Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen will go to the final race of the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship level on points after the Mercedes driver beat the Red Bull driver to the top spot of the podium at the end in a hugely dramatic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that featured two re-starts, one Safety Car period, numerous Virtual Safety Cars and a controversial collision that saw Hamilton run into the back of Verstappen’s car when the Red Bull driver tried to hand the lead to the Briton after being requested to do by race officials.
At the start of the race Verstappen made a good getaway from third place on the grid but ahead of him both Mercedes also made good starts and as the field headed towards Turn 1 Hamilton led ahead of Bottas and Verstappen. Behind them Sergio Pérez also got away well and almost made it past fourth-place starter Charles Leclerc but the Mexican locked up slightly into Turn 1 and that allowed Leclerc to pull back ahead and hold fourth as they exited Turn 2.
Having missed out on the opportunity to get past Leclerc at the start, Pérez then found himself lodged behind the Ferrari in the opening laps and losing time. And though he stayed in DRS range he couldn’t find a way past and by lap six he was 6.4 seconds behind Hamilton who sat 2.7s ahead of third-placed Verstappen.
The status changed on lap 10 when Mick Schumacher hit the wall. The Haas driver lost control on entry and slid sideways into the TecPro barriers at Turn 22. As the Safety Car was deployed Mercedes opted to pit Hamilton and the race leader took on hard tyres in a 2.8-second stop. Red Bull also pitted Pérez on the same lap.
Bottas briefly took the lead before pitting but Red Bull kept Verstappen on track and the Dutchman took the lead as Hamilton and Bottas slotted into second and third respectively. Behind the top three, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo also stayed on track during the SC and they rose to fourth and fifth respectively with Leclerc, who pitted, dropping to sixth ahead of Pierre Gasly, who stayed out, and Pérez.
The race swung towards Verstappen on lap 14 when having examined the barriers damaged by Schumacher’s Haas, Race Control waved the red flags and the race was halted.
The cars streamed back to the pit lane, where under red flag rules, the Team was permitted to change Verstappen’s tyres. He would take the re-start from pole and on fresh rubber.
A standing re-start was decreed and when the lights went out it was again Hamilton who made the best getaway and he pulled ahead of Verstappen into Turn 1. Verstappen braked late and tried to hang on around the outside but he went off track as he took the lead. Verstappen’s move also allowed Ocon to sneak past Hamilton and steal second place.
But behind them chaos was unfolding. Starting from P8 Pérez got squeezed badly, though initially he managed to avoid contact with the cars on either side. However, there was nothing he could do when Leclerc tagged him, spinning the Red Bull into the wall. And the chaos continued when Haas’ Nikita Mazepin slammed into the rear of George Russell’s Williams and the red flags were flown again.
After the incident at the first re-start, Race Control promoted Ocon to first place with Hamilton seconds and with Verstappen directed to start from third place ahead of Ricciardo and Bottas.
When the lights went out for a third standing start, it was Verstappen who made the best start. The Red Bull driver moved to the inside and as the Mercedes driver tussled with Ocon Verstappen dived to the inside and slipped past his title rival in Turn 1. And with momentum on his side he then powered past Ocon on the run to Turn 3 to brilliantly take the lead.
The front pair then rapidly pulled away from the Alpine and by lap 25 Verstappen and Hamilton were 12 seconds clear of the chasing pack and battling in a completely different league than their rivals.
On lap 29, following an earlier collision between Yuki Tsunoda and Sebastian Vettel and then contact between Vettel and Räikkönen, the VSC was deployed to clear debris and Verstappen’s medium tyres were given a breather.
The drama continued on lap 37. Hamilton closed in and attacked on the pit straight. The rivals tangled in Turn 1 and Verstappen left the track as he held the lead. The Red Bull driver was told to cede the lead but when he slowed on track to do so, Hamilton, seemingly unaware that the instruction had been given, did not slow enough and slammed into the back of the Red Bull.
Verstappen powered away into the lead again but once more handed the place back. And after being handed a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, and with his tyres fading, Verstappen settled for second place.
Behind the top two, Valtteri Bottas beat Esteban Ocon out of the final corner to claim third place. With the Alpine driver fourth, fifth place went to Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly took sixth for AlphaTauri. Charles Leclerc was seventh and Carlos Sainz eighth for Ferrari. Ninth place went to Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and the final point went to McLaren’s Lando Norris.
2021 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – Race
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 50 2:06’15.118
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 50 2:06’26.943 11.825
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 50 2:06’42.649 27.531
4 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 50 2:06’42.751 27.633
5 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 50 2:06’55.239 40.121
6 Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 50 2:06’56.731 41.613
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 50 2:06’59.593 44.475
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 50 2:07’01.724 46.606
9 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 50 2:07’13.623 58.505
10 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 50 2:07’16.476 1’01.358
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 50 2:07’32.330 1’17.212
12 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 50 2:07’38.367 1’23.249
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 49 1 lap
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda 49 1 lap
15 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 49 1 lap
Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 44 Retirement
Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda 14 Retirement
George Russell Williams/Mercedes 14 Retirement
Nikita Mazepin Haas/Ferrari 14 Retirement
Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 8 Retirement