Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will head to the final race of the Formula 1 season level on points after the Briton won the chaotic inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix in remarkable fashion.
The race featured two red flags, Virtual Safety Cars, several collisions and a penalty for the Dutchman, with Hamilton ultimately managing to turn his pole position into 25 points.
Hamilton got off the line well and maintained his advantage into Turn 1, with teammate Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen slotting in behind him. What followed from there was a chaotic race filled with drama, that gave viewers another close battle between Verstappen and Hamilton.
The two even came together, though both drivers managed to continue, with Hamilton coming out on top in the end. The Mercedes driver managed to secure an extra point for fastest lap as well, meaning the two championship rivals head to the season finale in Abu Dhabi level on points.
Schumacher brings out red flag
The drama began on Lap 10 when Mick Schumacher slammed into the barriers at Turn 23, the same corner where Charles Leclerc crashed in FP2. Mercedes opted to fit both Hamilton and Bottas with hard tyres, allowing Verstappen to take the lead after Red Bull left the Dutchman out behind the Safety Car.
The decision looked to be a poor one by Red Bull, with Verstappen needing to pull out a 20 second gap over the Mercedes cars to make the decision work. However, they were handed a reprieve on Lap 14 when the red flag came out, as race director Michael Masi felt the barriers required repairs.
This was music to Red Bull and Verstappen‘s ears, as it allowed him to be fitted with fresh tyres that would take him to the end of the race, along with track position over his championship rival.
There was further drama at the second standing start of the evening, with Hamilton flying off the line to take the lead. Verstappen fought back by cutting the corner and pushing Hamilton wide, which opened the door for Esteban Ocon to slide in behind the Red Bull and in front of the Mercedes.
However the race was quickly brought to a halt yet again when Perez was touched by Leclerc, sending the Red Bull into the wall and out of the race. Further back, George Russell, who lifted off due to the carnage in front of him, was hit from behind by Nikita Mazepin, forcing both drivers to retire.
Reshuffling sees Ocon in top spot
After much discussion between Masi and Red Bull during the red flag period, the decision was made to have Verstappen relinquish his lead given he passed Hamilton off track. This put Ocon in first ahead of Hamilton and the Red Bull driver for the third standing start, with Daniel Ricciardo and Bottas completing the top five.
This time, it was Verstappen who flew off the line and took the lead with a brave lunge into Turn 1 ahead of Ocon, who went straight across Turn 1, and Hamilton. The Briton soon made his way past the Alpine driver, setting up a battle between the two championship rivals for the rest of the race.
Yuki Tsunoda brought out the Virtual Safety Car after coming together with Sebastian Vettel at Turn 1, with the AlphaTauri driver’s front wing needing to be picked up by a marshal. Tsunoda was later handed a five-second time penalty for his effort, while Vettel came together with Kimi Raikkonen, resulting in a Virtual Safety Car due to quite a bit of debris out on track.
Hamilton and Verstappen collide
Things came to a head on Lap 37 with Hamilton in DRS range of Verstappen. The Mercedes driver pulled up alongside his rival, with Verstappen cutting across the corner to stay ahead. Hamilton pulled out to avoid a collision, with the stewards noting the incident.
Just as Red Bull told Verstappen to give the place back, Hamilton ran into the back of the leader. The collision resulted in front wing damage for Hamilton, who screamed he was brake tested over the radio.
After Verstappen let Hamilton through and then retook his position, the Dutchman was then handed a five-second time penalty for failing to cede his position for the Turn 1 incident, with the collision to be investigated after the race. Soon after Hamilton overtook Verstappen again with a brave effort, a position he didn’t cede en route to an incredible victory.
Bottas added to Mercedes‘ joy by overtaking Ocon for the final podium place at the death, with the Frenchman finishing fourth ahead of Ricciardo.