Saudi Arabian GP: Max Verstappen outduels Charles Leclerc for dramatic win; Lewis Hamilton 10th
Max Verstappen overtakes Charles Leclerc with four laps remaining to get revenge in Jeddah; Verstappen and Leclerc benefited from unfortunately-timed Safety Car for Sergio Perez, who had led early; Lewis Hamilton 10th for Mercedes after fightback before setback
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 27/03/22 10:15pm
Max Verstappen outduelled Charles Leclerc to win the Saudi Arabian GP and get revenge on his rival following another spectacular battle between the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers to start Formula 1 2022.
After Sergio Perez lost his lead due to an unfortunately-timed Safety Car, the sport's young stars went wheel to wheel in an epic finale to the race - a week after their Bahrain exploits - though this time Verstappen came out on top.
The world champion overtook Leclerc into Turn 1 with just four laps remaining to claim a vital first win of the season after his late DNF in the opener.
Verstappen's eventual pass followed several laps of feisty yet fine racing.
"Well done to Max, that was nice," said Leclerc in a clear message of respect for a driver he could well battle over the season. "It's hard racing but fair. Every race should be like this."
Verstappen added: "I'm really happy that we've finally kick-started the season."
Carlos Sainz completed the podium in the other Ferrari, ahead of Red Bull's Perez and Mercedes' George Russell, whose team-mate Lewis Hamilton only managed a single point in 10th after a mixed evening.
After the race, stewards investigated the final two laps with many drivers seemingly not slowing down sufficiently under double-waved yellows after Alex Albon's crash, but no further action was deemed necessary beyond a three-place grid penalty in Australia for the Williams driver after his collision with Lance Stroll.
Perez was leading comfortably from pole before pitting on Lap 14, which was immediately followed by a Nicholas Latifi crash and early safety car, allowing Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz to pit and overhaul him.
Hamilton was also unlucky in his pursuit of a strong finish.
The seven-time world champion had progressed from 16th to sixth, but after three retirements in a matter of moments - for Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas - Hamilton wanted to pit under the Virtual Safety Car before the pit-lane closed as he attempted to.
That dropped him back to 12th, though he progressed back into the points late on.
Lando Norris scored McLaren's first points of the season, and Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauris, making up for Yuki Tsunoda's reliability failure on his way to the grid.
Kevin Magnussen also impressively scored points for Haas again.
Saudi Arabian GP Race Result: Top 10
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
5) George Russell, Mercedes
6) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
7) Lando Norris, McLaren
8) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
9) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
10) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
'What a race' | Verstappen and Leclerc serve up thriller, Hamilton fights back before setback
F1's fastest street race - taking place two days after a missile attack hit a nearby oil facility in Jeddah - was always going to throw up chaotic racing and the quality of it, particularly between Verstappen and Leclerc, was a joy to behold.
Perez started on pole and controlled the opening portion of the race, more than two seconds clear of Leclerc and Verstappen before Red Bull pitted the Mexican. Cue agony for Perez as Latifi crashed his Williams - much like he did in qualifying - to bring out a Safety Car and an opportunity for others.
Leclerc and Verstappen took advantage of the slower pace to pit and take the top two positions, while there was more woe for Perez as he was adjudged to have passed Sainz illegally under the Safety Car and forced to cede third.
From there, Leclerc and Verstappen sped away before treating fans to a spectacle of racing.
Verstappen thought he got the move done on Lap 43 after passing Leclerc into the last corner, though the Monegasque immediately struck back on the main straight with DRS. There were shades of Bahrain when Leclerc pulled off a similar manoeuvre, and it looked like Ferrari were heading for two wins out of two.
But Verstappen, while angry on team radio, kept focused on the track and steamed up behind Leclerc in a clearly quicker Red Bull in the closing stages, and passed Leclerc into Turn 1. Leclerc stuck with him - which was a theme throughout the race as drivers were able to follow as hoped in the new-for-2022 cars - but could not get back past.
"What a race. I loved that people could fight back, it's not that you can make a move and you can pull away," said Sky F1's Jenson Button. "That's what's great about Formula 1 right now."
He added of Verstappen and Leclerc: "People say these guys are the future. But they're not the future... they're the now."
Elsewhere, Hamilton progressed well from 15th after his Q1 exit in qualifying and was up in the top six before a frustrating VSC. Both Hamilton and Magnussen hadn't stopped at the time of the VSC - necessitated by three DNFS in quick succession for Alonso, Ricciardo and Bottas - but the Haas driver managed to pit before the pit entry closed due to the stricken McLaren just as Mercedes called Hamilton to box.
When the race restarted on Lap 41, Hamilton was finally able to pit for fresh tyres but that dropped him to 12th and he could only gain two positions from there. His team-mate Russell will be pleased with his efforts, though.
There was more fierce racing between the Alpines - Alonso had ousted Ocon in their battle and was enjoying a superb race before his DNF - and the early signs for F1 2022 are very promising indeed.
After the race, stewards investigated the final two laps with many drivers seemingly not slowing down sufficiently under double-waved yellows after Alex Albon's crash, but no further action was deemed necessary beyond a three-place grid penalty for the Williams driver after his collision with Lance Stroll.
The season continues with the Australian GP on April 10, live on Sky Sports F1.