F1: Saudi Arabia – Max Verstappen Takes First Win of the Season
The reigning world champion finds redemption as he beats Leclerc in a drag to the finish.
Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc once again enjoyed a feisty battle, with Verstappen coming out on top this time as he took the lead in the 47th lap, and successfully maintained his lead for the final three laps before eventually taking the chequered flag by half a second.
The race started with Sergio Perez on pole, launching off well and fending off Leclerc in second, while Verstappen gained a spot passing Carlos Sainz for third in the first turn. Perez maintained a strong pace throughout the beginning of the race, opening a gap of up to 2.5 seconds against Leclerc. In the midfield, meanwhile, the Alpine pair got involved in an increasingly intense battle, which saw Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon frequently swapping places. As the pair began defending each other aggressively and Ocon running off the track numerous times, the team ultimately ordered them to hold position as their heated duel allowed Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen to catch up.
The Ferrari strategists began communicating about their pit strategies over the radio, prompting Red Bull to bring Perez in on lap 16 in an attempt to undercut Leclerc and secure the race lead. Unluckily, Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams in the final corner of the race on the same lap which brought the VSC then Safety Car out, ultimately compromising Perez’s strategy as the top three took advantage of the Safety Car period to pit for fresh tyres, emerging in front of the Mexican. The only drivers not to box at the time were Kevin Magnussen, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg, who all started the race on hard tyres. Zhou Guanyu attempted to serve his five-second time penalty during the period, but a team error caused the penalty to be served incorrectly, eventually receiving a drive-through penalty as a result.
The race continued after five laps with Leclerc in the lead, and the top four maintained their positions as well as their pace. Hamilton meanwhile started making moves after a poor qualifying run saw him starting 15th, and he found himself up in 7th on old tyres, extending his stint in a gamble for another safety car period.
Alonso and Magnussen enjoyed a brief battle before the Spaniard eventually started losing power at the beginning of lap 38, limping his car around the circuit. Coincidentally, Daniel Ricciardo also lost power on the same lap while Bottas pulled into the pits to retire his car, and the cars of Alonso and Ricciardo ended up being parked on the pitlane entry despite their best efforts to limp into their respective garages. As Magnussen and Hulkenberg completed their stops on time, the pitlane was closed shortly after their stops, an unlucky turn of events for Hamilton who missed the opportunity to make his mandatory stop without losing significant time.
As the race restarted on lap 42, Verstappen began closing into Leclerc for the lead. Similar to Bahrain, he attempt two overtakes only to lose the lead immediately in the next DRS zone. After five more laps he eventually made a move stick after finally playing the patient game, holding position in the final corner to line up a DRS move on the Ferrari, using his Red Bull’s power to his advantage as he took the lead with three laps to go. Despite Leclerc’s best efforts to use the Dutchman’s slipstream to line up for a move, he could not overcome Red Bull’s straight line speed as Verstappen took the race win by half a second in a drag to the finish line. Carlos Sainz completed the podium, coming home eight seconds behind the winner while Sergio Perez finished 4th two seconds later after an unlucky turn of events denied him a potential victory, but a solid finish was still a relief to the team after their Bahrain misfortunes.
George Russell did the best he could on the struggling Mercedes, finishing 32.7 seconds off the race win in 5th place. Esteban Ocon came home 6th on the Alpine, another solid finish for the Enstone team while McLaren score their first points of the season with Lando Norris finishing 7th. Pierre Gasly takes the sole AlphaTauri to 8th, as his teammate Yuki Tsunoda was unable to start following a power loss in the sighting lap. Kevin Magnussen continues his points run upon his F1 return finishing 9th, and Lewis Hamilton completes the top ten, following a difficult weekend which saw him eliminated from Q1 on Saturday.
Zhou Guanyu finished 11th after a tough race plagued with two penalties, and Nico Hulkenberg was the last finisher in the lead lap. Lance Stroll and Alex Albon collided on the penultimate lap, where the Thai driver made an unsuccessful lunge in the first turn, terminally damaging his own car while Stroll cruised his damaged Aston Martin to the finish line after being lapped by the leaders and finishing last, one lap down.
The new car regulations have once again been praised by the F1 community following the electrifying battles among the drivers throughout the race, and are now keen to see how the new cars will perform in the upcoming Australian Grand Prix, as the Albert Park street circuit is a notoriously difficult overtaking track, especially on the old generation cars. It is going to be the first Australian GP since 2019, after the last two events were cancelled following complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Featured Image – Red Bull Racing, Getty Images, Peter Fox