Lewis Hamilton claimed a tense victory in a thrilling 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from title rival – Max Verstappen, which leaves both drivers locked on 369.5 point with one race left this season.
Hamilton led from pole position until Lap 10 when Verstappen seized the lead as the Brit pitted under the Safety Car following Mick Schumacher’s crash, which caused the red flag to be waved three laps later as Verstappen inherited a free tyre change.
The race restarted on Lap 15 with a standing restart which ended in chaos as Sergio Perez spun out whilst George Russell’s race was ended after Nikita Mazepin smashed into his rear, which caused an instant red flag.
Verstappen meanwhile had cut the corners as he held off Hamilton which caused stewards to drop him to third on the second restart as Esteban Ocon claimed the lead as a consequence, only to lose position to Verstappen on the restart on Lap 17 then to Hamilton a lap later.
Verstappen and Hamilton proceeded to battle for the lead with a controversial flashpoint on Lap 37 when Verstappen deliberately brake-tested Hamilton, sending the Brit into the back of his Red Bull as both escaped with minor damage.
Hamilton though eventually claimed the lead on Lap 43 and sprinted away to victory ahead of Verstappen, whilst Valtteri Bottas snatched third from Ocon on the line at the checkered flag.
Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris rounded out the top ten.
In the drivers’ standings, Verstappen and Hamilton now head into the final race level on 369.5 points with the Red Bull driver sat top by virtue of nine wins to Hamilton’s eight victories this season.
Mercedes meanwhile opened a 28 point lead in the Constructors’ standings over Red Bull whilst Ferrari look set to finish third ahead of McLaren.
At lights out, Hamilton made a clean start to lead Bottas, Verstappen, Leclerc and Perez as Norris and Ocon quickly cleared Gasly who slipped to eighth and the top eight quickly settled into position, whilst Ricciardo leapt up to ninth ahead of Alonso who leapfrogged Yuki Tsunoda.
Further back, Sainz began 15th on the hard tyres but quickly cleared Kimi Raikkonen, Tsunoda and Alonso for tenth by the end of Lap Eight, before passing Giovinazzi two laps later for ninth as the Safety Car was deployed following Schumacher’s incident a lap earlier.
Schumacher was running 18th on Lap Nine when he lost the rear end of his Haas into Turn 22 and smashed sideways into the barriers.
Up front, Mercedes double-stacked Hamilton and Bottas as Verstappen stayed out under the Safety Car and took the lead, as he proceeded to complain about the speed of the Safety Car before the red flag was waved on Lap 13 to allow time to repair barrier damage.
Verstappen consequently was allowed a free pit stop under red flag conditions to switch to fresh hard tyres, as the Safety Car led the field out for a standing-restart 18 minutes after the red flag was waved.
At lights out on the standing restart, Verstappen was beaten off the line by Hamilton who claimed the lead but Verstappen deliberately ran off track through Turn Two and squeezed Hamilton, which enabled Ocon to pass the Brit for second.
Further back, Leclerc got squeezed by Perez through the opening two corners and clipped the Mexican going through Turn Three, spinning the Mexican around which triggered chaos and caused Nikita Mazepin to smash into George Russell as they tried to avoid the chaos.
The red flag was swiftly shown and during the red flag, stewards offered Red Bull the option of disciplining Verstappen for his misbehaviour by dropping him initially to second with Hamilton on pole for the second restart, much to Red Bull’s irritation.
Following further negotiations, Ocon ultimately ended up on pole for the second standing restart ahead of Hamilton with Verstappen third.
At lights out on the second standing restart on Lap 17, Ocon fended off Hamilton as Verstappen swept across to dive up the inside of Turn One and took the lead out of Turn Three after running wide.
Hamilton quickly cleared Ocon and set about chasing down Verstappen in a dramatic cat and mouse showdown twice disrupted by two Virtual Safety Car periods in the intense heat.
Tensions hit boiling point at the start of Lap 37 as Hamilton got the run out of the final corner onto the main straight and swept past Verstappen, only for Verstappen to deliberately run wide through the opening two corners to hold the lead.
Verstappen then pretended to concede the lead back to Hamilton later that lap but instead of moving aside, he lingered across the middle of the track and brake checked Hamilton who slammed into Verstappen’s rear as both escaped with minor damage as Verstappen sped away.
Hamilton quickly regrouped and briefly regained the lead through the final corner on Lap 42 but Verstappen cut back on exit and regained his lead with DRS, which led to stewards ordering a post-race investigation from which Verstappen was hit with a 10s time penalty.
In their official explanation, stewards stated that neither Verstappen nor Hamilton ‘wanted to take the lead’ into the third DRS zone, yet adjudged Verstappen’s braking as ‘erratic’ and ‘predominantly’ at fault for the resulting clash with sudden braking of 2.4g deceleration.
Hamilton however had the last laugh a lap later as he got back past into the final corner and ran slightly deep as Verstappen sped up round the outside, in a deliberate attempt to make it look like he was forced wide which led to stewards issuing a warning to Hamilton.
Verstappen though struggled thereafter as his medium tyres degraded with Hamilton speeding off to his 103rd race victory in F1, leaving the two title contenders locked on 369.5 points with one race left.
Further back, Bottas struggled in fifth behind Ricciardo until he passed the McLaren driver into Turn One on Lap 40, ahead of a tense finish as he snatched third from Ocon on the line to extend Mercedes’ lead to 28 points over Red Bull in the constructors’ standings.
Verstappen and Hamilton now will battle it out for the title in Abu Dhabi next weekend in the 2021 season finale, as both drivers head into the final race level on points.
|1||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||50||2h 06m 15.118|
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||50||+ 21.825|
|3||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||50||+ 27.531|
|4||Esteban Ocon||Alpine||50||+ 27.633|
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||50||+ 40.121|
|6||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri||50||+ 41.613|
|7||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||50||+ 44.475|
|8||Carlos Sainz||Ferrari||50||+ 46.606|
|9||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||50||+ 58.505|
|10||Lando Norris||McLaren||50||+ 61.358|
|11||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||50||+ 77.212|
|12||Nicholas Latifi||Williams||50||+ 83.249|
|13||Fernando Alonso||Alpine||49||+ 1 Lap|
|14||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||49||+ 1 Lap|
|15||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||49||+ 1 Lap|
|RET||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||45||Damage|
|RET||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||14||Spin|