Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were at the centre of controversy during yesterday’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The tight streets of the Jeddah Corniche circuit gave no room for any error and allowed for little room for overtaking bar one or two areas. In fact, it might not even be too far to say that this is one of the most dangerous track’s that Formula 1 has ever raced on.
But regardless of opinions regarding the track itself, the race yesterday was certainly full of drama and controversy, something that has elevated this season into becoming F1’s most memorable season ever.
And the two leading that the line for that claim are the two championship front-runners Verstappen and Hamilton.
The pair were embroiled in drama from the first lap, with Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas managing to forge a comfortable enough lead ahead of the Red Bull that would have certainly meant to end to the Contructor’s Championship battle as well.
But no one gambled on Mick Schumacher’s loss of the rear end causing a red flag. The Haas driver’s car was found to have punctured the protective barriers around the track, so stewards deemed it necessary to stop the session. Mercedes by this time had already pitted and changed both of their drivers’ tyre compounds, switching onto the hard compound to complete the race.
Verstappen had instead opted to keep his mediums and gain track position, a move that worked well for him as the red flag hit (drivers are allowed to change their tyres under red flag conditions so any time lost from a pit stop was negated).
Then the race got restarted, and this is where things started to get nasty. Hamilton got away brilliantly, beating his rival into the first corner but was forced wide at turn two after Verstappen re-entered the track in an unsafe manner, cutting the corner to do so.
Two restarts with two very different dramatic outcomes 💥#SaudiArabianGP 🇸🇦 #F1 pic.twitter.com/U58wV9AK6e
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 5, 2021
The race was stopped again straight away with a crash further behind them that saw three drivers crash out of the session, including Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez.
Race director Michael Masi ordered Verstappen to give the position back to Hamilton, but Alpine driver Esteban Ocon has profited from the earlier skirmish and would now sit on pole on the second restart, ahead of Hamilton and the punished Verstappen.
On the restart, Verstappen on new mediums got off to a flyer, completing a double overtake to wrestle first place back into his hands.
Then came the real controversy, after Hamilton caught up to the Dutchman and attempted to overtake at Turn 1, Verstappen was once again deemed guilty of impeding Hamilton, who by all rights had the corner due to his car’s positioning being in front of the Red Bull at the turn’s apex.
He was then ordered to give the position back, but miscommunication between the race directors and stewards nearly saw a fatal collision on track as Verstappen slowed down in front of Hamilton on the back straight and was later deemed to have slowed down erratically. But whose fault this was remains the subject of intense debate from each side.
A standout moment in the 2021 championship 👀#SaudiArabianGP 🇸🇦 #F1 pic.twitter.com/6oFiWo0JU8
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 6, 2021
Red Bull were once again ordered to give Hamilton the position back, as per the drive off at Turn 1 a few laps prior.
Thereafter it was relatively smooth sailing for Hamilton, who picked up three back-to-back wins for the first time this season and took his total to eight, despite picking up wing damage from Verstappen when they came together.
What’s remarkable is that Hamilton was able to set new fastest laps and was, therefore, able to gain an extra point, which now draws the pair level on points for the final race of the season, the first and only time this has happened in F1 since 1974, when Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni duked it out.
Behind all of this, Bottas pipped Ocon on the line to take third place for Mercedes, a potential crucial few points in the constructors’ table.
ICYMI: Our top two are TIED on points with one round to go!
Verstappen technically maintains the lead, as he has more wins (9) than Hamilton (8)#SaudiArabianGP 🇸🇦 #F1 pic.twitter.com/C201RydF4r
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 6, 2021
The race next week will effectively be a new track as well. Abu Dhabi has undergone significant changes since it was last raced on. The tight hairpin to get onto the first straight and a chicane at the end of the second DRS straight have both been removed, which should make the track even faster and afford more overtaking opportunities than before.
Whatever happens, next week will be the final round of this thrilling round 22 epic blockbuster. It can’t come soon enough.