ahead of your rival to win it all. Mercedes extended their lead over Red Bull in the Constructors, and with Perez not scoring anything, now have a 28 point advantage. 

The next and final race is this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. After a season like this, expect the finale to have both sets of drivers giving it their all to win the championship.