There was another thrilling and dramatic battle for the title at the 2021 Saudi Arabian F1 GP. In the end, and after two safety car interventions, two red flags, three standing starts and several virtual safety cars, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) took the win and gave yet another fiery twist to the World Championship race.
The Briton has come out on top in Jeddah and obliterated his bitter rival Max Verstappen‘s advantage in the standings. The Dutch driver, who finished in second place, was sanctioned with five seconds for defending his position in an overly aggressive way, as well as for performing some very controversial manoeuvres. After the race, he handed 10-second penalty for erratic breaking, colliding with Hamilton.
On a perfect day for the German team, Valtteri Bottas also snatched third place from Esteban Ocon (Alpine) right at the finish line, gaining Mercedes some very valuable points. This outcome, coupled with the abandonment of Checo Perez (Red Bull Racing), allowed them to increase their advantage in the Constructors’ standings to 28 points. Mercedes currently has 587.5 against the 559.5 of the Austrian team. Behind Ocon, Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) completed the top five.
It seems the enormous pressure has taken its toll on the 24-year-old Dutchman, who has been unable to take advantage of the favourable circumstances of the event. The Briton, on the other hand, used his experience and talent to bring himself level in the title race at 369.5 points.
Anecdotally, it was not since 1974 that two riders reached the last round of the World Championship with the title contenders tied n the standings, as will happen in a week’s time in Abu Dhabi.
A quiet start preludes the upcoming storm
There was a clean exit as the traffic light went out on the treacherous streets of Jeddah. Hamilton comfortably defended his first place escorted by his faithful companion Bottas. Behind the two Mercedes, which were racing 1.5 seconds apart, a cautious Verstappen held off the attack, deterred by the 220-metre distance until the first corner.
After the first ten laps, chaos broke out. An accident involving Mick Schumacher triggered the first safety car, and both the German vehicles took advantage of the circumstances to make their first pit-stop. Red Bull, however, decided on an opposite strategy, leaving Max on the track to take the lead of the race.
Just three laps after that the red flag came out and the race was stopped while repairs were carried out on the barrier damaged by the impact of the German’s Haas. That stroke of luck allowed Max to change his tyres without wasting time since the clock had stopped on the race.
Hamilton overtakes Verstappen on the second start
Hamilton overtook Verstappen on the second standing start, and the Dutchman went off the track to regain his position. The dangerous manoeuvre of re-joining the track caused Hamilton to lose second place to Ocon.
Only some moments later and a few meters behind, Leclerc and Perez lightly touched as the Mexican driver attempted a pass on the Monegasque. This caused all preceding drivers to slow down and one of them, George Russell (Williams), was then attacked by Nikita Mazepin. That chain of incidents triggered the second safety car and the second red flag in just 16 laps.
Max takes first place at the third start
Ocon, Hamilton and Verstappen occupied the first three starting places after the Dutchman had to exchange positions with the Briton when he was penalized for his previous reckless manoeuvre. On this occasion, Verstappen did perform a great start and, partly thanks to his medium compounds, devoured Hamilton and Ocon to lead the Saudi Arabian GP 2021.
Two controversial manoeuvres by ‘Mad Max’
After three virtual safety cars, Third World War came on lap 37 when Hamilton tried to overtake Verstappen on the outside. Max then stopped the Briton with a move that was deemed too aggressive and which involved him going off track. He had to return the position, but in doing so Hamilton collided with the rear of the blue car. Thankfully everyone was able to continue in the battle.
Emotions running high, Max lost his position to Hamilton five laps later (42nd) before immediately regaining it. On the 43rd tour, Hamilton would pass a withered Verstappen for good, and escape to claim his triumph. Despite his fighting spirit, nerves got the best of the Dutch warrior this time.
Images of 2021 Saudi Arabian F1 GP: Red Bull.