With four laps to go in this race at Jeddah, Max Verstappen tried it for the third time. But this time he had learned something new. Unlike the previous two attempts, this time he chose the optimal moment for his attack. Only on the long straight, when the pursuer is allowed to flatten the rear wing, did he overtake Charles Leclerc. In the stands, the Dutch who had traveled to Saudi Arabia jumped out of their seats a little early, because it wasn’t over yet. Leclerc fought his way up again, in the slipstream, and just before the finish line he tried to fight back. He started to overtake, but was a few meters behind him, and the world champion celebrated his first victory in the second race. This time he had defeated Leclerc.
Verstappen against Leclerc, was the new edition of the duel that the main Red Bull and Ferrari drivers fought a week ago in the final phase of the season opener in Bahrain. With two crucial differences: this time Verstappen stayed in front, this time the fuel flow in his race car did not fail. And so a duel is already looming on the horizon, a new dualism that will likely characterize the next 21 races. This time, behind the two 24-year-olds, his teammates crossed the line: Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari, Sergio Pérez in the Red Bull.
And the silver arrows? Lost again: George Russell was fifth, Lewis Hamilton only tenth after a completely bungled qualifying.
“It was a great race,” said Verstappen: “In the end you could see that we had a little bit better pace. In the end, we started the season well.” And Leclerc was also satisfied: “I absolutely enjoyed it. It was a tough race, but always fair.”
When the subscription world champion Mercedes entered, neither the chassis nor the engine currently meet the requirements
There was more talk this weekend about the chaotic situation on the Jeddah track than about the sport. The coastal course on the Red Sea had already demonstrated its risky architecture at its premiere in December. There were two interruptions to the race, as well as a rear-end collision involving Hamilton on Verstappen. When the racing circus returned to Jeddah a few months later, a rocket hit a nearby oil depot as a welcome, so to speak. It was fired on by Houthi rebels with whom Saudi Arabia is at war in neighboring Yemen to the south.
And after Formula 1 didn’t come out, Mick Schumacher crashed into a concrete wall in qualifying at 250kph. High curbs had become the bane of him after going into an S-curve too quickly. He was uninjured but spent the night in hospital as a precaution. And his race car was so destroyed that the Haas team could only send driver Kevin Magnussen to the race, who finished fifth this time in Bahrain and ninth.
The search for times brought two surprises: Pérez, known and loved as a second force in Red Bull, snatched his first pole position in his 215th Grand Prix; he was not only faster than Leclerc and Sainz in the Ferraris, but he was more agile than his fourth-place teammate Verstappen. Even stranger was the performance of Hamilton, who complained of an “undrivable” company car after a lopsided vote on his Silver Arrow and decided to qualify 15th. George Russell’s sixth place didn’t make up for that either. When the subscription world champion entered, neither the chassis nor the engine met the high demands, performance was “unacceptable”, team boss Toto Wolff complained. Yuki Tsunoda’s engine performance was only guaranteed to be even worse, his Alpha Tauri stopped and did not make it to the starting grid.
Due to a safety car phase, Perez’s early stop turned into a disaster
The traffic lights went out and Perez sped up as routinely as if it wasn’t the first time in his life he’d had the experience of occupying the most popular parking lot. He kept Leclerc at bay. Verstappen pushed Sainz. Hamilton celebrated a small success by his standards much further back, when he immediately claimed 14th place. Esteban Ocon fought one of those duels that, in any case, can only happen at the start of a season before there are enough results to establish an order. clear hierarchy.
Ocon defended sixth place with a knife between his teeth, the stubborn Fernando Alonso overtook him at some point, the Frenchman tried in vain to counteract. The beneficiary of the dispute was Valtteri Bottas, who suddenly appeared in Ocon’s rearview mirror. “Let them race,” alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer, who is naturally gifted with a certain calm, said in a brief trackside interview. Bottas overtook Ocon and that put an end to the dispute between the neighbors of the garage.
At the top, Pérez widened his gap. After six laps, he had already put a two and a half second buffer on Leclerc. After 16 laps, the leader was the first to pit for a tire change, he had hard tires on which he would reach the finish line. However, due to Nicolás Latifi putting his Williams into the gang shortly after and deploying the safety car, the early stop turned into a disaster for Pérez: almost every other driver seized the opportunity and headed to the pits at a pace slower running.
Only Hülkenberg, Magnussen and Hamilton, who was now just two places behind teammate Russell in seventh, continued to drive on used tyres. And when Bernd Mayländer left the track after 21 laps in the safety car, the new order was: Leclerc, Verstappen, Pérez, Sainz. So you thought very briefly.
Pérez, however, immediately gave way to Sainz to overtake after the race was cleared. A video study had convinced the race stewards that the Spaniard had previously been a hair ahead of Pérez in the relevant safety car line out of the pits, which defines the order at the restart. Red Bull ordered a change of venue with foresight.
The Silver Arrows qualified behind the top four, followed by Schumacher’s teammate Magnussen and Ocon, who benefited from the fact that Alonso and Bottas retired with defects. When shortly afterwards Daniel Ricciardo rolled and unfortunately parked his McLaren in such a way that access to pit lane was blocked, the virtual safety car was activated. Hamilton was unlucky because he couldn’t turn in time; he could only do it nine laps before the end, after which he put the Mercedes in twelfth place.
Had Leclerc and Verstappen not delivered a furious finale like the one seven days earlier, Formula 1’s second special appearance in Jeddah’s dizzying concrete tunnel would have ended after two completely chaotic days with a relatively quiet Sunday of racing.