Saudi Arabian GP: The big takeaways from a start-stop, chaotic F1 race

Lewis Hamilton won the Saudi Arabian GP to ensure he is level on points with F1 title rival Max Verstappen going into the final race week.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen during the Saudi Arabian GP. (Twitter: @F1)

The inaugural Saudi Arabian GP will be one of those Formula 1 races that will live long in the memories of those who witnessed it, whether in person on TV.

Such was the chaotic nature of the race that even now it feels surreal to look back at it everything that happened. For a 50-lap race, it felt like the race managed to cram in action worth at least double that time.

In the end, however, it was Lewis Hamilton who won out with title rival Max Verstappen in second. Given Hamilton took the fastest lap point, both drivers are now level on points.

Verstappen is ahead in the standings on countback, having won one more race. However, the title will be decided in what is essentially a straight shootout at Abu Dhabi this weekend.

However, as mentioned, the chaotic nature of this race means there is a lot to talk about. Let’s dig straight into the big takeaways from the penultimate race of the 2021 Formula 1 season.

The cooler head prevails at the Saudi Arabian GP

After Lewis Hamilton crossed the chequered flag, Peter Bonnington a.k.a. Bono came in with his trademark “get in there Lewis” congratulatory statement. But it is perhaps what he said after that which stood out. “It was the cool head that won out,” said Hamilton’s race engineer.

Indeed, it is hard to argue with that statement. Hamilton felt aggrieved at being “brake-checked” by Verstappen when the latter was trying to cede the lead. And while Verstappen didn’t necessarily brake-check him, his actions were by no means less dangerous. Staying in the middle of the track and then suddenly slowing down to cede a position – just to get DRS assistance to then take it back – is by no means justifiable.

To make things worse, he squeezed Hamilton off track on what is a very narrow circuit. Hamilton went on to label his title rival ‘f***ing crazy’ so his anger was evident. It was doubly evident when Hamilton then gave Verstappen a taste of his own medicine later, squeezing him close to the outside of the track.

In the end, however, it was Hamilton who showed the required composure to claim the win. And, in turn, set up an all-or-nothing finale at Abu Dhabi.

Is Verstappen’s ‘defensive’ driving a result of lenient stewarding?

There was a lot to dissect about Verstappen’s driving at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. Both during and after the race, many fans were up in arms about him driving in a dangerous manner. Besides the aforementioned “brake-check”, he also squeezed Hamilton on a couple of occasions. To make things worse, after the race he claimed F1 was now all about penalties and not hard racing.

Here’s the thing though: Verstappen has not become a driver who pushes the line overnight. That has always been his modus operandi in the car; his refusal to yield corners when clearly behind is only under more scrutiny now because he is fighting for the championship.

Indeed, it is tempting to wonder whether stricter stewarding will ensure drivers like Verstappen rein things in. He was pushing to the point of recklessness at Jeddah, but why wouldn’t he be when he pushed the limits at Interlagos and wasn’t handed a penalty? If F1 wants to ensure hard but fair racing, better policing and consistent implimentation of the rules is needed. Otherwise the on-track action risks descending into farce.

Valtteri Bottas ensures Mercedes steal a march in constructor’s battle

Hamilton wasn’t the only Mercedes driver who had reason to smile after the Saudi Arabian GP. Teammate Valtteri Bottas was grinning ear to ear having stolen third place from Esteban Ocon on the run to the start-finish line with the chequered flag waving. It was a fine way to cap his 100th Mercedes start – and his penultimate race for the team.

Bottas has prior history when it comes to pulling off such moves, having famously denied Lance Stroll a podium in this manner at the Azerbaijan GP in 2017. And not only did it ensure him another podium finish, it also handed Mercedes the advantage in the constructor’s championship battle.

Going into the final race, Mercedes lead the team championship by 28 points. It isn’t yet set in stone, but a good points finish for both drivers at Abu Dhabi should see the team land their eighth straight constructor’s championship. A podium finish for Bottas was the best way for the team to take advantage of the fact that Sergio Perez was eliminated from the race in a pile-up after the second start to the race.

Oh, and speaking of that…

On-track chaos leads to unusually slow race

If not for the bitter battle between Hamilton and Verstappen, the Saudi Arabian GP 2021 would be remembered purely for the chaotic scenes on track. Here’s a quick recap on how things unfolded: first, Mick Schumacher crashed his Haas on Turn 22 during Lap 10. This brought out a Safety Car – which saw almost all cars, including the two Mercedes’ – pit for fresh rubber. However, the race was then red flagged – which allowed everyone who didn’t pit to change tyres.

A second start followed, but a pile-up in the first corner including George Russell, Nikita Mazepin and the aforementioned Perez saw the race red flagged again. The third restart proved the last, but there were multiple Virtual Safety Car (VSC) periods to clean up debris on the track.

The result? A race that, despite being on a fast track and packed with action, didn’t feature as much on track movement. The narrow track made overtakes difficult too which meant that, despite the start-stop nature of the race, the only major shock in terms of point finishers was Antonio Giovinazzi, who took his Alfa Romeo to a 7th-place finish. Which brings us to the next major point…

Saudi Arabian GP track needs a relook – and possibly a retool

Prior to the race, fans and drivers alike were of the opinion that the Jeddah Corniche Circuit was extremely quick. Therefore, there was cautious optimism that we would get an entertaining race in what has been an extremely entertaining season.

However, the track left a lot to be desired in terms of safety. The narrow circuit meant that drivers were often extremely close to the barriers and there was no room for error. That was fine, but the multiple blind corners also created issues for teams and drivers alike. To top things off, there was legitimate fears over a lack of a run-off area in parts of the track.

There’s no doubt the street circuit is fast, but one can argue it needs some retooling. As things stand, the track is fast but prone to multiple VSC’s, Safety Cars or even stoppages. An entertaining and safe race that does not make, even with all the money the sport is making from the 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia.

Shayne Dias

What do you think about the Article? Tell us

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.