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Hamilton takes dramatic victory in Jeddah

Saudi Arabia Race Report 05/12/21

Chaos and excitement in the desert as F1 visits its fastest ever street circuit—one which bites back. A new track always comes with new challenges, but this narrow high-speed chase through the streets of Jeddah turned out to be one of the most exciting, chaotic, and entertaining races of the season. With Verstappen denied pole after crashing on his final flying lap the Dutchman lined up third, behind Bottas and championship rival Hamilton on pole.

Strap in, it’s a rollercoaster race!

Off the line, Hamilton leads from teammate Bottas followed by Verstappen, Perez behind locks up and almost wipes teammate Verstappen out, but manages to avoid catastrophe. Further back there’s jostling—Ocon gains places despite being squeezed between a wall and Tsunoda, making contact with both. Norris, Sainz, and both Aston Martins gain positions, whereas Raikkonen and the Williams lose out.

The drivers fly around the narrow track perilously, close to the walls. It was uncertain whether we would get much overtaking at such a narrow track, and although there are very few opportunities we do get some position changes—Sainz making up positions after a poor qualifying session, Alonso passes Giovinazzi and Ricciardo gets the better of Gasly.

The race is settling down when Schumacher hits the barriers at the already infamous turn 21-22 complex. The Haas driver had been pushing to keep up with Williams competitors, and just expected a little too much from the car. A safety car is brought out, which results in a flurry of pitstops—pitting at the start of a safety car period means you lose less time to competitors than pitting under normal racing conditions. Both Mercedes come in for new tyres—Verstappen stays out and takes the lead behind the safety car. However, after a few laps under the safety car, a red flag is brought out to stop the race in order to reconstruct the barrier and ensure its safety. Under F1 rules you can change tyres under red flag conditions—therefore those who had not pitted essentially get a completely free pit stop. A major win for Verstappen, who now has the lead, free pit stop, and fresher tyres.

With the Haas car cleared and the barriers safe, we get underway again. It’s a standing start and  Hamilton is the quickest off the line. Verstappen goes wide into turn one and rejoins almost into the side of his championship rival, Hamilton slows to avoid colliding with the rejoining Verstappen—who takes the lead. Opportunistic Ocon also flies through into second—he was another driver who benefited from a free pitstop under red flag conditions. The race only makes it a few corners before it is stopped once again. Leclerc and Perez clip tyres—the Red Bull being sent into the wall. Russell slows after seeing the incident and is hit in the rear by Mazepin. There’s debris everywhere but thankfully all drivers walk away, and Leclerc even continues in the race.

Next comes a bizarre exchange where the FIA is trying to work out the grid for the restart—normally they’d line up in the positions they were in the race. However, Verstappen gained an advantage from going off track to take the lead. If the race had continued he would probably have to have given Hamilton the position back, or been slapped with a five-second penalty. But the race didn’t continue, so where should they all lineup? They can’t simply swap Verstappen and Hamilton because Ocon is between them. At one point there almost seems to be some haggling going on between the race directors and Red Bull, but ultimately it is decided Verstappen should start behind Hamilton, so the race restart lines up—Ocon, Hamilton, Verstappen.

So, third time lucky! Off the line the top three make good starts, Hamilton moves to the center of the track to cover off Ocon, and Verstappen blasts through the gap on the inside to take the lead—an amazing move. Ocon manages to secure second for a lap until the faster Mercedes breezes past on the straight. Hamilton now sets his sights on getting past Verstappen. Behind Ocon, Ricciardo—another driver who benefitted from the first red flag—holds Bottas at bay.

The rest of the race is peppered with Virtual Safety Car periods and yellow flags to collect debris which seems to be collecting on the streets in this race of attrition.

Hamilton slowly but surely chases Verstappen down and makes a move around the outside of his opponent into turn one. Verstappen however runs wide—taking Hamilton with him—and maintains the lead. This ultimately leads to an incident that will be discussed—almost certainly—for years to come. Verstappen is told to give Hamilton the place—having gained an unfair advantage by leaving the track—he, therefore, slows towards the end of the lap to let his opponent by. Hamilton, however—who has not been given the information—is presented with a slowing car and crashes into the back of Verstappen. Now, this has been discussed a lot, and undoubtedly the debate about the debacle will continue! It’s not Verstappen’s fault the FIA failed to give Hamilton the information in time for him to know what was happening. Verstappen was given the information and acted on it. However some say he slowed too quickly—essentially brake-testing Hamilton, some say he weaved a little when slowing and was on the racing line. However, others have pointed out, if a car is slowing, surely you should just drive around it? Yes, bad communication meant Hamilton didn’t know Verstappen would let him past, but similarly if it had been a mechanical issue on Verstappen’s part Hamilton would probably not have known. So why didn’t he just drive around him? It seems like he got drawn into Verstappen’s slowing and then caught out by the quicker deceleration, before he could react it was too late. There are other complicating factors, perhaps Hamilton thought this was some kind of ruse, perhaps he thought there was another VSC or yellow flag he was unaware of—which he would not be allowed to pass under. Or perhaps neither of them wanted to cross the DRS detection line first—the car who crosses behind the other—providing they’re within one second of the car in front—gets to use the DRS on the straight, a huge advantage. It was a confusing and odd incident, to say the least, but it definitely made emotions spill over with Mercedes and Red Bull both blaming one another, and the race directors not coming out of it very well either.

Both cars survive the collision and Verstappen charges off. Later on, he gives the place back to Hamilton—which apparently he didn’t need to do—only to retake it immediately having benefited from following Hamilton closely over the DRS detection zone. Then Verstappen is slapped with a five-second penalty—for gaining an advantage from leaving the track. Some fans are arguing that the FIA are biased, but the precedent was set on the F2 races—you cut turn one and you either give the place back, or you’re given a five-second penalty. Red Bull no doubt arguing that they tried to give Hamilton the place and he didn’t take it—crashing into their car instead! So why should he have a five-second penalty? See what I mean about chaotic! Hamilton doesn’t need to overtake Verstappen now—providing he finishes within five seconds of his rival—but he has the speed. He is also on the better tyres, as Verstappen’s mediums are losing pace, Hamilton blasts past.

Further back the Ferrari’s make up some positions and Bottas and Ricciardo trade places with Bottas coming out on top. The Mercedes driver chases down third place man Ocon in the final laps, and—heartbreakingly for the Alpine driver—Bottas snatches away the podium on the line.

An exciting, bizarre, and entertaining race, dominated by the ongoing—perhaps even intensifying—championship feud between Mercedes and Red Bull.

The Teams

Mercedes- Hamilton 1st, Bottas 3rd: Whatever people think about the politics and shenanigans of the race, still a good drive from Hamilton. Managing to harass Verstappen and ultimately take the lead, despite the collision. A good strategy call from the team to see him on the correct tyres on the final restart. Bottas made a good recovery after losing places having pitted before the red flag to take the final step on the podium.

Red Bull- Verstappen 2nd, Perez DNF: Verstappen, well, what a race. Did he go over the limit? Perhaps, I feel pushing Hamilton off on tun one was a little naughty, but having to give the place back and a five-second penalty? That’s harsh. Nevertheless, he kept going and secured a solid second place, despite his tyres wearing down towards the end. Perez was unlucky to be involved with the incident with Leclerc, he desperately wanted to get his car back to see if he could make the restart—a true racers spirit. A lot of people are blaming Leclerc for the collision, but to me, it just seems like a racing incident. With Gasly on his right and Leclerc on his left Perez just had nowhere to go and the Ferrari and Red Bull clipped wheels.

Ferrari- Leclerc 7th, Sainz 8th: More points for Ferrari. A solid race, Sainz moving up from fifteenth on the grid, and Leclerc moving up from tenth having dropped down the order. The team should be pretty happy with that result.

Mclaren- Ricciardo 5th, Norris 10th: Ricciardo benefitted from not stopping under the safety car and therefore getting a free pit stop under the red flag. This moved him up the positions. He had a great battle with Bottas but ultimately couldn’t keep the faster Mercedes at bay—great race. Where one had good luck with the strategy the other had bad luck. Norris got a good start and was running in sixth, but pitted under the safety car, dropped back and opponents around him gained a free stop. He still managed to climb from fourteenth into the points but was understandably frustrated to lose out today. Clever by Mclaren to split the strategy though, covering both bases.

Alpine- Ocon 4th, Alonso 13th: Great race for Ocon, and so close to that much deserved third place. He suffered some floor damage which hampered his defense in the final laps and underlines what a great performance he had today. Alonso lost places pitting under the safety car and later had a small spin, a more forgettable race than his teammate.

Alpha Tauri- Gasly 6th, Tsunoda 14th: Solid result by Gasly who managed to avoid all the carnage around him to bring back good points. Tsunoda slipped back at the start and tried to make positions up. He collided with Vettel as he tried to pass him in turn one which set back his progress.

Aston Martin- Stroll 11th, Vettel DNF: The team didn’t have a great pace here. Stroll would have been lucky to get into the points, and Vettel retired after receiving damage from the collision with Tsunoda.

Williams- Latifi 12th, Russell DNF: Latifi kept his nose clean in this race of attrition, Russell was unlucky to be collected in the chaos of the race.

Alfa Romeo- Giovinazzi 9th, Raikkonen 15th: Great drive by Giovinazzi here, he showed good pace and brought points back for the team. Raikkonen didn’t seem to have the same pace and couldn’t break into the top ten.

Haas- Schumacher DNF, Mazepin DNF: Schumacher was pushing the Hass to its absolute limit before he crashed, trying to keep up with the Williams—which he was almost doing, a great achievement in this car. Ultimately though he pushed it too hard and went into the unforgiving barriers. Mazepin had nowhere to go when presented with cars suddenly slowing in front of him—trying to avoid Perez in the wall. An expensive race as both Haas cars suffered major damage, and hopefully, the team has enough spare parts for the final race of the season.

Final Thoughts

Well, an enthralling race, which will be remembered for that incident between the championship rivals. I hope some adjustments will be made to the track to ensure its safety, it seemed like it was just a little too on the edge for comfort to me. It was a very chaotic race, with a lot going on, but still, I feel the race directors could have handled some things a bit better—for instance, both teams should have had enough warning about Verstappen being made to give the position to Hamilton. The rivalry has definitely soured and later on, Hamilton said Verstappen is driving over the limit—not necessarily to the rules. Verstappen was disgruntled at being given a penalty for pushing Hamilton wide at this track when it was allowed at Brazil. The real issue here is that he shouldn’t have been allowed to get away with that in Brazil, and therefore the race directors set a precedent that shouldn’t have been set. Post-race Verstappen was given a ten-second penalty for breaking dangerously—which led to Hamilton going into the back of him. With Bottas twenty seconds behind in third place the penalty doesn’t affect the race result but has left some fans believing the FIA are biased towards Mercedes.

All this excitement has led to an epic showdown for the final race next weekend. For the first time since 1974, we enter the last race with championship contenders tied at the top. It will be unmissable!

Driver of the Day: Ocon
Honourable Mentions: Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Giovinazzi, Sainz

Race Results

  1. Hamilton (Fastest Lap)
  2. Verstappen
  3. Bottas
  4. Ocon
  5. Ricciardo
  6. Gasly
  7. Leclerc
  8. Sainz
  9. Giovinazzi
  10. Norris

Politics

I know a lot of people say sports and politics shouldn’t mix, so if you’re one of those, I’ll save you some time—don’t read this paragraph!

I feel something must be said about the final three races, races held in countries with appalling human rights records. It’s very difficult when sport and politics clash and people have very strong opinions on if the two should ever mix. But, ultimately if you’re a sport visiting a country you are in a way legitimizing that country and do we as a sport want to legitimize countries where torture is used, women’s rights are extremely limited and same-sex relationships are illegal? Opponents may say you bring a spotlight to the country and help it to change for the positive, but I’m not sure that happens when the glitz and glamour–and cameras—of an event leave. If sport can truly bring about positive change within these countries, then perhaps it is a good thing we visit, but then the cynical side of me does think there is very little change for the regular person on the street. I have a great deal of respect for Hamilton, talking openly out about these issues. And Vettel, running a female-only karting event in Saudi Arabia this weekend, talking about how we should focus on positive moves forward—women, for instance, now are allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, where they couldn’t a few years ago. If we, as a sport are going to go to countries with terrible human rights records we are duty-bound to highlight this and try to change it.

Saudi Arabia does have a terrible human rights record that needs highlighting. But where do we draw the line? We race in Russia and Turkey, where LGBT+ people are discriminated against, Hungary where a treaty on violence against women was blocked from being passed and anti-LGBTQ+ law has been passed, America—specifically Texas—where abortions, a vital life-saving medical procedure, are withheld from women. A state where private citizens are incentivized by $10,000 to report anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion—something which should undoubtedly be her right, and frankly none of anyone else’s business. But I won’t just pick on other countries, as a British citizen I’ve seen our governments’ austerity measures kill hundreds of thousands of its own citizens, as well as its continued sale of arms abroad to fund wars, creating migrants who we then refuse to give a home and let drown in the sea. Are we worthy of being supported by an F1 sporting event?

Ultimately it comes down to something I hate to say, but F1 is a business. It has owners and shareholders and has to make money for them. Businesses within the capitalist system are duty-bound to make as much profit for their shareholders. Therefore, of course, we will visit countries with terrible human rights records—if they can pay. So, short of tearing down capitalism, I think we are stuck with this situation, and the only thing we can do, as a sport, is to highlight the issues, continue to make noises, and open up conversations about it, in the hope that it all leads to some positive changes.

Next Time

We’re off to the final race of the year and the championship decider! It’s going to be tense, exciting, and quite possibly messy!
Abu Dhabi: We return to a slightly reconfigured Yas Marina Circuit, with its slow speed corners and lots of potential for overtaking.

Where to watch

USA: Sunday 12th December Live on ESPN race start at 8:00 am EST
UK: Sunday 12th December Live on Sky Sports F1 and Main Event race start at 1:00 pm GMT
Highlights on Sky Showcase and Channel four Sunday 12th December, 5:30 pm

Written by Jenny Alderton

Jenny is a freelance writer based in Wales with keen interest in Motorsports. An avid follower of Formula one for over twenty years she has recently branched out into watching other vehicles driving around in wiggly circles. Namely, Motogp, World Superbike championship, and British Superbike championship.

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