2022 Saudi Arabian GP Review: Verstappen beats Leclerc by half a second

The second round of the Formula 1 2022 season concluded with a well fought out win for the defending world champion Max Verstappen against a feisty Charles Leclerc during the closing stages of the race.

The race had unfolded in a completely different fashion than how it did when Formula 1 visited this particular track exactly 112 days ago for the penultimate round of the last season, as pretty much most of the grid got into action rather than just the top 2. The grand prix ended up having 6 non finishers for the race, but a very interesting finishing order.

Carlos Sainz crossed the line at a comfortable third followed by the Red Bull of Sergio Perez. George Russell had a rather uneventful race finishing 5th with Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris having a bout at it for the 6th place on the finishing lap. Pierre Gasly finished 8th with Kevin Magnussen and Lewis Hamilton rounding up the top ten in that order.

Zhou Guanyu slimly missed out on points seeing the chequered at 11th with the finishing order completed by the Aston Martins of Nico Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll.

As it happened......

It was a relatively clean first lap execute by all the cars with a couple of major moves being made down in the midfield. Sergio Perez got a great run down to the first corner followed by the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz, with Verstappen closing on the gearbox of the latter Ferrari. As the lap progressed, the Red Bull driver made his move on Sainz while the Haas of Kevin Magnussen took his fight up a bit too close for comfort to Pierre Gasly in the Alpha Tauri. Lewis Hamilton, having started the race in 16th, sure did make up a few places in the start as he was running 14th by the end of the lap.

By lap 5, we got our first instance of on track battles as the Alpines of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon squeezed each other out for a couple of laps putting up a brilliant treat for the eyes. As an exhibition of the 2022 car’s prowess, Alonso tried his move on Esteban Ocon once again after a couple of laps and gets it done this time.

This has been the observed style of overtaking for the new kinds of cars, wherein the overtaking car will attempt to stick the move once again in a few laps owing to the fact that following has been improved by quite a margin.

Sergio Perez started the chain of pit stops by going for the undercut against a tyre degradation-suffering Ferrari on lap 15, while the latter called a bluff on Red Bull by making them pit for the fresher set of tyres a bit too earlier than they might have wanted. This in turn handed the race lead to Leclerc as Ferrari decided not to pit their car. But Sergio Perez had the unluckiest possible timing of a pit stop, as exactly a lap later, there was an incident.

On lap 17, Nicholas Latifi binned it going into the final turn, bringing out the virtual safety car followed by a full safety car. This played right into Ferrari’s hands as the situation provided them with a “cheap pit stop”. Perez got out of the pits in P4, with Charles Leclerc pitting immediately to essentially inherit the race lead from Perez, completely shuffling the top order of the race.

After a 5 lap long safety car period, racing went underway as now the two Red Bulls split the Ferraris. This was not stagnant for long because of a safety car infringement by Perez due to which he had to give his 3rd place back to Sainz. Russell was running in 5th by then, followed by the Haas of Magnussen. Something that flew under the radar was Hamilton’s P7, as an effect of all those pit stop shenanigans.

The McLarens had a relatively good race until then; they had figured out a way to recover from their lack of pace as the hard tyres started to give them some traction. 

After about ten rather uneventful laps of snoozefest racing, it was on lap 34 that down in the midfield, Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen were putting up a fight for the books. It took Old ‘Nando the better part of two laps to get the move done. It was short lived since right after, he was thrashed with heartbreak as his car stuck in 4th gear and losing drive altogether, coming to a halt by the time he was near the pit entry on the successive lap, being overtaken by almost the entirety of the grid.

As the commentators were talking of Alonso, it was immediately seen that the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo coming to a stop at almost the same place where the number 14 Alpine had stopped, the apparent reason seemed to be a similar engine overheating issue and a subsequent cut off.

As all of this was happening on the track, Valtteri Bottas had also retired from the race for reasons not understood at the time.

By then the race already had 5 retirees. The incidents involving Alonso and Ricciardo meant the pit entry was not deemed safe by the race stewards, and this affected the hopes of Hamilton finishing well into the points dearly since he was not allowed to pit; him being the only driver who did not pit until then.

Post these incidents being cleared off track, it was about a ten lap shootout for the win between Verstappen and Leclerc. By lap 42, the fight for the lead was starting to wage on, at very tasty one at that. Verstappen and Leclerc fought for a couple of laps in the same manner they did in Bahrain, switching back and forth for the lead with the help of DRS down the start-finish straight.

Leclerc would give Max the lead going into the final DRS detection zone of the track, so as to have DRS for himself down the main straight, a move many hailed akin to a “game of chess in F1”.  As with the fights seen last race, it was an absolute blast to see these two titans clash for glory for quite a few laps!

On lap 47, the leading cars went wheel to wheel right down until the final turn. After about a couple of lap’s worth of battery charging, Max made up for the gap between him and the Ferrari to make a move dashing into turn one, with an extra 16kmph speed assist from his drag reduction system; being tantalisingly closer to the Ferrari than he has been for the last few laps, finally taking the lead of the race.

Alex Albon got tangled up in an incident on the final lap of the race with Lance Stroll, bringing out double yellow flags as the former had to come to a halt. This meant the race was done for, but Leclerc would still try to fight for the win right up to the line.

The ending classification showed the difference between the first and the second finishers were a MERE 0.5 seconds, the closest finishing margin since Monza 2020 between Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz.

Sainz on the other hand would go on to grab a podium making it a Ferrari double podium as they build their momentum towards being one of the title favourites for the season. Sergio Perez finished a disappointing 4th and Russell 5th. The battle for 6th also went down to the wire between Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon, with Ocon holding on to dear life and coming out on top in the end.

Hamilton could do as good as 10th with his disturbed setup as admitted by the Mercedes team themselves, followed by Zhou Guanyu in 11th. The finishers were rounded up by the Astons of Hulkenberg and Stroll.

Post-Race Analysis:

As for the winners and losers of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, in terms of points haul, it for sure was Ferrari again as they sit comfortably in the lead of the championship with 78 points. Red Bull put up a very strong and commendable performance for the weekend finishing first and 4th. Had it not been for his dumb luck, even Perez could have won the race with Verstappen rounding off the podium in 3rd.

Another credit to commendable performance should be due to McLaren: although one of their car did not finish the race, their recovered race pace seems to provide plenty of hope for the near future after the disaster they came up with in the season opener.

Even Haas had their luck painted well with Kevin Magnussen coming home with 2 points after they were forced to race with just one car due to Mick Schumacher’s horrifying crash at qualifying, the day prior.

As for losers, the biggest ones for the weekend would still be Mercedes with their lack of pace becoming extremely concerning for their fraternisers, as Lewis could only manage a 10th finish and George in P5. Apart from them, Alpine were caught unawares by Alonso’s DNF, as coming into the weekend they were touted to be the “best of the rest”.

Thus, a few pointers to sum up the race:

  • Red Bull return to their winning form
  • Ferrari genuine contenders for the title
  • 2022 cars are absolutely living up to our expectations
  • Mercedes have a LOT of ironing out to do on their cars before they contend for wins
  • McLaren starting to recover

Charles Leclerc still leads the championship with Max Verstappen propping up to 3rd with this win. With the magnitude of splendid quality racing we are seeing this time around, it is for sure to be a long way to the title. But we shall see very soon as Formula 1 returns to Melbourne, Australia for the first time in two years in just two weeks’ gap!

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