It’s a shame the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix had to come to an end as the fans were treated to an exciting race from start to finish on Sunday.
From the possible ruse of Ferrari wits to snatch the lead to a back-and-forth battle between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc to the finish line, this was the kind of GP Formula 1 was hoping for when they changed the regulations with the hope of allowing cars to follow each other more closely and overtake more easily.
Verstappen managed to hold off Leclerc until the checkered flag to take his 21st GP victory and the first points of the new season.
Here are the takeaways from the Saudi Arabian GP.
Max back on track
It was more like that for Verstappen who rebounded from a disappointing early exit in the season opener last weekend in Bahrain. Frankly, just getting to the end would have been an improvement, but you knew the reigning world champion wouldn’t have been content with that as he also finished in the points and on the podium.
There was a bit of reason to worry with Yuki Tsunoda of Red Bull Racing’s sister team AlphaTauri not even starting the race due to power unit issues, but those fears have gone away. evaporated faster than, well, Verstappen as he rounded corners and passed Leclerc. the DRS (drag reduction system) zone at the end of the race. The two battled for the lead until Verstappen grabbed it for good on lap 47.
We’d say the cliché he ‘never looked back’ but Verstappen had Leclerc in his rear view mirror the rest of the way. Verstappen had complained (at least) twice about Leclerc crossing the pit line while defending the lead and also questioned his opponent’s speed behind him while on yellow bail. It’s a big ask, but Verstappen needs to stay focused on the things he can control and let his team deal with the issues he can’t.
Ferrari takes a quick shot at Red Bull
Just when you thought Leclerc was going to undermine poleman Sergio Perez and pit at the start of the GP, Ferrari tricked the Red Bull driver into boxing past them. Leclerc looked like heading into the pits at the end of lap 15 to stay on track and inherit the lead as Perez dove into the pits instead.
Things went from bad to worse for Perez when Williams driver Nicholas Latifi of Toronto crashed while bringing out the safety car. This allowed Ferrari’s Leclerc, Verstappen and Carlos Sainz to stop while Perez could only circle the track at snail’s speed. Sainz just snuck in in time and scrambled for the P3 position with Perez, which the Mexican rider eventually conceded after the restart.
Poor Checo. While this is an improvement on last week’s failure to cross the finish line, getting from pole position to stepping down from the podium is a tough one.
Ferrari’s double podium extended its constructors’ championship lead to 78 points and a 40-point gap over Mercedes. Red Bull took third place with 37 points.
Mercedes remains competitive but the struggles are real
Who else was shocked that seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton didn’t come out of Q1 for the first time since 2017? It increasingly looks like the struggles Mercedes talked about before the start of the season are real and the team has an uphill battle.
Nonetheless, Hamilton has a competitive car and managed to turn a P15 start on the grid into a P10 finish. Hamilton managed to methodically maneuver through traffic to save a point. Tire management was also key as Hamilton started on the hard compound set and despite struggling with early grip was able to avoid having to stop until the end of the race.
Meanwhile, his Mercedes team-mate George Russell finished ahead of Hamilton in P5 and already looks quite comfortable in his new car this year.
Props the Kevin Magnussen again to put Haas in the points with a P9 finish and even battle for position with Hamilton at one point. (Who knew we’d see this?)
Magnussen was a one-man machine this weekend after team-mate Mick Schumacher crashed hard into the barrier during qualifying and retired from the Grand Prix. Fortunately, Schumacher appeared right after.
Magnussen, 29, is a year away from competing in F1 and basically got the call to return to Haas just 11 days before the start of the season after the team parted ways with Nikita Mazepin.
Plus, it makes Guenther Steiner happy and he deserves it after everything he’s been through as a team principal for Haas.
Alright, that was just an excuse to post that tweet too.
Splash and dash
• Magnussen also had a thrilling battle for position with Alpine’s Fernando Alonso until the two-time world champion lost power and limped back to the pits. Alonso didn’t quite make it, as did McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who also lost power and needed help from the marshals to push his Mercedes-powered machine. Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas also dropped out as it looked like chaos on the course.
• Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was nearly taken out by Williams’ Alexander Albon, who boned the Montreal driver late in the race, bringing out the aforementioned yellow which may have prevented Leclerc from making a final effort to overtake Verstappen. Stroll had to settle for an unlucky P13 finish as he remains useless on the season.
• While Ferrari may have been playing to try and outsmart Red Bull, Alpine were playing against Uno while Alonso and Esteban Ocon reversed the order early in the race. All it did was slow itself down and allow others to wait patiently behind them for potential disaster to occur. It never came as Ocon settled for P6 after Alonso retired.
The F1 season resumes in a fortnight with a round trip Down Under to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix on April 10. The event has not taken place for the past two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Set your alarm clocks, North American fans, because the lights go out at 1 a.m. ET.