A newly patient Max Verstappen left his best pass until the very end to win the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Max Verstappen stormed past Charles Leclerc’s formidable Ferrari F25 with four laps remaining on the unforgiving Jeddah Corniche Circuit to capture the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix by just half a second.
The Dutchman claimed his title defence’s first victory following a riveting wheel-to-wheel battle with Leclerc, which went down to the wire.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took third, with unlucky pole-sitter Sergio Pérez fourth for Red Bull. The Mexican started well and looked in complete control until he pitted seconds before the first safety flag came out. Verstappen and both Ferraris were able to pit under the safety car and return to the track ahead of Pérez.
Mercedes’ George Russell rallied to finish fifth, with his discouraged teammate Lewis Hamilton only 10th, capping a miserable evening to forget for the seven-time world champion.
Esteban Ocon brought his Alpine home for 6th, just ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris. Pierre Gasley took eighth for AlphaTauri, with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas 9th.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit’s combination of Monaco and Monza forgives no mistakes. Mick Schumacher learned that hard lesson amid his 160mph crash in Q2, delaying the session for almost an hour while he was airlifted to a hospital.
While the young German escaped any serious injury, he would miss Sunday’s race. His Haas chassis faired considerably worse, breaking in half as a recovery truck attempted to lift the crushed remains off the tarmac.
When qualifying resumed, there were additional surprises. As the Ferraris and the Red Bulls continued to show prodigious speed ahead of the rest, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez snatched the pole from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 0.025sec. It was the Mexican’s first career pole in his 220th race.
Carlos Sainz, who had briefly held provisional pole position before the final Q3 runs, would start third ahead of Max Verstappen in fourth, who was 0.261s behind his Red Bull teammate.
At the other end of the grid was a profoundly melancholy Lewis Hamilton, who would line up 16th on the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix after failing to make it out of Q1 for the first time since Brazil 2017.
Ironically, Hamilton’s teammate, George Russell, made it through with room to spare, setting the fourth-fastest time in Q1, 0.663sec quicker than Hamilton, and eventually qualifying his Mercedes sixth on the grid.
Perez had the perfect start as the lights went out, covering off the Ferraris’ challenge into Turn 1. Verstappen slotted into third ahead of Sainz as added protection for Perez. They would run in tight order for the first 17 laps. And Hamilton? The Brit moved up one spot into 14th.
By Lap 3, Russell was on the move, diving up the inside of Ocon to take 5th place. Lando Norris, who was up into 10th, fell off the track at Turn 1, while Ricciardo fought off Hamilton in the second McLaren. The Brit’s hard tyres will start to fade by Lap 5.
Meanwhile, Ocon and teammate Fernando Alonso began an inter-team battle, passing and re-passing for sixth place until Lap 14, when team principal Otmar Szafnauer ordered Ocon to hold his position and not challenge Alonso.
Seizing the moment, Valtteri Bottas wasted no time passing the Frenchman for seventh place.
Lightning struck on Lap 17, and Team Williams Nicholas Latifi was the bolt. It should be remembered that the Canadian’s accident in Abu Dhabi at the end of last season affected F1 history. He crashed again during Saturday qualifying. Thus, the Williams driver made it two in a row on Sunday.
Before the Safety Car closed the pit lane, Leclerc and Verstappen had dived into the pits and emerging ahead of the Mexican.
After the restart, Magnussen and Hamilton – who had moved up to sixth and seventh without stopping for tyres, passed and re-passed until Lap 25, when Hamilton went by Magnussen for fifth place.
With 14 laps from the finish, Alonso (Alpine), Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) and Ricciardo (McLaren) sputtered to a halt. The call for the full Safety Car that closed the pit lane was due to cars partially blocking the entry.
The Safety Car came in at the end of Lap 40, Hamilton was finally able to pit, but the Brit’s race was effectively over. He rejoined in 12th, behind Magnussen’s Haas.
Upfront, Leclerc and Verstappen were building expectations of a scintillating battle for victory for the second time in a week.
On Lap 42, Verstappen drove around the outside of Leclerc to take the lead into the final corner, only for the Monegasque to have DRS on the pit straight to move back ahead of the world champion. Leclerc went in very deep but kept the lead.
Leclerc led Verstappen by less than a second on Lap 43 as they screamed toward the DRS demarcation line. Verstappen went down the inside but stood on the brakes at the final corner, hoping that Leclerc would overshoot the line, thus giving the Dutchman DRS. He locked his brakes along with Leclerc.
Verstappen knew the key here was being the car behind to enable DRS on the pit straight. At this moment, neither driver wanted the lead at this detection point. It was an issue in the race last year and was again this year.
Leclerc held the lead onto the pit straight this time, but Verstappen was too far back to take the lead this lap.
At the end of Lap 46, Verstappen locked his Red Bull onto the back of Leclerc’s Ferrari gearbox through the final bend. He held back on the exit of the last turn, thinking about a move on the inside, but then reconsidering his plan of attack.
It was Verstappen’s winning moment.
Using the tow and DRS to blast past his now formidable rival on the main straight, the Dutchman made the move stick on the pit straight.
It was now Verstappen into the lead and in control!
On Lap 48, the Monegasque held one last card. Leclerc tried to tuck into Verstappen’s slipstream, but he couldn’t get close enough even with DRS.
Yellow flags waved in Sector One, meaning no passing. Alex Albon had made a questionable move on Stroll’s Aston Martin and severely damaged his front end. He had a puncture and had pulled to the side of the track.
Leclerc pushed Verstappen to the line, but his powerful Ferrari couldn’t make up the half-second gap. The Dutchman kept his composure for the victory.