Verstappen outsmarts Leclerc in Saudi thriller

Max Verstappen beat Charles Leclerc by 0.5s in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

A canny DRS battle was settled in favour of Max Verstappen over Charles Leclerc in a thrilling climax to the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The pair were locked together for much of the final 10 laps, engaging in a strategic battle with the DRS detection line into the final corner.

Verstappen ultimately got the better of it, winning by just 0.549s after 50 laps of racing.

Pole-sitter Sergio Perez fell to fourth after being dealt an unlucky hand with the timing of a Safety Car just after his pit stop, Carlos Sainz completing the podium.

Perez held the lead into the first corner, Verstappen rounding Sainz at Turn 2 to slot into third place with Leclerc in second.

In the pack Zhou Guanyu was slow to get away before getting pinched on the apex of the opening corner where he fell to the back of the pack.

By the time DRS was activated, Perez had pulled more than a 1.5s advantage over Leclerc, who had Verstappen tucked up underneath his rear wing.

A moment between the two Alpines nearly saw Fernando Alonso in the pit wall as they began Lap 5.

In the slipstream, Alonso moved left, Esteban Ocon closing what sliver of a door had been left opened.

Next time around, the pair battled again, Alonso looking to go the long way around but was easily fended off by the Frenchman.

At the third time of asking, the move was made with Alonso passing into the first turn, squeezing Ocon out at Turn 2.

The battle wasn’t over, however, as Ocon looked to reclaim the spot a lap later, skating through the run off at Turn 1.

He gained an advantage and didn’t immediately hand that back, doing so some half a lap later and almost allowing Valtteri Bottas through as he did so.

They were scrapping over sixth, a four-car chain developing with Bottas and Kevin Magnussen joining the fray.

Daniel Ricciardo pitted after 10 laps, dropping to last as he swapped onto the hard compound tyre.

The Alpine battle continued, Ocon again running off the road at Turn 1 as they began Lap 12 after which he was instructed to hold position behind his team-mate.

He then almost immediately lost a spot to Bottas, who used DRS to cruise by the Frenchman to claim seventh as they began Lap 14.

At the end of Lap 15, Perez headed to the lane. Ferrari had instructed Leclerc to pit only for him to remain on track and claim the race lead.

Moments later, Nicholas Latifi found the wall exiting the final turn, affording those who hadn’t stopped a cheap pit stop as the Safety Car was deployed.

The pit lane was predictably a hive of activity; Leclerc, Verstappen, and Sainz all boxing, the pole-sitter remaining on track and slotting in behind his Red Bull team-mate.

He did so by elbowing his way ahead of Sainz as the Spaniard exited the pits.

There was little between the pair as they both crossed the Safety Car line, though it was the Ferrari which should have been third and not Perez.

The Safety Car released the field at the start of Lap 21.

Leclerc kept the speed low until the final corner, getting the jump on acceleration to head the field into the first corner.

Behind the leaders, George Russell made a move on Magnussen to claim fifth while out of Turn 3 Perez handed third back to Sainz.

Lewis Hamilton got by Magnussen into the final corner on Lap 23, the Haas driver using DRS down the front straight to reclaim the place with ease.

Next time around, the opportunity again presented itself for the Mercedes driver to make the move into the final corner.

He didn’t take it, preferring to sit in Magnussen’s slipstream before using DRS down the front straight to steal away the place.

Neither had stopped, having started the race on the hard compound tyres.

Out front, Leclerc had pulled out a 1.4s advantage over Verstappen, Sainz a further 3.4s back in third, and Perez fourth, 7.3s off the leader.

With the head of the race settled, attentions were focused down the order, with Alonso passing Magnussen to claim seventh as they began Lap 35.

The pair then reversed places next time around, Alonso quickly slowing with an overheating warning on his dash.

Moments later, Ricciardo also slowed, stopping just metres short of pit entry, reporting no drive.

It took an age for race control to make a call, covering Ricciardo with double yellow flags before the Virtual Safety Car was deployed and the pit entry closed.

As that was happening, Alfa Romeo Sauber retired Bottas from the race.

Racing resumed on Lap 41, Mercedes immediately hauling Hamilton in for a new set of medium compound tyres with nine laps remaining. It dropped the seven-time champ behind Magnussen in 12th place.

Out front, Verstappen was within half a second of Leclerc as the lead battle closed up.

The Dutchman took the lead into the final corner on Lap 42, Leclerc tucking into the slipstream and using DRS to reclaim the spot down the front straight.

At the end of Lap 43, Verstappen was again tucked up underneath the Ferrari, the pair both locking up into the final corner, neither wanted to lead as they crossed the DRS detection point.

Leclerc ultimately did, but accelerated hard to pull far enough clear to be out of reach be the end of the front straight.

The pair remained close, Verstappen easily within DRS range but not quite close enough to make a move for the next two laps.

On Lap 46, the leaders were locked together. Verstappen this time held back into the final turn, using DRS down the front straight to claim the race lead.

Though he’d lost the spot, Leclerc remained in DRS range, and though he closed in the Red Bull ahead he was unable to make a move.

The Ferrari driver again had DRS as they started Lap 49, but yellow flags cruelled his chance of having a look.

Alex Albon had come together with Lance Stroll, the Williams sustaining damage to the left-front and limping as a result.

Leclerc again had DRS at the end of Lap 49, closing on the Red Bull into Turn 1 for the final time.

He wasn’t close enough to make a move, staying in line as he looked to remain in touching distance of Verstappen.

Into the final sector, Leclerc had DRS but wasn’t close enough, Verstappen holding on to win the race to the line by 0.5s.

Sainz completed the podium with Perez fourth, the points rounded out by Russell, Ocon, Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly, Magnussen, and Hamilton.

Results: Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Pos Num Driver Team Laps/Diff
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 50
2 16 Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari +0.549s
3 55 Carlos Sainz Scuderia Ferrari +8.097s
4 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing +10.800s
5 63 George Russell Mercedes-AMG F1 Team +32.732s
6 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine F1 Team +56.017s
7 4 Lando Norris McLaren F1 Team +56.124s
8 10 Pierre Gasly Scuderia AlphaTauri +62.946s
9 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team +64.308s
10 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes-AMG F1 Team +73.948s
11 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo F1 Team +82.215s
12 27 Nico Hulkenberg Aston Martin F1 Team +91.742s
13 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin F1 Team +1 lap
14 23 Alex Albon Williams Racing DNF
15 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo F1 Team DNF
16 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine F1 Team DNF
17 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1 Team DNF
18 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams Racing DNF
19 22 Yuki Tsunoda Scuderia AlphaTauri DNS

Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship

Pos Driver Points
1 Charles Leclerc 45
2 Carlos Sainz 33
3 Max Verstappen 25
4 George Russell 22
5 Lewis Hamilton 16
6 Esteban Ocon 14
7 Sergio Perez 12
Kevin Magnussen
9 Valtteri Bottas 8
10 Lando Norris 6
11 Pierre Gasly 4
Yuki Tsunoda
13 Fernando Alonso 2
14 Zhou Guanyu 1

Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship

Pos Team Points
1 Scuderia Ferrari 78
2 Mercedes-AMG F1 Team 38
3 Red Bull Racing 37
4 Alpine F1 Team 16
5 Haas F1 Team 12
6 Alfa Romeo F1 Team 9
7 Scuderia AlphaTauri 8
8 McLaren F1 Team 6

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