Hamilton wins as F1 title battle boils over
By Mat Coch
Monday 6th December, 2021 - 6:53am
Lewis Hamilton has drawn level with Max Verstappen at the head of the Formula 1 championship after winning the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
In one of the most drama-filled races on record, the two title protagonists clashed on multiple occasions, Verstappen picking up a time penalty while the pair will be investigated post-race.
Valtteri Bottas finished third in a race that was twice interrupted by red flags, and a bevy of Virtual Safety Cars.
However, the talking point was the battle between the two title protagonists as their battle stepped over the line of acceptability on multiple occasions.
From the start, Hamilton jumped well to hold the lead into the first corner, followed by Bottas and Verstappen.
Leclerc got the better of Perez as they tussled into the opening complex with the field funnelling through without incident.
A fast start for Daniel Ricciardo saw him rise to ninth by the end of the opening lap, attacking Yuki Tsunoda as they entered Turn 1 on Lap 2.
By the time DRS was enabled, Hamilton held a 1.4s advantage over Bottas, who was in turn 1.1s clear of Verstappen in third.
Perez meanwhile had slipped 5.7s down on Hamilton as he found himself tucked up underneath the rear wing of Leclerc’s Ferrari as they squabbled over fourth.
As they began Lap 8, Ricciardo used DRS to ease by Pierre Gasly down the front straight to take the place from the AlphaTauri driver.
The Safety Car was deployed when Mick Schumacher crashed heavily at Turn 22, the same place Leclerc had gone in during practice on Friday.
Mercedes pitted race leader Hamilton, an early stop after just 10 laps, followed by Bottas who looked to slow to build a gap and cover off the fact he’d of otherwise had to double stack.
Verstappen stayed out on track, taking over the lead of the race.
It was a gamble from Red Bull, especially as Hamilton emerged in second, that the Safety Car would be called again later in the race.
Mercedes’ approach was an aggressive one, Pirelli having suggested the ideal pit window to fit the hard compound tyres was between Lap 19 to 25.
After 12 laps, Red Bull’s gamble paid dividends as the red flag was shown to allow for repairs to the Tecpro barrier.
It was a call that favoured Verstappen who was able to change tyres and meet the obligation of fitting two different compounds.
Also gaining were Esteban Ocon in fourth, and Ricciardo in fifth, while Lando Norris dropped to 14th as the biggest loser from the red flag.
The stoppage lasted 18 minutes before Verstappen headed the field out of the pits around to a starting restart.
On the lap back to the grid, the Dutchman was animated on the radio, pointing out that Hamilton was not within the 10 car lengths.
Hamilton got the better start, but Verstappen ran deep, off the track before bouncing clumsily back on, forcing the Mercedes driver wide and opening the door for Ocon to claim second.
Further back, Nikita Mazepin and Perez crashed out to trigger another red flag, George Russell also eliminated less than half a lap after the restart.
Perez was squeezed and pitched into the barrier exiting Turn 3 while further back the field backed off, Mazepin left with nowhere to go as he heavily tagged the rear of the Williams.
Under the resulting stoppage, FIA race director Michael Masi offered Red Bull the opportunity to move Verstappen behind Hamilton into third for the restart.
It was an offer the team eventually accepted, after clarifying the initially confused message from Masi.
The race resumed with 35 laps to run from another standing start.
A strong get away for Verstappen saw the Red Bull driver steal the inside line and with it the race lead at the restart as the leading trio ran three-wide into the first corner.
Ocon held on to second despite bouncing over the kerbs, with Hamilton remaining third despite looking initially as though he might reclaim top spot.
The Alpine driver was easy prey at the end of the first racing lap following the restart, Lap 18 of the race, as Hamilton eased by down the front straight.
Holding a small lead, on Lap 19 Verstappen reported a lack of power, only to be told it was the battery topping up.
A mistake from Yuki Tsunoda saw him lose a spot to Sebastian Vettel, the Aston Martin sweeping across the road at Turn 2 only to knock off the AlphaTauri’s front wing.
It was a moment investigated by the stewards, who awarded Tsunoda a five-second penalty for causing a collision.
A Virtual Safety Car was called soon after in an effort to clean up some of the debris which littered the circuit.
Verstappen found himself on the road behind Kimi Raikkonen during the VSC, the Finn seemingly circulating well below the minimum time needed, allowing Hamilton to close up.
When the track went green again on Lap 33, the gap between the leaders was 2.2s, with Ocon still third 22.8s away from the head of the race.
It wasn’t long before a large piece of bodywork was on the corner in track sector nine, the Virtual Safety Car called once again on Lap 36.
Hamilton was locked onto the rear wing of Verstappen as the track went green once more, half a lap later.
He started Lap 37 with DRS, the pair going side-by-side into Turn 1.
Verstappen went deep, the back of the Red Bull breaking traction and forcing him into the run off to hold on to the spot.
The Dutchman was instructed to give the position to Hamilton, slowing to do so only for the Mercedes driver to run into the back of the Red Bull.
It damaged the front wing of the W12, and lifted Verstappen’s car, a moment investigated by the stewards.
While that was going on, Ricciardo and Bottas found themselves locked in battle.
The Finn made the move only to be repassed by the McLaren soon after, though he couldn’t hold on.
Using DRS down the front straight, Bottas eased by down the front straight to claim fourth place.
On Lap 42, Verstappen let Hamilton back through into the final corner, only to take the place back immediately.
As that happened, he was handed a five-second penalty for leaving the road and gaining a lasting advantage for the Turn 1 incident earlier.
No sooner had that happened did officials announce that the Turn 27 incident would be investigated post-race.
Hamilton then got up the inside of Hamilton on Lap 43 to claim the lead, Verstappen seemingly letting him through.
In making the move, the Brit looked to force the title rival off the road, for which he was warned for unsportsmanlike conduct by race control.
Running second, Verstappen’s pace disappeared as he quickly fell more than four seconds away from the leader.
Awkwardly, Ocon in third was within the Dutchman’s pit window, prohibiting him from taking to the lane.
Out front, and carrying damage to his front wing end plate, Hamilton was setting fastest lap after fastest lap.
Hamilton took maximum points for the race, plus the bonus point for fastest lap, to draw level in championship terms with second-placed Verstappen.
Bottas won the drag race to the line to beat Ocon to the final podium position, making for a Mercedes one-three.
Riccairdo was fifth ahead of Gasly, the Ferraris of Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, Antonio Giovinazzi, and Norris rounding out the top 10.
Results: Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
|1||44||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||50 laps|
|2||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||+21.825s|
|6||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlphaTauri||+41.613s|
|9||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+58.505s|
|11||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+77.212s|
|13||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine||+1 lap|
|14||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Scuderia AlphaTauri||+1 lap|
|15||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+1 lap|
|16||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||DNF|
|17||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||DNF|
|2||Red Bull Racing||559.5|