Saudi Arabian GP: Was it the craziest Formula 1 race in history?

06-12-2021 20:21

Two red flags, three standing starts, countless virtual safety cars and normal safety cars, another Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton crash, penalties galore, only 15 finishers, Valtteri Bottas clinching third from Esteban Ocon on the line, and to top it all off, the championship rivals are level on points heading into the season finale. For half of the race, we were clueless as to what was happening. In a season jam-packed with drama, the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix added yet more in spectacular fashion.

In his ‘Driver of the Day’ interview, Verstappen called F1 “more about penalties than racing,” and about this race, you could say that’s true. From the get-go, we were unsure if it was about to become feisty, but we needn’t have worried. Verstappen’s lunge on Hamilton and Ocon at the first restart set the tone for things to come. Sergio Perez was squeezed out of the race, Yuki Tsunoda had plenty of contact, but all eyes were on the battle at the front, and for good reason.

Was Verstappen unsportsmanlike throughout, was Hamilton also at fault for their coming-together? One thing is for sure, the stewards didn’t have the race under control. Of course, it’s an extremely hard job, especially under the pressure of a title fight and under time constraints, but Michael Masi and his team weren’t their usual commanding selves.

The FIA have repeatedly expressed their desire for improved safety, which is why red and yellow flags were continuously shown, and is just what the sport needs, but on the other hand, the fact Mercedes didn’t know Verstappen was letting Hamilton past him was a huge mix-up. The Brit needed to know Verstappen was letting him into the lead, but he didn’t.

Brake Test?

Was it a brake test or not? I’m not so sure, but the Dutchman did intentionally stay in the middle of the track rather than move to one side. Then, he held the lead for a further six laps before he eventually handed it over. Tensions are high, and this battle certainly had shades of Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill about it. The negotiation with Masi and Red Bull was also a strange turn of events. The race director offered Red Bull a P2 grid spot for the restart, completely forgetting about Ocon in the process, and the lack of a rule was perplexing. 

It seems unusual that Masi was offering Red Bull a decision, and it was up to the Austrian outfit whether they accepted it. The lack of authority shown was bizarre, and not what you’d expect. It was almost like monopoly - you can take this, if I can have this - and so strange for such a professional sport. Yet, in a crazy race, such crazy decisions fitted the theme perfectly.

Verstappen twice let Hamilton past after he was adjudged to have illegally gained P1 on two occasions, and it was often hard to keep up with what penalties had been handed out, which incidents were being investigated, and who held the net lead of the race. It all figured itself out eventually, but the race was far from simple. While Hamilton wasn’t faultless, he definitely could’ve avoided the contact with Verstappen, it was the Dutchman’s over-aggressive driving that once again caused issues.

His unwillingness to yield is admirable at times, and certainly has shades of prime Schumacher, but it’s also dangerous. He never backs out, and in the race, he displayed that on multiple occasions. When Hamilton passed him at turn one at the first standing restart, he decided to brake even later than the Brit, and swoop around the outside, off the track to get the move done. He was always behind, yet decided to go for the move anyway.

Of course, some will say it’s excellent racing, and echo the famous words of Ayrton Senna - “If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver,”, but there didn’t appear to be a gap to go for in this instance. His driving style has put him right in the hunt for the championship, but Verstappen is certainly on the edge of right and wrong ethics on the track, and he tilted onto the wrong side in Jeddah. 

Either way, it all comes down to the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi this weekend. 

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