The grand prix featured three different polemans for three starts on the grid, two of which were the result of serious accidents that left Jeddah’s long and fast track littered with debris.
There were four virtual safety car periods during an event where Hamilton and Verstappen faced off three times at the first corner – Verstappen was twice ordered to return a position to his title rival after finishing off-piste travel.
When he slowed down to let Hamilton pass for the final controversy at the turn, they collided as Verstappen attempted to let Hamilton pass as he approached the final corner in an incident which is under investigation now that the brutal contest is over.
In the first start Hamilton and Bottas jumped off the line in unison, Bottas holding his line inside the first corner to guard against a dive from Verstappen, with the Dutchman inserting behind them in the same third place as ‘he started. .
The biggest danger for Verstappen came from teammate Sergio Perez who moved closer to his left-back as the Mexican driver locked himself in trying to dive through Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari on the outside line.
The move gave Perez a slight lead over Leclerc, but it cost him some momentum in the long right-hand corner of Turn 2 and the Ferrari were able to fall back and start after the leaders.
The top three were able to turn within 1.34m in the opening laps, with Leclerc and those behind in 1.35m and less, meaning there was a quick gap behind Verstappen.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
Photo By: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
As Bottas was able to hold Red Bull to just over a second as the leaders increased their pace to 1.33m as the first 10 of 50 laps came to an end, Hamilton was tasked with creating a gap with his teammate. to avoid the Finn rolls in too much dirty air and damages his tires.
Hamilton’s lead over Bottas had just reached 2.0s – and 3.4s over Verstappen – when the race was interrupted by a safety car period activated after Mick Schumacher lost the rear of his Haas crossing the quick left turn of Turn 22 (where Leclerc crashed in FP3 in a very similar incident) on lap 10.
Mercedes called Hamilton to go from mediums to toughs, with Bottas doing the same, but only after he fell seven seconds behind the leader, which enraged Verstappen and Red Bull.
Verstappen then did not follow the Mercedes cars into the pits and therefore took the lead in the line ahead of Hamilton, Bottas and his fellow non-stoppers Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo, who was the first rider to start on the tough ones.
But after four laps behind the safety car, the race was signaled with a red flag, which gave Red Bull the opportunity to change Verstappen’s tires for the tough guys and not lose their position, which enraged Hamilton, who has repeatedly questioned the need to stop the race before exiting his car into the pit lane.
After a stoppage of almost 20 minutes, the race resumed with a second start on the grid – after Hamilton complained that Verstappen appeared to be making a practice start as he left the pit lane and Verstappen was furious that Hamilton was so far behind as they approached the grid. .
On the second start, Hamilton immediately sprang to the side and passed Verstappen, but the Red Bull fought back outside the Mercedes as they braked and turned for Turn 1, then cut Turn 2 to get back ahead. Hamilton as they both moved wide.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, fights with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, on restart
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
With Hamilton costing the momentum that retreated to the left as Verstappen rejoined the lead, Ocon pinched to finish second as he passed Bottas when the Finn got stuck at the first corner.
In the peloton behind, Leclerc spun Perez into the wall as they ran side-to-side out of Turn 2, with Red Bull coming right in front as they ran around Turn 3 to the right, which resulted in triggered a chain reaction that drove Nikita Mazepin to the back of George Russell – blind as the Williams and the others braked in front.
Perez, Mazepin and Russell were immediately exited, with the race again being flagged for 20 minutes with the wreckage cleared.
During the stop, Red Bull and Mercedes had a series of radio calls with race director Michael Masi, who suggested that Verstappen agree to be moved behind Ocon and Hamilton for the third standing start or he would bring back the incident of turn 1 to the stewards.
Red Bull accepted the decision and so the grid reformed, with the top three divided on tire strategy – Ocon and Hamilton still on the tough guys and Verstappen back in the midrange, as well as Ricciardo and Bottas behind him.
When the lights went out for the third time, the last poleman Ocon found Hamilton immediately at his side as he stepped away from the front row, but Verstappen swerved from the outside line to cut Ricciardo, then dive. inside the two leaders at turn 1..
Hamilton touched Ocon after a brief hit to the right as Verstappen knocked down his interior, with the Alpine cutting through Turn 2 after going deep at Turn 1 after slight contact with the Mercedes and Ocon rejoining Verstappen before quickly giving in first place at Red Bull.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, battles with Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo By: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Verstappen opened up a 1.3 second lead at the end of Lap 17, the third restart lap, with Hamilton then Ocon approaching Turn 1 at the start of the next lap.
This set up the final duel between the two leading title rivals, as they quickly pulled away from Ocon, who was five seconds from the start of Round 20, trading the fastest laps as the only ones. drivers capable of missing in Support 1m32s.
On lap 23, the race was halted again – this time due to a virtual safety car activated after Yuki Tsunoda and Sebastian Vettel met at turn 2 and the front wing of the AlphaTauri must have been recovered after run off.
The suspension was short and at the very end of the next lap the race turned green again and Hamilton’s pursuit of Verstappen resumed – their pace immediately reaching 1.31m.
But VSC’s second and third activations were needed so that more debris could be cleared from the towers as it approached lap 30 – after Vettel had a clash with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 4 following his clash with Tsunoda, for which the AlphaTauri pilot received five-second addition penalty, had dropped him in sequence.
The third VSC was much longer than the second and lasted from the 29th lap a few turns until the 33rd lap, at the end of which Verstappen had a lead of 1.2 seconds, but the conditions at full speed only lasted three more laps as more debris was needed. to be recovered under a fourth VSC as soon as you enter turn 14.
But that hiatus only lasted a few seconds, and then Hamilton moved closer to Verstappen at the start of lap 37 – overtaking Red Bull with DRS in the outer race to turn 1.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21 and the rest of the peloton at the start
Photo By: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
But Verstappen stayed inside again and the two went deep, much like at Turn 4 at Interlagos, with Red Bull then sliding wide and cutting through Turn 2 and staying in the lead as the two went off the track. .
Red Bull asked Verstappen to let Hamilton pass later on lap 37 and he slowed down as the last corner approached – where the Mercedes entered the back of Red Bull in confusing scenes for the two, which left him ripped off the right side of the front. wing.
After a few laps with Verstappen still ahead, in which Mercedes and Masi argued over what had happened in the race at Turn 27, the Red Bull driver slowed down again to let Hamilton go through the same turn – but this times, once the Mercedes has passed. , Verstappen took the advantage to regain the lead by passing the hairpin to the left.
Following this incident at the start of lap 43, Verstappen was given a penalty of five more seconds and then appeared to slow down again to let Hamilton pass on the last corner.
This time Verstappen attacked away, Hamilton receiving a warning for leading him in the second round as the Briton remained in the lead.
Hamilton pulled away from there as Verstappen’s midrange started to give up and he fell back to finish, at 11.8 seconds, Hamilton having enough pace despite his damage to secure the fastest lap.
Ocon lost third place to Bottas on the line as the second Mercedes used the DRS to defeat the Alpine – having battled Ricciardo a few laps earlier and started a late charge to save a podium.
Pierre Gasly finished sixth ahead of the Ferrari pair Leclerc and Sainz – the first to lose ground after the third restart – with Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris completing the top 10.