Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won an epic battle over Charles Leclerc in Saudi Arabia as Carlos Sainz completed the podium behind his Ferrari teammate – as leader Sergio Perez had to settle for fourth after being impacted ahead of the pivotal safety car.
Perez advanced until lap 16, when a Ferrari mechanical flash pushed Red Bull to an early stop. This proved to be unfortunate; Williams driver Nicholas Latifi crashed into the last corner on the next lap and fired the VSC and then Safety Car, with Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz all benefiting.
The Mexican was due to resume in third on lap 21 when the safety car slipped but a Sainz overtaking was found as the Spaniard exited the pits alongside Red Bull during the caution period, leaving fourth.
Another VSC appeared on lap 38 when McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo crawled to a stop at the pit exit, Fernando Alonso slowed in the Alps with a lap problem earlier – then stopped at the same spot as Ricciardo. When VSC finished at Lap 41, Verstappen was within a second of leader Leclerc – and now came the second round of their fantastic competition in 2022.
With DRS, the Dutchman went straight into the full-back on lap 42, but Leclerc came back with DRS and stuck to the front. Back on lap 43, Verstappen tried to move but snapped in unison with Ferrari in the last corner, and Ferrari kept P1.
A brief lull ensued and at the start of lap 47, before Verstappen made sure he got the DRS and the lead estimate from Leclerc, the championship leader who couldn’t turn him away this time.
Leclerc set the fastest lap with a second wind in the closing round – but Verstappen narrowly kept him at bay, ignoring the fear of a yellow flag from late Sector 1 (for a Lance Stroll-Alex Albon encounter together) to win just 0.549sec.
Red Bull Racing
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Supreme Authority for Financial Control and Accountability
|+ 8.097 seconds
Red Bull Racing
George Russell earned a P5 at Esteban Ocon’s expense, as the Alpine driver lost to Mercedes on lap 3 and then fought with his teammate Alonso (DNF) in an exciting battle at the start of the race. Ocon, pulled here at P3 in 2021, kept McLaren’s Lando Norris a tenth of a second on the line in the drag race for P6.
Pierre Gasly made up one place for the P8 for AlphaTauri, with Haas of Kevin Magnussen ninth on the grid, and Lewis Hamilton – who was unfortunate not to be able to drill during the second VSC – taking the last point from his P15 start for Mercedes.
Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo missed out on second in a row, receiving two penalties, the first for taking a corner kick in an early penalty kick with Albon and the second for failing to properly serve the penalty when pitted.
Stroll, Albon, Valtteri Bottas, Alonso and Ricciardo were the five drivers who didn’t make the flag.
Neither Mick Schumacher, who was knocked out in qualifying, nor Yuki Tsunoda, who stopped AlphaTauri due to a technical problem in his lap on the grid, started the race.
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as it happened
The second Saudi Grand Prix was never a straightforward affair, given the tight restrictions and high speeds of this demanding new circuit. After Mick Schumacher crashed in the 33G qualifier, the barn was relieved to have him back – even if it was You will not be able to participate in the Grand Prix.
Yuki Tsunoda, who missed qualifying and was due to start in 19th place, stopped his laps to the grid with a propulsion system issue and went out to terminate his participation prematurely.
So 18 cars lined up on the grid, Sergio Perez in pole position for the first time ahead of Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz (an electric part in his car, thought to be a wiring loom, needs replacing before the race) and Max Verstappen sharing the second row, and Esteban Ocon’s George Russell drove from the third grade.
For the Scuderia, the lack of long-term training over the weekend has them racing into unknown territory. Kevin Magnussen (P10), Lewis Hamilton (P15) and Nico Hulkenberg (P17) were the only three drivers to start with solid tyres, the rest on media.
The lights went out in 2000 local time, and the second round of the match between Red Bull and Ferrari was underway. Perez drove Leclerc off the goal line, and Verstappen had a lead over Sainz in P3 from Turn 2 – while Ocon kept Russell behind until the last corner match on lap 3.
Moreover, Kevin Magnussen knocked out Pierre Gasly’s P9, who then lost another place to Lando Norris, and Zhou Guanyu dropped to 17th just ahead of Nicholas Latifi, with Lewis Hamilton finishing 14th – but complained of a “lack of grip.” On his solid chariot. Ocon had a difficult moment on the straight line, almost forcing his teammate Fernando Alonso into the hurdles at the start of lap 5.
This set off an in-team battle for P6 between the Alps, and Alonso was eager for success while the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix winner put his elbows on until the start of lap 7, when he finally succumbed to the second turn. Beginning lap 8, Alonso passed off the track and took the place back – allowing Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen to join the train from P9-P6, Bottas eventually making it to P7 when Ocon was asked to back off his teammate.
Meanwhile, Sainz began losing touch with the top three, Perez created a gap in the lead, while Verstappen held steady in third as he stalked Leclerc’s heels. Who runs the hack and pry open the hole window?
Despite the Red Bull in the hole, Red Bull took the plunge first on lap 16 and put Perez in the box – changing from medium to hard – with the Mexican emerging fifth behind Russell. Fortune wasn’t in Perez’s line as Nicholas Latifi, in the P18, crashes out of the last corner and knocks out a virtual safety car – sending the rivals into a tailspin. Soon the safety car appeared, and Leclerc drove Verstappen, Perez, Sainz and Russell on the train.
Hamilton had been climbing steadily, taking P12 from Stroll on lap 10 and then P11 from Norris, with Gasly afterwards hitting the points on lap 15 without too much trouble. The champ did not swing seven times through the safety car, which saw him move up to seventh behind Magnussen (who also refused to go in at the time) for the restart—which happened at Lap 21—with everyone now in the hard compound.
On lap 21, the safety car entered, Leclerc crawled out from the last corner and then sped away from Verstappen while Perez gave P3 to Sainz to avoid a penalty, after Mexican Sainz (who was coming out of the pit) illegally passed during the caution period.
Hamilton tried to take Magnussen’s P6 in the last corner at the start of lap 24 but the Haas driver took the place back with the DRS, and with ease. The Briton didn’t make the same mistake next time, holding the DRS to pass Magnussen into Turn 1.
Back in front, Leclerc was out of the DRS as the pointer approached lap 30 of 50 but Verstappen started to over speed – the Ferrari driver responded with his own lap to keep the top four as they have been since the restart.
Magnussen still didn’t get off on lap 35, and lost P7 to Alonso as a result, but shortly thereafter the Alpine driver slowed down. Did he have a problem with his car? He answered his radio message “No electricity,” as instructions to “cool the car” were handed out on the dashboard.
Right after Alonso’s problem became apparent, Ricciardo was next to come in for a crop, the McLaren driver crawling to a stop at the pit entrance – then Bottas was taken to the pits with a problem for Alfa Romeo. The resulting VSC propelled Norris and Gasly into the top ten and pushed hardcore beginners Magnussen and Hulkenberg to dig. Hamilton was called up too but the call came too late; He pushed Alonso to close the pit lane as he also crawled to a stop at the entrance.
“Are we in trouble or not?” asked Hamilton, rolling in P6 on lap 39. He had a 13sec advantage over Ocon but couldn’t capitalize on that with the pit lane closed. VSC finished on lap 41, Hamilton came right after that for a new set of modes – with a slow stop – to emerge in twelfth place.
Verstappen pounced under VSC, his solid chariots straight out the window, and closed the Dutchman within a second of Leclerc as Lap 41 started – and took the lead on his straight back. But Leclerc responded, deepening into Turn 1 with the DRS and holding onto the race lead – the duo continue their battle from Bahrain.
With the DRS again on lap 43, Verstappen tried another step for the front but this time aligned himself with Ferrari en route to the final hair turn. Champion was convinced that Leclerc had crossed the pit lane entry line coming from that corner but was soon told to “calm down” on the radio. Leclerc has had the Verstappen scale so far. In the back, Perez was approaching Sainz.
The battle for the lead continued after a very short lull, and the tires and drivers were reaching their limits. At the start of lap 47 Verstappen closed again and this time made sure he had a DRS and a good run in Turn 1. Leclerc couldn’t close him this time and now the chaser is the hunter.
Leclerc set the fastest lap and was quickly on Red Bull’s tail, and although a collision between Stroll and Albon resulted in a double yellow flag, he kept tracking. They were pushing hard, respecting and giving us another captivating show – and in the blink of an eye came the square flag. Margin of victory: 0.549 s.
Sainz finished last on the podium over Perez by just 2.7secs (both under investigation along with Magnussen for allegedly not slowing down enough under yellow of late) – while Russell finished in the top five. Meanwhile, Ocon blocked a McLaren Lando Norris P6 by just 0.107sec. Norris had started in 11th but found a strong racing pace to finish ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly – and two rookies, Magnussen (P9) and Hamilton (P10).
Missing points in P11 was Zhou Guanyu, who bounced back after the anti-stall team spoiled his start. It was soon discovered that the Chinese driver had overtaken Albon off the track early and served a five-second penalty under the safety car, a violation for which he was forced to carry out a subsequent penalty.
Nico Hulkenberg finished 12th after starting in tough competitions and pitted in the second VSC period, but was quickly overtaken by a number of drivers. He finished the race ahead of his Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll (P13, one lap), who was hit by Alex Albon’s Williams moments from the finish.
Besides Albon, there were five other DNFs: Bottas retired on lap 36 during the second VSC, Alonso a lap earlier with Ricciardo, while neither Schumacher nor Tsunoda were able to start the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix with their Haas and AlphaTauri.
“I know it was really tough, but a good race, we were struggling really hard up front, but we just tried to play the long game. They were really fast in the corners; we were fast on the straights,” said the winner, Red Bull. Max Verstappen.
“The tires were wearing out really fast. You can see at the end we were quickly going a little bit more so we tried to get past that. It wasn’t easy, I played smart tricks in the last corner but eventually I was able to move on, but even then it was constantly On the DRS and then with the yellow flags on the last lap, just knowing how much you have to lift, and what is allowed or not, it was hard.
“But I’m really happy to finally start the season.”
The Australian Grand Prix returns for the first time since 2019, scheduled for 8-10 April at the new-look Albert Park – with Max Verstappen and Red Bull now on the scoresheet but Charles Leclerc at the top of the championship.
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