In the weekend just gone, we witnessed a historically chaotic and intense round in Jeddah for the penultimate race of the season.
We start, as we always do, in Q1, on another new track, meaning that just like Qatar, there was potential for some shock exits. First, the Haas pair of Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher ended up P20 and P19 respectively. Next up, came the Aston Martin’s of Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel in P18 and P17, with the first Williams of Nicholas Latifi, claiming P16.
Q2 saw a different kind of drama, with Carlos Sainz of Ferrari spinning after riding too much curb at Turn 11 before clipping his rear wing off the wall at Turn 12. With his team unable to tend to his minor damages, Sainz suffered another wobble on his final run at the same corner, leaving him P15. Ahead of him, was the second Williams of George Russell. With the majority of drivers choosing to run the Medium compound, this opened the door for some of the slower cars to have the opportunity to have a rare appearance in Q3. This left the Alpine of Fernando Alonso in P13, behind the Alpha Romero of Kimi Raikkonen (P12), making his 9th appearance in Q2, and matching his joint-highest qualifying result of the season. P11 was taken by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. Raikkonen may have felt aggrieved to have missed out on his first Q3 appearance, as on his final run, he clipped the front wing of Valterri Bottas’ Mercedes, potentially ruining his run.
Moving into Q3, we saw all the drivers return to the Soft compound tyre. Throughout the initial stages, Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen were trading places at the top of the timesheets. Further back, Antonio Giovinazzi claimed P10 in his second-last race for Alpha Romero. Esteban Ocon in his Alpine took P9, behind the first Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda claiming P8. McLaren’s Lando Norris took P7, less than a tenth of a second behind Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez came next (P5), around a tenth behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Hamilton had Provisional Pole, ahead of both his teammate and his Championship rival. On his final flying lap, Verstappen was around 3 tenths faster than Hamilton through the first 2 sectors, and was set to take Pole by almost half a second, however, on the exit of the final corner, he locked his front tyres, and ended up knocking his rear right tyre off the wall, breaking his suspension, and leaving him behind both the Mercedes in P3, with Bottas in P2, and Hamilton taking Pole for the second consecutive race.
Before the race, there were doubts that Verstappen would make the grid without needing to change his gearbox, however, these worries were dispelled when Red Bull announced that they would be able to start with the same gearbox, meaning he would start P3, instead of changing it, and starting 5 places further back due to a penalty for breaking parce ferme conditions.
Lining up on the grid, only one driver had on the Softs, Lando Norris. With the heat of the track, it is safe to say that the Mclaren man would be needing to pit almost immediately.
As the five lights go out and the race begins, the top 3 getaway well, holding their positions. Behind, Perez passes Leclerc heading down to Turn 1, but locks up his front tyres, almost going into the back of his teammate, and loses the position to Leclerc. Further back, Norris can put his tyres to good use, passing Gasly before the first corner. Ocon also attempts a move around the outside of Tsunoda, but is squeezed to the wall. Ricciardo also was able to climb to P9 on the Hard compound tyres. Looking to the back of the grid, both the Astons had progressed to P15 (Vettel) and P16 (Stroll).
By Lap 4, Tsunoda had fallen to P13, behind the likes of Ricciardo, Raikkonen and even Sainz. By Lap 8, Sainz was able to pass Alonso for P11. Ahead, Ricciardo picks off Gasly for P8, and it takes until Lap 10 for Sainz to pass Giovinazzi for P10, and the first car to hit the wall at Turn 23 and retire was the Haas of Schumacher. This brought out the Safety Car, which triggers both Mercedes to pit, putting on the Hard tyres, hoping they will last until the end of the race. Verstappen decides to stay out on the Medium. On the way to the pits, Verstappen was complaining that Bottas was going too slow in an attempt to give Mercedes enough time to pit both himself, and Hamilton on the same lap. By Lap 11, Leclerc, Perez, Norris and Alonso, all for the Hard compound of the tyre.
It takes until Lap 13 for the race to be Red Flagged, meaning it had been halted, making the Safety Car bring all the drivers into the pits, allowing them all to change tyres. This gave Verstappen the advantage over the Mercedes, as they had a pit, and came out behind the Red Bull. It took around 20 minutes under the Red Flag to repair the barriers and remove the abandoned Haas, which gave all the teams plenty of time to strategize the rest of the race. Those that benefitted behind the race leaders, were Ricciardo (who found himself up in P5), Sainz (who was in P9), and Vettel (who was in P13).
As the five lights went out and the race resumed, Hamilton got away brilliantly getting ahead of Verstappen before Turn 1, however, the Dutchman refused to cede the position, trying to stay alongside the Merc, but ends up taking the small run-off area before climbing the curb and returning to the track, almost perpendicular to where he was meant to be going, cutting off Hamilton and maintaining the lead. This was a contentious moment for sure, however, this was quickly forgotten, as further back, Perez found himself facing backwards at Turn 3 after being clipped on the rear left tyre by Leclerc, who he had squeezed into the wall, seemingly by accident. Further back, Russell, in an attempt to avoid the spinning Red Bull, put on the breaks, before the unsighted Mazepin went right into the back of him, destroying both cars, bringing out another Red Flag.
During this stoppage, Race Director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the opportunity to start P3, behind both Hamilton (who would start P2) and Ocon (who would start P1), as he was able to take advantage of the chaos, sneaking ahead of both Mercedes. Replays showed that Bottas locked up going into Turn 1, almost rear-ending Verstappen.
As the drivers line up for another standing start, Verstappen has put on a set of Mediums, in an attempt to get off the line much better than he had previously. As the lights go out, Hamilton was able to get away better than Ocon, and the two end up going into Turn 1 side-by-side. As the Merc tries to muscle its way past the Alpine, he leaves just enough room down the inside for Verstappen, who is able to make a fantastic overtake on both those who he had started behind. Ocon is forced to cut across the runoff of Turn 1 to avoid some serious contact with Hamilton and ends up remaining ahead of the Brit. Later in the lap, Tsunoda (who had also put on a set of Mediums) made a beautiful overtake on Leclerc (who had stayed on the Hards), going around the outside of the banked Turn 13.
By the following lap (Lap 18), Hamilton was able to breeze past Ocon on the start-finish straight. With all the chaos that has spanned just a handful of laps, the back end of the points stood as Gasly (P6), Giovinnazi (P7), Vettel (P8), Tsunoda (P9) and Leclerc (P10). On Lap 23, Tsunoda goes straight at Turn 1 after battling Vettel, breaking his front wing, and giving himself a hard task to try and get back to the pits. With his wing left behind on the track, the VSC was brought out, allowing some of the standing marshals to run onto the track and remove it. Vettel, who also had damage, was falling down the order to P11, behind both Ferrari’s.
As the VSC ends on Lap 24, the gap between Verstappen and Hamilton was just over a second, with a further 12 seconds between Hamilton and Ocon. Alonso was the next driver to have a spin on Lap 26, dropping to P15. On the following lap, Tsunoda received a 5 second time penalty for his earlier collision with Vettel. By lap 28, Raikkonen has been to the pits for a new front wing following another tangle with Vettel. With another driver being forced to drop down the order due to damage, this promoted Stroll into the points (P10). All these collisions led to a lot of debris littered throughout the track and its 27 corners. This brought out a second VSC on Lap 29, lasting until Lap 33. This didn’t last long, as the VSC was brought out momentarily on Lap 36.
On Lap 37, Hamilton was within DRS range of Verstappen and was going for an overtake around the outside of the Red Bull at Turn 1. Verstappen was unable to make the corner, escaping using the runoff, and forcing Hamilton to pull out, allowing the Dutchman to remain in the lead. By the end of the lap, Red Bull had ordered their man to give up the position instead of facing a penalty. Verstappen had slowed down on the back straight to let Hamilton through, although, the Mercedes man remained just behind his championship rival, likely waiting until he had passed the DRS detection zone which would have allowed him to have DRS along the start-finish line. This ended up in a situation which is very difficult to describe, with Hamilton hitting the back of Verstappen, which results in some front wing damage for the Mercedes, and likely some damage at the back of the Red Bull. Verstappen proceeds to bolt off to continue his race.
By Lap 41, Verstappen was still leading, and Bottas had just picked off Ricciardo, who had been having a quietly brilliant race, for P4, allowing him to charge down Ocon for the final podium position. On the entry of the final corner of Lap 41/50, Verstappen had allowed Hamilton to pass him again, but instantly retakes the lead by the exit of the same corner. With Verstappen refusing to fully cede the position to his Championship rival, he had received a 5 second time penalty. By the end of Lap 43, Verstappen had finally allowed Hamilton to pass him, and Hamilton does so and squeezes Verstappen onto the runoff of the long left-handerr of Turn 27.
On Lap 46, Vettel retires from the race, and Verstappen is forced to take great care with his very worn Mediums. This allowed Hamilton to cross the line for his 8th win and brought him level on points with Verstappen going into the final race of the season. After all this drama at the head of the field, many had forgotten that Ocon was still holding down P3, holding off the much faster Mercedes of Bottas. This was a fight that became a drag race on the start-finish straight of the final lap, a fight that ended in Bottas claiming P3 for a photo finish, and a result which left Ocon banging his steering wheel in anger.
The rest of the Top 10 crossed the line with Ricciardo in P5, Gasly in P6, followed by both Ferrari’s in P7 and P8 (as Leclerc and Sainz respectively). Giovinazzi claimed a strong P9 for Alpha Romero, with Norris taking P10, following a difficult race.
Overall, a race filled with so much drama it could almost be considered a soap opera. Despite this, it sets up a perfectly poised race in Abu Dhabi.
The Driver of the Day is a difficult one to choose, but I’ll go with Esteban Ocon, for a clean race, being able to take advantage of the chaos ahead, and be 50m from a podium. An honorary mention must go to Giovinazzi, who also had a clean race, and was able to remain in the points for the whole race.
The loser has to be Verstappen for his chaotic and quite frankly poor race. Another loser would have to be Perez, who had pit under the first Safety Car, losing places under the Red Flag, a decision which put him into the traffic and allowed him to be in the position to be sandwiched into a crash.
Featured Image Credit: Planet F1