The 2021 Saudi Arabia Grand Prix was a tumultuous race, to say the least. The race debut was filled with red flags, crashes, safety cars, DNFs, and many more unexpected events.
Prior to the thrilling race, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen was in the championship lead with 351.5 points and Mercedes’ seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton behind him with 343.5 points and there is no doubt that the championship protagonists gave it all they had in the penultimate race of the season.
The Saturday qualifying did not go as planned for Redbull and Verstappen. In his last lap of Q3, the Red Bull driver was giving an amazing performance, having best sector time and arguably having the “lap of the year” until the final corner, disaster struck. Verstappen locked up at his final breaking point of the day and crashed against the wall, losing his chance of securing pole position for Sunday’s race.
“It’s of course terrible,” said Verstappen. “It’s extremely disappointing. I thought in the last corner there was still a bit to gain.”
Mercedes conquered the front row of the starting grid, Hamilton in pole position and his teammate Valtteri Bottas in second while Verstappen was set to start in third.
As usual, “it’s lights out and away we go!”
Mercedes had a decent start, both kept their positions going through turn one and Verstappen desperately tried to gain positions but maintained third.
The chaos started on Lap 10 when Haas driver Mick Schumacher slid and hit the barrier on his way into turn 22. The safety car was called out and Mercedes did a double stack bringing both drivers into the pit for a change of tyres. Verstappen there took the lead of the race.
Two laps later, the race got red flagged meaning that it was temporarily suspended and all cars were to line up in the pit lane. For Red Bull’s advantage they got the lucky opportunity to change tyres without losing place.
Now it is the start of Lap 15 and, “it’s lights out and away we go… again!”
Verstappen and Hamilton went wheel-to-wheel as they made their way into turn one. Bottas locked up and almost hit Verstappen causing him to go off the track but then he forced his way back in making Hamilton go wide and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon moved up to second place.
Not even a 10 seconds later, another incident occurred. Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez got tagged from behind by Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. Close to them, Haas driver Nikita Mazepin ran hard into George Russells’s Williams car and another red flag was called. The three drivers were forced out of the race.
The FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) then spoke with Red Bull regarding Verstappen going off the track and forcing Hamilton wide. The FIA offered to drop Verstappen two places in the restart.
For the third time, “it’s lights out and away we go… again!”
Ocon and Hamilton fought their way for first position as they headed for the first turn while Verstappen decided to turn through the inside. Ocon and Hamilton touched as they made their way through but they kept going. Before turn three, Verstappen took the lead of the race.
One lap later, Hamilton overtook Ocon making his next mission Verstappen.
On Lap 36, drama arose as Hamilton got DRS and went in to overtake Verstappen but they went wheel-to-wheel, Verstappen forcing to stay in his position.
As going into turn two, they touched and Verstappen went off the track again and Hamilton lost speed. Verstappen, however, kept going still in first place.
“This guy is ******* crazy, man,” Hamilton said on the Mercedes team radio.
After the incident was reviewed, Verstappen was instructed to give the position back to Hamilton. The Red Bull driver slowed down which caught Hamilton who was very close to him off guard and they collided. Hamilton clipped the rear of Verstappen taking front-wing damage on the Mercedes.
Five laps later with Verstappen still leading, he allowed Hamilton to overtake him but then immediately pushed him wide and continued on in first place.
The FIA stewards then announced that Verstappen was receiving a five second penalty for leaving the track and taking advantage.
On Lap 43, Hamilton got past Verstappen taking the lead of the race.
On the last lap of the race as they got closer and closer to the finish line, Ocon and Bottas were intensely battling it out for third place. Ocon, who had been able to stay on podium positions for the majority of the race, was now in danger of losing it. Then, Bottas with DRS on the last few moments of the race crossed the finish line just a tenth of a second before Ocon, winning Mercedes a double podium.
Post-race interview: Max Verstappen & Lewis Hamilton
VERSTAPPEN: “I slowed down. I wanted to pass him and drove on the right side of the track. He didn’t want to overtake me and then we hit each other. I don’t really understand what happened there.”
“It was quite eventful. A lot of things happened that I don’t fully agree with but it is what it is. At least I tried to give it everything on track and was not sure the tyres were lasting to the end. It was good at the beginning of that last stint. Nevertheless, it’s still second place.”
HAMILTON: “”I’ve raced a lot of drivers in my life, in the 28 years. He (Verstappen) is over the limit, for sure. I’ve avoided collision on so many occasions with the guy and I don’t always mind being the one that does that, because you live to fight another day.”
“He obviously brake-tested to try, I think, to get the DRS into the last corner to overtake me again back into Turn 1. Commotion. I thought I’d lost my wing.”
Final Race of the F1 2021 Season
For the first time since 1974, the championship rivals, in this case Verstappen and Hamilton, are level on points. Both are heading to the final race of the season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with 369.5 points. However, Verstappen leads with more wins than Hamilton this year.
Will Hamilton get his eighth championship title or will Verstappen acquire his first?
The highly anticipated race that has everyone beyond excited will occur Sunday, December 12 at the Yas Marina Circuit.