F1 – Saudi Arabian GP – Race
Ahlan, MiniFans! Qualifying didn’t exactly go as planned for Verstappen, but the three Formula 2 races we have seen this weekend have shown that chaos is likely to happen, as we witnessed three safety cars and two red flags. The Red Bull driver, whose gearbox ended up not being damaged after yesterday’s crash, needs to pull off his best driving in order not to lose his tiny gap to Hamilton, but Mercedes locked out the first row and will not make it easy for him.
In a show of precision, the start was cleaner than anyone expected, save for some small touches here and there. The five first positions remained in the same hands, but behind them, the pack fought among themselves in the initial laps, but, as soon as gaps we settled, not even the DRS could help, due to most cars being more than a second away from the one in front. In the midfield, Alonso started getting overtaken by a bunch of rivals, signalling a possible problem with either his tyres or his car. A crash by Mick Schumacher, very similar to Leclerc’s on Friday, prompted the first safety car of the race which, in turn, made drivers start to pit. The surprise was Verstappen, who did not box for fresh tyres, a bet being placed on his pace against Hamilton’s need to take care of his tyres to the end of the race. This predicament changed massively when the race was red flagged, as the tecpro barriers had been damaged in the crash and needed more time and space than what the safety car could give them.
Under the current rules, cars are allowed to change tyres under red flags, so Verstappen got fresh hard tyres, as did most of the grid, and they all settled in the pit lane in the order they’d take the start in. Hamilton asked for clarifications on the situation and was clearly not happy with it, but he had no choice but to accept it. When the barriers were finally taken care of, the cars were led to the grid for a standing start, among radio complaints by both Hamilton, about Verstappen doing a practice start in the pit lane, and Verstappen, about Hamilton being more than ten car lengths behind. When the lights turned off, Hamilton managed to overtake Verstappen, something that angered the Dutch driver, who ended up overtaking him outside of track limits. Trying not to collide into each other, they separated enough for Ocon to fly through and settle in second. However, a second red flag, caused by multiple cars crashing, allowed for time to settle and negotiate. This time, it was Pérez crashing in between the sea of midfielders, as well as Mazepin crashing into the back of a slowed down Russell. Meanwhile, Bottas had saved a certain collision into the back of Verstappen’s car in the first turn.
In an unprecedented turn of events, Michael Masi, the race director, made offers to both Mercedes and Red Bull to accept a settlement of sorts for the starting race positions to avoid it going to the stewards. Both teams accepted Ocon on pole, while Hamilton would be second and Verstappen would be dropped to third place. For the third start, Red Bull decided on mediums for Verstappen, unsettling Hamilton, who needed reassurance from his team that their choice of hards was the right one. This time, the kick off was the cleanest of the three, and Verstappen took advantage of his medium tyres and overtook both Hamilton and Ocon in one swift movement. Ocon’s tyre touched Hamilton’s front tyre, but it seemed as if nothing was damaged because he easily went past him and snagged the fastest lap to start hunting Verstappen down. Yet another crash halted the race, but a brief virtual safety car was enough for marshals to remove the bits of Tsunoda’s front wing that were left on the outside of turn 2 from colliding into Vettel and which turned into a 5-second penalty for the Alpha Tauri.
One more virtual safety car was deployed to recover even more bits of car, this time from Vettel’s car, who this time had the side of his car mangled up by Raikkonen. Most of it was not collected and a “slippery surface” notice was issued before complaints by drivers about the debris came over the radio and yet another virtual safety car was implemented, although Alonso was calling for a real safety car. Once it was over, barely a lap had gone by before another one was deemed necessary because one more piece of car needed to be removed from the track.
When this last one was over, Hamilton finally managed to get close enough to try and overtake him, but Verstappen’s car slid in the corner entrance. This one could be excused, but the following action, once he was told by his team to give the position back, was not, as he slowed down in front of Hamilton and he managed to avoid a big crash by turning just enough to only damage his front wing. With the incident under investigation, it took Verstappen many laps to let Hamilton pass, but he overtook him on the following corner. He was eventually given a five-second penalty for gaining an advantage off track, but the other incident would be fully investigated after the race. Hamilton overtook him once again and it stuck this time, with the British driver finally peeling away and winning a race that had looked out of reach during the first red flag.
The race had been predicted to be an incident filled one and it did not disappoint in that sense. Plenty of safety cars, both real and virtual, and red flags stopped the racing more than they allowed it to resume, but the prediction went askew when it came to the top dogs. After the first red flag, it all seemed lost for Mercedes, but nothing is decided until the checkered flag is waved and the story twisted and turned until they came out on top, with a victory and a third place achieved in extremis over the finish line, while Verstappen was stuck in second in between them. The championship now goes to the last race of the season with the two main competitors tied in points and allowing the final event to be the one deciding who comes out on top with the driver’s title.