Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2022: Verstappen vs Leclerc Episode 2.0 goes in Max's favour

The Jeddah Corniche Circuit lived up to its title of being the fastest street circuit on the Formula 1 calendar - with the Grand Prix having witnessed some intense wheel to wheel racing, DRS mischief and a nail-biting finish that remained unpredictable till the end.

With all eyes on Sergio Perez and his shot at glory, Sir Lewis Hamilton’s hunt from behind, Ferrari’s spectacular form, and more - here is how it all played out at the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s victory, Red Bull’s redemption

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix predictably unravelled an enthralling episode two of the Charles Leclerc vs Max Verstappen saga. 

Verstappen got off to a great start from P4 as he deftly overtook Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz into third place. Charles Leclerc had Max on his tail, with pole-sitter Sergio Perez ahead of him, who had a firm command as race leader for the first stint of the race.

The top order was reshuffled quickly as a result of Latifi’s crash at the final corner on lap 16. Leclerc and Verstappen both pitted under the safety car and emerged as the front runners, with ill-fated Perez behind them. Perez had pitted moments before the safety car came on due to the Williams’ incident. 

Max kept lurking behind Charles for most of the race, eager to make a move. The Ferrari was gaining on the Red Bull, particularly during the first sector, which helped Charles stay ahead. Ferrari also reported better tyre degradation compared to Red Bull. 

On the other hand, Max was told to conserve his tyres and let Charles use his for now, over the Red Bull team radio. The plan was to launch an attack during the final phase of the race, which is exactly what Max began to do with 9 laps to go.

This is where both front runners tried to outdo each other via their DRS strategy. Charles Leclerc fended off Max’s first attempt by letting him pass into the final corner before the DRS detection line only to use DRS to his own advantage and pass Verstappen back on the main straight and retain the lead - similar to his tactic in Bahrain last weekend.

Verstappen understood Charles’ play. Both cars slowed down and locked up before the final turn on the next lap - Charles trying to repeat his previous tactic and Verstappen trying to avoid falling for Leclerc’s trap a second time. Max’s lock up was more severe which allowed Charles to gain enough distance ahead and maintain the lead.

Verstappen’s final attempt came on lap 47 when he successfully outfoxed Leclerc by staying behind the DRS line, maintaining enough momentum around the turn and into the main straight, using DRS with a deft move over Leclerc, and cemented his position as race leader.

Although Leclerc’s dominance was put to an end, he did not stay far behind as he tried to regain the lead in the final two  laps. Verstappen’s pace and defense was too strong for Leclerc to recover, which was all he needed to stand on the top step of the podium.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix saw one of the closest finishes in F1 history with only 0.549s between the top two finishers. 

This is testament to the identical prowess of both Red Bull and Ferrari this season. The second duel in the desert between the same pair makes it quite evident that this year’s Driver’s Championship battle is going to be fought out by Verstappen and Leclerc as they are bound to cross swords many more times this season.

Hamilton’s hunt and pit stop misfortune 

It was not the perfect start to Sir Lewis Hamilton’s weekend for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, as he was knocked out in Q1 in a shocking qualifying session for Mercedes - his worst qualifying performance based on pure pace, since 2009. He was set to start at P15 on the grid.

The race was undoubtedly going to be an uphill task for him, given Mercedes do not have a car that can compete with the top teams at the moment. 

Hamilton got off to a shaky start as he could not get enough heat into his tyres in the early stages of the race. He then made good progress through the midfield as he picked off Lance Stroll, Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly in quick succession. 

During the Latifi incident on lap 16, Hamilton stayed out of the pits under the safety car and continued to race on the hard compound - this put him ahead of most of the midfield cars.

He said his tyres were alright and the W-13 looked like it could carry on a very long stint under Hamilton’s command. 

After an intense battle, Hamilton overtook Kevin Magnussen’s Haas and was up in P6, behind his teammate George Russel. This move combined with the decision to stay out of the pits put Hamilton on a trajectory for a good points haul. 

It all began to go downhill as a late virtual safety car was brought on by Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo - both of whom faced mechanical problems. Hamilton’s tyres were old and his W-13 desperately needed a pit stop. 

As he crossed the pit lane entry under the virtual safety car, his race engineer asked him to box - but it was too late.

Moments later, the pit lane entry was closed under the VSC as the mechanical failures of Alpine and McLaren caused them to park in the pit lane. This meant Lewis could only box once the track was clear under the green flag, and could not use a pit stop advantage under the VSC. 

He got onto the medium compound tyres soon after that, but also fell behind the pack he overtook earlier. It was a day to forget for Hamilton as he finished the race at the last points scoring position of P10. 

Sergio Perez’ heartbreak 

Sergio Perez delivered a sensational qualifying lap on Saturday that earned him the position of pole-sitter for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. 

He gave Red Bull the P1 qualifying lap that Max Verstappen could not. All eyes were on Perez and the stage was set for him to finish on the podium, to say the least. 

Perez’ first stint on track was nothing short of pure dominance as he exhibited Red Bull’s raw pace along the straights and had Leclerc comfortably behind.

It was on lap 16 when he faced double blows of misfortune that threw him off the plan. The first came from Ferrari, as they bluffed Sergio Perez into making an early pit stop. Ferrari’s pit crew was stationed in position and it seemed Leclerc was going to attempt the undercut. 

However, Leclerc stayed out of the pits and emerged as the new race leader. On top of their bluff paying off, luck favoured Ferrari, and Perez’s second blow of misfortune struck - yellow flags and a safety car was brought on track as a result of Latifi’s Williams crashing into the barriers at the final corner.

The top order rapidly got reshuffled under the safety car as Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz boxed. Their relative pit stop time loss was much less compared to Sergio Perez who pitted moments before the safety car entered the track. 

Leclerc emerged as the new race leader with Verstappen on his tail, followed by Sergio Perez at P3. 

However, Carlos Sainz had crossed the safety car line at the pit exit just ahead of Perez as the Red Bull came past with more momentum on the race track - this meant Perez had to give P3 back to Sainz and was now trailing behind both the Ferraris, out of the podium places.

It was not a very eventful race for Perez thereafter, as the Red Bull could not tackle Carlos Sainz’s defense or create any significant opportunities to get past him on track. 

The RB18’s superiority kept Perez comfortably ahead of Russell’s Mercedes and he ultimately finished just out of the podium places, at P4. 

Although Red Bull earned a good points haul overall, Sergio’s heartbreak from Bahrain’s DNF continued as he could not maximize his full potential at Jeddah.

The Best of the Rest 

Mercedes and Alpine

Damage limitation was the name of the game for Mercedes and George Russel did exactly that. The young English driver started in P5 at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and had quite a lonely race to finish in the same position. 

He did not face major threats from behind, nor could he make significant moves on the cars in front due to their race pace superiority.

Fernando Alonso got off to a good start and entered a ferocious duel with his teammate Esteban Ocon in the first half of the race, which he won - before they were given team orders to stop. 

He was on track to finish at P6, before a mechanical issue forced him to retire the car on lap 36. Ocon inherited his place thereafter and fended off Lando Norris on the final lap, to finish in P6.

McLaren and Alfa Romeo

It was a bittersweet day for McLaren as they had reasons to be happy and worried both. Given their disastrous start to their season in Bahrain and major doubts about if they have a competitive car, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was a leap forward - to some extent. 

Both the McLarens demonstrated a competitive spirit and the team seemed to have overcome their brake and other reliability issues to put up a fight in the midfield. 

Lando Norris finished in P7, just 0.107s behind Esteban Ocon whom he tried to make a move on in the final 2 laps but could not make it stick. The other McLaren, unfortunately, had a concerning end as Ricciardo’s MCL36 had to be retired on lap 37 due to a loss of power. 

Alfa Romeo had a night to forget as both cars faced their own set of downfalls. Valterri Bottas was on course for a decent points haul to deliver a fitting start to the season for the team, but was forced to retire the car in the final stages of the race due to a mechanical problem. 

His teammate, Guanyu Zhou had to serve a drive-through penalty as a result of his team not being able to accurately serve a five-second penalty at his pit stop earlier in the race. This completely blew him out of a competitive position, as he could not make up the time lost on the track. 

Haas and Alpha Tauri 

After being involved in a horrific crash during Saturday’s qualifying, Haas decided to rest Mick Schumacher and run only one car for the race. 

The young German was alright and did not have to be hospitalised overnight. Resting him was a precautionary measure. Furthermore, Mick’s car seemed too damaged to be able to repair with only a few hours to go.

In a weekend of misfortune for so many drivers, Yuki Tsunoda’s name was also added to that list. Few moments before qualifying, his car suffered a fuel issue which ruled him out of the session. He was set to start from P19 on Sunday but engine problems haunted his car in the reconnaissance lap and he had to retire even before he could enter turn 1. 

His teammate, Pierre Gasly finished the race in P8, ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen followed by Sir Lewis Hamilton in P10.

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