In another good affair for what Formula 1 is in 2022, the Saudi Arabian GP offered up some closely contested contests. Whether it be between drivers or teams, there was some good racing in Jeddah and proved that these cars are much better at following than previous years.
The race start was clean as everyone got away, not too many position changes, but Kevin Magnussen made his way up to ninth, while Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo each made up a place from their starting positions. Max Verstappen also got past Carlos Sainz to take third into turns 1 and 2. Zhou Guanyu fell five places from his starting position.
Lando Norris took tenth on the beginning of lap 2 from Pierre Gasly into turn 1. Come the end of lap three George Russell overtook Esteban Ocon at the final corner to take fifth, which like the last race was the best Mercedes could really do as they do not have the pace of Ferrari or Red Bull at this point in the season.
Lap five and Ocon and teammate Fernando Alonso were battling over sixth, but almost collided with each other because of a late defensive move from Ocon but both drivers avoided it. Two laps later Alonso again went for another attempt at an overtake, this time getting past his teammate up into sixth. While this was going on Charles Leclerc was keeping Verstappen at bay by about 1.5 seconds, but also extending his lead a little bit as well.
The following lap Ocon came back at Alonso into turn one but went a little bit too deep into the corner and cut turn 2, ending when he needed to give the place back to Alonso after gaining an advantage off track. The Alpine’s fighting all led to both Valtteri Bottas and Magnussen catching up to the back of the Alpine battle for sixth.
Hamilton was slowly making his way up the field as by lap ten he had made up four places but struggling with the Mercedes power. At the same time Sainz was dropping back from Verstappen, not by much, but enough for a decent gap to form.
In a little repeat of lap eight, Ocon tried the same move on Alonso, only for the Spaniard to come back and regain the position. It was a brilliant bit of racing from the Alpine drivers thus far. Meanwhile Hamilton was now up to tenth, who had gotten past Norris and Gasly.
On lap fifteen race leader Sergio Perez came into the pits for a set of hard tyres, after Ferrari said they would pit Leclerc, Leclerc was doing the opposite to Perez, meaning he would stay out. Just a lap later, Nicholas Latifi would have a crash on the exit of the final corner, causing a safety car, which meant Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz could all benefit from pitting under the safety car while Perez lost out on two positions, which later turned into three as it turned out Sainz had crossed the safety car line before Perez when exiting the pits which meant third was meant to be Sainz’s position, so on the restart, Perez was told to give the position back to Sainz.
After the restart Hamilton was up to seventh after many drivers pitted under the safety car, Russell got past Magnussen into turn one. Hamilton on lap twenty-two, was trying to get past Magnussen, but Magnussen also had not pitted yet. While this was going on Leclerc built his gap bit by bit again from 1.2 seconds over Verstappen, Perez was also holding onto the gap from Sainz for third.
Lap twenty-three seen Hamilton overtake Magnussen into the final corner, only for Magnussen to come back with DRS and retake the position.
In the earlier pit stops, Zhou had a five second penalty to take, and at his pit stop, it appeared as though he did. However, it turned out he had not taken the full five seconds which the FIA then gave him a drive through penalty.
As the battle for the lead was still very much alive, once the gap was around the 1.5 second mark, it remained around that mark. Lap thirty-five it was now Alonso who tried to get past Magnussen, in which he did into turn 1, but the Dane then got the position back after overtaking Alonso on the following lap.
Two corners later once Magnussen got back past, Alonso revealed power loss, just after that, Ricciardo lost drive down at the final corner and the car stopped just shy of the pit entry. Bottas ended up being forced to retire as well. Both Magnussen and Hulkenberg then pitted, during the Hulkenberg pitstop, race control had closed the pit lane, as Ricciardo’s McLaren was in the way of the pit lane entry. This then caused a virtual safety car, therefore neutralising the race for the time being.
Lap forty-one the virtual safety car ended which meant the pit lane was now opened which gave Hamilton the chance to finally pit. This cost him places which by the time he came out he was sitting down in twelfth, albeit on fresh mediums.
After the virtual safety car the battle for the lead hotted up with Verstappen now right on the tail of Leclerc, at the end of lap forty-two Verstappen took the lead into the final corner but as seen so often in the race, Leclerc then took the lead back into turn 1. Then at the end of the following lap does not go for the move into the final corner but Leclerc ends up trying to be behind Verstappen before the DRS detection point. They both lock up into the corner and gave Leclerc the chance to have a great exit as he was on the racing line.
A few laps went by and Verstappen had lost some time to Leclerc but gained it back and on lap forty-seven was the moment Verstappen finally took the lead into turn 1, so the lead was still to play for with only four laps to go.
On lap forty-nine, Lance Stroll and Alex Albon had a collision going into turn 1. This basically ended Albon’s race and ended a chance at Stroll getting anything from the race. This resulted in not only a three-place grid penalty for the next race for Albon, to be applied at the Australian Grand Prix, but also 2 penalty points on his super licence.
The end of the race seen a possible chance at a Leclerc comeback, but it wasn’t to be as Max Verstappen took victory in Saudi Arabia, giving Red Bull their first points this season after the double DNF last time out. Sainz held off Perez to gain third, while Russell managed fifth. Ocon and Norris fought it out to the line but Ocon just finished ahead of Norris to get sixth.
Nevertheless, it gave McLaren their first points finish this season in a better showing than last weekend. Gasly finished eighth, followed by Magnussen in ninth and Hamilton rounding out the top ten.
All this allowed McLaren to move up to eighth in the constructors. Ferrari now have a forty point lead up top. Red Bull move to within a point of Mercedes who are in second, while Alpine are fourth. And only two teams now who have yet to score with those being Aston Martin and Williams.
As far as the drivers’ championship, Leclerc leads the way with a thirteen point gap on teammate Sainz, followed by Verstappen in third and Russell in fourth.
In what was an eventful weekend it sure gave some entertaining racing and a couple of surprises, but with a two-week gap until the Australian GP, it will be interesting to see if Mercedes can improve their pace and if McLaren can improve once again. But if the first two races are anything to go by, it could be another exciting race in two weeks’ time.
1 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 2 – Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 3 – Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 4 – Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 5 – George Russell (Mercedes) 6 – Esteban Ocon (Alpine) 7 – Lando Norris (McLaren) 8 – Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) 9 – Kevin Magnussen (Haas) 10 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 11 – Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) 12 – Nico Hulkenberg (Aston Martin) 13 – Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) 14 – Alex Albon (Williams) DNF – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) DNF – Fernando Alonso (Alpine) DNF – Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) DNF – Nicholas Latifi (Williams) DNS – Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri)