Controversy filled the event as the race saw two red flags along with the championship rivals coming together again.
Lewis Hamilton overcame everything that was thrown at him on an eventful evening in Jeddah to win the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen finished second, although he was in the centre of multiple controversies for his driving style, probably crossing the line on a few occasions with regards to clean and fair driving.
Both championship rivals came together once again, but rather than it being a racing incident like the other times in the season, the Red Bull driver was at fault this time, with Hamilton even claiming Verstappen brake-tested him.
Behind all the chaos between Hamilton and Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas managed to pip Esteban Ocon right on the main straight to the chequered flag in an epic last-section drag race to take third from the Alpine driver.
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo finished a strong fifth for the team, ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
The Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished seventh and eighth respectively, with the Scuderia duo once again finishing in consecutive places.
Alfa Romeo’s outgoing Antonio Giovinazzi had a superb evening with a terrific ninth-place finish ahead of the second McLaren of Lando Norris, who wrapped up the points places.
Hamilton’s win sees him tie up the championship battle, with both the drivers (Hamilton and Verstappen) on exact same points (369.5) in the Driver’s Championship, while the German team take a significant lead in the Constructors’ Championship with a double podium, which is even more significant given only one Red Bull driver finished the race.
Hamilton led Bottas off the line, with both the Mercedes making a good start to hold on to their positions, making sure Verstappen didn’t pass them like he did in Mexico.
Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Pérez, though, had a start to forget as he locked up and almost went into the back of his teammate, eventually slotting in fifth behind Charles Leclerc.
The opening few laps were less eventful, as Hamilton led away quietly and built up a decent gap to Bottas, who also had built up almost three seconds to Verstappen by the sixth lap.
The first major event of the race came on the 10th lap, as the Haas of Mick Schumacher lost his rear and crashed into the barriers at Turn 23, the same place where Charles Leclerc had a heavy crash during FP2. Schumacher’s crash initially brought out the Safety car, with both the Mercedes pitting under that window. Red Bull left Verstappen out in order to gain track position but did bring in Sergio Pérez.
After two laps behind the Safety Car, the Race Director, Michael Masi, decided to red flag the session, with the barriers having taken significant damage. This worked out perfectly for the Red Bull team, who benefitted from a free pit stop under the red flag and could keep their track position.
After a good 20-minute delay, racing got underway, with Verstappen leading Hamilton, but the Brit got a better start and went by Verstappen, who tried to retake the lead by going off track and pushed his way into the lead.
Racing didn’t continue for too long, however, as further down the grid, Sergio Pérez, Nikita Mazepin and George Russell all suffered crashes, bringing out another red flag. Pérez seemed to have forgotten to check his mirrors as he squeezed the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc into the barrier, and eventually the two made contact that ended the Mexican’s race.
A bit behind, Russell and Mazepin had a scary collision, with the Haas going into the back of the Williams, knocking both out from the race.
The race, then, saw its third start, and this time it was Esteban Ocon who was first on pole from Hamilton and then Verstappen, who was asked to give the place back to Hamilton as he retook the lead in an unfair manner. Ocon had quietly gotten behind both of the championship protagonists, and his presence there saw him start on pole at the restart.
Hamilton got away well again, trying to go past Ocon, but it was Verstappen who had an even better lead, going down the inside of Ocon and Hamilton to take the lead. Hamilton got squeezed by Verstappen and eventually made non-critical contact with Ocon. He, though, was right on the power, and within two laps of the restart was within a second of Verstappen, having dispatched Ocon without any hassle.
The race, then, saw yet another interruption on Lap 23, as the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda rammed into the side of Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin, and although Vettel limped away, the virtual safety car was deployed as Tsunoda went into the barriers himself and lost his front wing.
Vettel had another coming together, once again through no fault of his own; this time it was his former teammate Kimi Räikkönen driving into the side of the already-damaged Aston Martin. Vettel’s car was somehow hanging on and moving along, albeit at the cost of losing parts. Debris all over the track eventually brought out another virtual safety car.
The virtual safety car ended on Lap 32, with Hamilton set out to chase down Verstappen, who was just a little over a second ahead of the Brit. Hamilton clearly seemed to have more pace than the Red Bull driver and was cutting down Verstappen’s lead by tenths every lap.
On Lap 36, Hamilton overtook Verstappen on the main straight, but Verstappen, aggressive as he is, bullied his way back into the lead and made contact with Hamilton. He was then told to give up the place to Hamilton, and just as Hamilton was going to regain the place, the Dutchman, in a moment of brain fade, just slowed down in the middle of the track, leading to Hamilton having to take evasive action right as he got behind him, ending up going into the back of the Red Bull car.
Hamilton was on the radio immediately, furiously stating, “He just brake-tested me.” The stewards asked Red Bull to give back the place to Hamilton, and he did manage to go by the Red Bull eventually on Lap 42, but Verstappen immediately retook the lead.
The incident seemed to have been caused due to miscommunication and the race control informed Mercedes late about Red Bull giving back the position to Hamilton, who didn’t expect it. As for why Verstappen slowed down in the middle of the track and swayed at the last minute, only the Dutchman can answer.
Hamilton, then, overtook Verstappen once again on the following lap, and to make matters worse for the Dutchman, he was handed a five-second time penalty for his actions on Lap 36, when he retook the lead from Hamilton by going off the track.
Once Hamilton took the lead, there wasn’t anyone who came near him, and even with a damaged front wing (from all the collisions with Verstappen), Hamilton sped away. Verstappen, meanwhile, had a five-second penalty, which meant he couldn’t pit to change his tyres either, which were slowly beginning to give away.
Hamilton eventually took the win with ease, but it was his teammate Bottas who was involved in a third-place scrap with Ocon and managed to grab the final podium place on the main straight on the final lap, edging out the Frenchman in a flat-out drag race.
Although Ocon will feel hard done by because of the last-minute snatch-and-grab from Bottas, he will still be extremely proud of the fourth-place finish and how it will help Alpine lead AlphaTauri by a solid 29 points in the Constructors’ Championship.
Although Daniel Ricciardo will be happy with his fifth place, the Ferrari racers behind him make sure they have a 38.5-point lead in the fight for third place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Mercedes’ double podium, on the other hand, more or less seals a Constructors’ Championship with a 28-point lead.
As for the Drivers’ title, the battle continues into the final race of the season, with both drivers tied on exactly the same number of points, although Verstappen is ahead of Hamilton by virtue of having more wins in the season.
Verstappen will have to wait on the steward’s decision on his move that saw Hamilton ram into the back of him and hope there aren’t any further penalties coming his way.
Drivers are always told to race hard but always fair, and that is a line Verstappen crossed on Sunday in Jeddah. Given the speeds the Formula One cars go at and the nature of the circuit in Jeddah, not only was Verstappen’s driving unprofessional, but it was dangerous as well.
Maybe the championship pressure is getting to the Dutchman, or maybe it was just a driver error, or maybe it’s something else, we will get to know in the coming few days, but for now the title battle goes to Abu Dhabi, which has already been the scene of an epic title fight in 2016 between the then Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, with Rosberg taking the championship on that occasion.
Although both drivers go into the race on equal points, it is definitely advantage Hamilton, not only because it’s a track he has dominated over the years, but also because he has shown that in a pressure situation he has the experience to remain calm and get the job done.
For Verstappen, there will be a lot of questions thrown at the young Dutchman, heading into what could be the most important race of his career to date. He will need to overcome all of that on track, but more importantly, he will need to stay within the limits.