Max Verstappen has won the Saudi Arabian GP, the fight for victory lasting until the final meters of the race. Charles Leclerc took the lead in the race, but in the last laps of the race, the Dutchman showed himself to be stronger. Carlos Sainz closed the podium and Sergio Perez finished in fourth place, losing the race at his tire change stop.
Race directors said after the end of the race that Kevin Magnussen, Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez will be investigated by the college of stewards for apparently failing to slow down under the yellow flag.
Even before the start of the race, Ferrari had to solve a problem with Carlos Sainz’s car, managing to prepare the F1-75 in time. Who was not so lucky, Yuki Tsunoda, who in the starting lap of the grid, was stopped with a problem in the AlphaTauri AT03 and could not continue the race. It was the second vacant grid spot, following the crash suffered in qualifying by Mick Schumacher and Haas’ subsequent decision not to collect the car for the German to race.
Sergio Perez got off to a good start for the 50 laps of the Saudi Arabian GP, reaching Turn 1 at the front of the field, where his teammate Max Verstappen managed to pass Carlos Sainz. Further on, Pierre Gasly gave way to Kevin Magnussen and at the end of the first lap, he fell back one position, being overtaken by Lando Norris.
Guanyu Zhou had another bad start and lost several positions, even hitting Daniel Ricciardo’s car.
In just 3 laps, Perez had a 1.501s lead over Charles Leclerc, while George Russell passed Esteban Ocon on the final corner of the Saudi circuit, moving up to fifth in the standings.
On the fifth crossing of the finish line, Ocon defended his teammate’s position and Fernando Alonso narrowly missed the wall and the rear of the French driver’s car. A risky maneuver between pilots of the same team and a fight that continued. Just on lap seven, Alonso passed Ocon and completely shut the door on any attempt to react on that lap. With Valtteri Bottas already at the back of the Alpine, Ocon tried to take his teammate’s position, but took the lead on the corner, having let the Spaniard pass on that lap.
Also on lap 9, Daniel Ricciardo stopped to change tyres, starting to have a hard train for the following laps and in last position. After lap 10, Kevin Magnussen tried to pass Valtteri Bottas at Turn 1 for eighth in the standings, but he couldn’t and had to widen his line, missing the chance.
Lewis Hamilton managed to climb back to 11th, overtaking Lando Norris on the final corner, as the two Alpine riders continued to battle for sixth. With 14 laps completed, the team opted to warn Ocon to hold onto his position as both drivers lost time to Valtteri Bottas, allowing the Alfa Romeo driver to easily pass the Frenchman.
The safety car has changed classification
Lance Stroll and Alexander Albon stopped to swap the medium tires for a set of hard tyres, on the same lap as Hamilton reached the scoring points after passing Pierre Gasly.
Charles Leclerc asked to stop in an attempt to pass Sergio Perez – it was a Ferrari bluff – which forced Red Bull to call the race leader. As the Mexican came out of the pit lane on hard tyres, Leclerc clocked a fast lap on his used medium tyres. Perez came out behind George Russell and lost time, but soon after Nicholas Latifi lost control of the Williams FW44 and crashed into the protective wall at the Jeddah circuit, resulting in a crash car virtual security then a safety car. So Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz all stopped to switch to hard tyres. When the Spanish Ferrari driver left the pit exit lane, he found Perez ahead of him. The situation was reviewed by the stewards as Sainz, on leaving the pit lane, was ahead of Perez as he crossed the safety car line, so the Mexican was letting the opponent through or could be penalised.
Fast laps by Verstappen and Leclerc
The safety car came out on lap 22 and Leclerc managed to keep the lead of the pack and after the first two corners Perez let Sainz pass, taking fourth place. Meanwhile, Kevin Magnussen tried to move up to fifth, but George Russell defended well at Turn 1 and the Dane was soon put under pressure by Lewis Hamilton. The Briton passed Magnussen on the final corner, but with DRS the Haas rider easily regained his position.
Charles Leclerc set, over two consecutive laps, the best time of the race so far, with a record of 1:34.075s, but soon after Max Verstappen fell to 1:33.445s.
On lap 25, Daniel Ricciardo overtook Nico Hülkenberg for 11th place, but followed a small convoy of cars behind him, with Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly and Guanyu Zhou. The Chinese Alfa Romeo driver, who had been penalized earlier in the race by 5 seconds, had to pass.
On lap 28, Leclerc again set a new race best, with a time of 1:32.711, at the same time as Pierre Gasly overtook Hülkenberg, after the German who replaced Sebastian Vettel in the first two races of the year has already been adopted by Lando Norris.
Red Bull asks Max to manage
With less than 20 laps to go in the race, Max Verstappen’s track engineer asked the Dutch driver to be more careful, managing the hard tyres. The driver slowed down a bit but kept the pressure on Charles Leclerc, who again lowered his time to 1:32.683. The two riders battled it out for the best time, with the Dutchman not paying much attention to what his engineer was saying and bettering his opponent’s time.
After Alonso passed Kevin Magnussen for seventh place the Spaniard’s car lost power with a terminal problem from Alpine and soon after the same happened to Daniel Ricciardo, only he was stopped immediately at the pit lane entrance. Some drivers took advantage of this while the pit lane was open, as soon after the race direction chose to close the pit access road during the Virtual Safety Car period. Lewis Hamilton, who had only pitted once, was unable to enter the pits and risked losing a lot of positions in the final laps of the race.
At this stage of the race, in addition to the withdrawals of Ricciardo and Alonso, Valtteri Bottas goes to the entrance of his pit so that the team withdraws the Alfa Romeo C42 from the race.
On lap 41 the VSC period ended, the two leading riders closed in and Lewis Hamilton finally pulled over and exited in 12th place.
Great fight for victory
With eight laps to go, all eyes were on the front of the race, with Max Verstappen putting heavy pressure on Charles Leclerc. The Dutchman overtook the Ferrari driver, but on the next lap Leclerc reclaimed the lead and the two reached the final corner side by side, but the Red Bull driver blocked the braking, which allowed the opponent to stay ahead. Max Verstappen complained, it was the second time that Leclerc crossed the line marking the entrance to the pit lane.
Lewis Hamilton couldn’t pass Lance Stroll for tenth at Turn 1 on lap 45, but later in that lap he moved up to a scoring position.
On the final corner of lap 46, Max Verstappen again moved close to the rear of Leclerc’s Ferrari F1-75, not overtaking him before the DRS detection point, for help in the home stretch. The Dutchman braked for turn 1 at the head of the race. The Ferrari’s tires suffered and the Monegasque lost ground to Verstappen, who then set the fastest lap record.
Two laps from the finish, Leclerc improved his time by stopping and closing in on his opponent. Lance Stroll and Alexander Albon touched down at Turn 1, resulting in the Williams driver retirement and yellow flags in Sector 1. Leclerc didn’t have much time to pass the opponent, but he tried until to the last meters.
Max Verstappen narrowly won Charles Leclerc. Carlos Sainz finished third and Perez fourth. Further on, Lando Norris lost sixth position to Esteban Ocon also in the final metres, perhaps as revenge for the Alpine rider for the overtaking he suffered there last season.
George Russell finished the race in “no man’s land” in fifth place. After the duo Ocon and Norris, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen and Lewis Hamilton finished, who managed to score.
It was a fantastic start to the season and another very exciting race, with good details and good fights. Too bad was the abandonment of several pilots.