In the weekend just gone, we watched the second round of the 2022 F1 season in Jeddah, a circuit which has already seen plenty of action from its very short life so far.
We start, as we always do, in Q1. The session was brought to a halt quickly, as Latifi found himself in the barriers at Turn 13, bringing out the Red Flag. This crash put him P19, as Tsunoda was confined to his garage, unable to attempt a lap due to fuel-suspected problems. The session was restarted, and Hulkenberg was P18, alongside Albon in P17. The potential shock qualifying result of the season is up next, as Hamilton was unable to make it out of Q1 for the first time since Brazil 2017, only managing P16.
Moving into Q2, we saw a massive crash for Schumacher halfway through the session, bringing out another Red Flag. This one was around for much longer due to how much debris was left scattered across the track, with Schumacher being airlifted to hospital for more comprehensive health checks. Thankfully, the young German was confirmed to be unharmed, however he would not be taking part in the race. Around one hour later the session was allowed to continue. Both of the McLarens were eliminated this session, placing P11 and P12 (as Norris and Ricciardo) respectively. The two were joined by Zhou in P13, and Stroll in P15.
Q3 was quite the opposite of the previous session, as we witnessed a fairy tale story for Perez, who claimed Pole Position for the first time in his career, at his 215th qualifying session. Behind him, was the Ferrari pairing of Leclerc and Sainz (in P2 and P3 respectively). In P4, was Verstappen, ahead of Ocon (P5) and Russell (P6). Alonso claimed P7, just four hundredths of a second ahead of Bottas in P8. The bottom of the top 10 was rounded off with Gasly in P9, and Magnusson in P10, with the latter providing some comfort for Haas, considering they would only have one driver for the race.
Ahead of the race, Tsunoda’s bad luck continued as his car suffered an engine issue on his drive out to the grid, leaving the race to start with 18 drivers. 15 of these had selected to start the race on the Medium tyre, with Magnusson, Hamilton and Hulkeberg starting on the Hards.
As the five lights go out and the race begins, Perez gets a clean getaway, and maintains the lead ahead of both Ferrari’s, as Verstappen is able to ease down the inside of Sainz at Turn One. Further back, Zhou drops to P18. Later on in the lap, Magnusson was able to pass Gasly in Sector Two.
On Lap Two, Gasly is passed by Norris, seemingly struggling to get his tyres in the right working window. On Lap Four, Russell is able to pass Ocon using DRS going into the final corner, and Hamilton is in P14, struggling for pace on his more durable tyre.
On Lap Five, Alonso looks to go down the inside of Ocon going into Turn One, but the Frenchman firmly closes the door. The two continue their battle onto the next lap, which sees Alonso go around the outside of Turn One, allowing him to take the inside line of Turn Two and take the place off his teammate. This infighting allows Bottas and Magnusson to close the gap and have a go at Ocon, while by Lap Nine, Ricciardo was the first to enter the pits, putting on the Hards.
On Lap 11, Hamilton is able to force his way past Stroll for P12 and Magnusson is doing everything he can to get past Bottas, but to no avail. On the following lap, Hamilton is able to pass Norris of P11, and the Alpines are continuing to battle, but Alonso is able to keep his cool and remain the ahead.
On Lap 14, Ocon looks to be suffering from all the fighting, as Bottas is able to pass him going down the start-finish straight for P7. By Lap 16, Leclerc is on the radio to his engineer, complaining about the state of his tyres. This whining triggered Red Bull to pitting Perez from the lead, putting on a set of the Hards, and he returns to the track in P4.
It appears that the Red Bull engineers were being messed with, as Leclerc continues on his tyres, and the Ferrari pit crew return to their seats. This would have been an interesting strategy fight, however, while rounding the final corner, Latifi gets on the gas too early, putting his Williams into the barriers, and bringing out the Safety Car. This allows both Ferrari and Verstappen to pit for Hards, and return to the track ahead of the Mexican.
With most of the field entering the pits, this allows Magnusson, Hamilton and Hulkenberg to climb to P6, P7, and P9 respectively. On Lap 24, Hamilton is able to initially pass Magnusson down the start-finish straight, but the Haas is able to use DRS to retake his position ahead of the Mercedes. This is truly unusual territory for the seven-time world champion.
On Lap 25, Hamilton is able to learn from his mistake, and is able to re-overtake Magnusson for P6 down the start-finish straight, and is able to make the move stick through the first couple of corners. Further back, Bottas is able to ease past Hulkenberg, and Gasly is able to follow suit just a handful of laps later.
The race goes into a bit of a lull here, taking until Lap 34 for the action to recommence, with Alonso breezing his way past Magnusson for P7 down the start-finish straight. On Lap 36, Alonso gets on the radio and reports a loss of power, an issue which led to him retiring, and parking up on the pitlane entry. Ricciardo reports a similar issue on the next lap, which sees him park up at the same place. While both of these cars are experiencing problems, Bottas is forced to pit a couple of times, eventually ending up in Alfa Romeo retiring the car.
With two cars parked up on the pit entry, the pit lane was forced to close, but not before Magnusson and Hulkenberg are able to take off the Hards which they had been running since the start of the race, putting on Mediums and returning to the track in P12 and P14 respectively, while the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed. Hamilton wasn’t so lucky, with his engineer calling him to pit after he had passed the entry, and by the time he was back round, it was closed. The Brit had to wait until Lap 41 to get a set of the Mediums fitted, returning to the track just behind Magnusson.
As the VSC ends on Lap 42, Leclerc and Verstappen were ready to get back to the fight, and the Red Bull was quick to go for the overtake going into the final corner, but this was exactly what Leclerc was hoping for, and now he would have the DRS going down the start-finish straight which would allow him to retake the lead going into Turn One.
Moving onto the next lap, Max went for the same move using DRS down the back-straight towards the final corner, but turned it off so he wouldn’t pass the Ferrari. This led to both drivers breaking early to try and catch the other out, and eventually, both drivers locked their front tyres. Leclerc had the more favourable line through the final corner which allowed him to get enough of a gap on Verstappen by the time the Red Bull would be able to use his DRS that it wouldn’t matter.
This fight continues until Lap 46, when Verstappen remains firmly behind Leclerc when approaching the DRS detection line, which exposed Leclerc down the start-finish straight. This vulnerability was taken advantage of to the fullest extent when Verstappen passed the Ferrari before reaching Turn One. Further back, Hamilton has climbed to P10, remaining behind Magnusson.
Getting onto Lap 47, Leclerc tries to get back at Verstappen down the start-finish straight, but even with DRS isn’t able to keep up with the Red Bull in a straight line. While Leclerc is able to remain within one second of Verstappen, he is unable to retake the lead, until Lap 49, which saw Albon and Stroll come together at Turn One. This collision led Albon to retire near the end of Sector One, bringing out the yellow flags.
By the chequered flag, Verstappen claimed his first win of the season, with Leclerc half a second behind, who also claimed the extra point for the Fastest Lap. Sainz finished off the podium in P3, with Perez just two seconds behind in P4. Russell claimed P5 following a clean race which left him in a world of his own, with Ocon over 20 seconds behind him in P6. Norris took points home for McLaren in P7 following a back and forth race with Ocon which left him just over a tenth of a second behind the Frenchman by the end. Gasly took P8, ahead of Magnusson (P9), and Hamilton rounded off the points paying positions in P10.
My Driver of the Day goes to Verstappen, as he was able to pass the first Ferrari off the line, and was able to keep it clean and eventually force his way past Leclerc and hold him off to take the win.
The loser of the weekend has to be Hamilton, following a very disappointing qualifying session as well as being unable to convincingly climb the order to score any significant points. His displeasure for his weekend was heard over the radio when he asked if there was even a point for P10. Hopefully he can put in an improved performance in Australia, which commences the weekend of the April 8.
Featured Image Credit: eurosport.com