F1 – Saudi Arabian GP – Race
Ahlan, MiniFans! Saturday gave us a bit of an unexpected grid for today, even with the prior knowledge of Leclerc’s ten place penalty. One gearbox change later after it was discovered to be the problem behind Verstappen’s lack of power in Q2, he would need to start from 15th, and attention will need to be divided between the front, where the Spanish speaking veterans were to fight for the lead, and the middle of the pack, where the hungry youngsters would be overtaking the pack position by position.
There were only a few outliers to the medium tyre tyranny as the cars lined up on the grid, the most notable ones were Leclerc on softs and Hamilton on hards. All eyes settled on Alonso as soon as the lights went off, due to getting a better start than Pérez and overtaking him to take the lead of the race. Right behind them, Russell managed to keep his third place, while Sainz lost fourth to Stroll. A few car pieces flew away in the middle of the pack and Piastri needed to pit to change his damaged front wing. Barely two laps in, Alonso got stuck with a five-second penalty due to not aligning the car correctly in the grid box. A couple laps later, the “natural” order came back, once Pérez could take advantage of the DRS, but the Spaniard kept close to the Red Bull, both still far ahead enough not to allow Russell the use of the DRS.
The main title contenders, Leclerc and Verstappen, were slowly but surely making their way back up the timing tower. The Ferrari was aided by his softer tyres, while the Red Bull needed to take a bit better care of his, as he had chosen the mediums. Hamilton, in an attempt to keep his place in front of Leclerc, wove on the straight, earning himself a black and white flag, letting him know he’d get a penalty if the behaviour was repeated. Back at the front, Pérez was opening the gap to Alonso lap by lap, but the Aston Martin driver was also still pulling away from Russell, albeit at a slower pace.
As its usual in tight street circuits, a full safety car was called after Stroll was asked to stop his car for an unknown issue. The Aston Martin driver managed to steer into an exit, facilitating the removal of the vehicle. The front runners, who hadn’t stopped yet, took advantage of it, bar Ferrari, who had boxed barely a handful of minutes before the safety car was thrown onto the track. Alonso fulfilled his penalty but had enough of a gap to Russell to still be in front when they started lining up behind Pérez.
The restart was tight but clean, with Hamilton managing to get in front of both Ferraris, who were sightly struggling to warm up their hards. Meanwhile, Verstappen had made it to third and overtook Alonso easily for second, knowing the Aston Martin driver wouldn’t put too much of a fight up. With Red Bull settled in first and second, Albon, fully in the middle of the pack, told his team about a brake failure. He didn’t go into boxes at the first opportunity, instead opting for cruising around the circuit at a slower speed for one extra lap to retire the car.
The race stabilized itself, with many drivers pulling personal fastest laps, with Hamilton being the biggest exception, not quite managing to keep up with his teammate, while the Red Bull guys kept stealing the fastest lap of the race away from each other. However, a handful of laps later, Verstappen complained about the driveshaft feeling weird, the exact same piece that left him out of the fight for pole position on Saturday. Even with the issue, he kept going at the same pace, and his teammate also communicated some brake problems to the team via radio.
The last ten laps saw Alonso’s pace going quicker as soon as he got told about Red Bull’s problems, but it didn’t last long. The team wasn’t too worried, so their drivers went back to pushing and slightly bickering about the fastest lap, which would determine the championship leader. Alonso maintained the gap to Russell, who got told Alonso could have another five-second penalty, which also got relayed to the Spaniard just in case. He increased the gap to five seconds just in case, while the last lap saw Verstappen getting the fastest lap, as the podium from Bahrein was repeated, but with a slightly different order.
When a team is as dominant over the rest as Red Bull has become, there was no question whether Verstappen would make it to the top, only if team orders would be necessary if he were to get to Pérez. Even with some issues coming up in both cars near the end, the Austrian team did what was expected of them: dominate with Pérez and do a comeback with Verstappen. Meanwhile, Aston Martin is presenting a serious candidacy to the second place in the constructors’ championship, as is Alonso to the third spot in the title fight.
After the podium, Fernando Alonso received a 10 second time penalty for not serving correctly his penalty, because one of the mechanics touched the car. He lost the podium against George Russell.