This past weekend, Formula 1 made its first trip to Saudi Arabia to break in the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, a street course by the Red Sea designed by Hermann Tilke. Highlighted as the fastest road course in the world, the narrow lively track provided wild theater for the penultimate race of the season.
Lewis Hamilton ultimately prevailed in an event that featured a litany of stoppages, three standing starts, five DNFs, hostility aplenty, and the ability to watch the inner workings of how race director Michael Masi takes care of business. To call the event a race might be a bit of a misnomer as it seemed to be more a play in three acts with the only question left to be answered is who played the roles of protagonist and antagonist.
Even long after the finish, that question has yet to be answered.
For fans of Max Verstappen, the roles are clear. Verstappen playing a Skywalker-type role is the young Jedi trying to defeat the evil empire known as Mercedes. Given a Red Bull lightsaber, Verstappen has slashed through the competition to meet his match in Lord Hamilton. In this scenario, Verstappen, even when plagued by folly, is still on a righteous path to make F1 a better place.
For fans of Lewis Hamilton, his story is more like the Horatio Alger myth or a motorsport equivalent of Tom Brady’s success in the NFL. His unlikely rise to world champion and the statistical greatest of all time is the stuff of Disney fable. Yet his status as an elder statesman of F1 now places him in the position of trying to protect his kingdom (or legacy) and seeks to steal one more championship before what will probably be an inevitable decline that comes with age.
For those fans who pull for neither Verstappen or Hamilton, the battle between the two championship contenders is both a drama for the ages and a clown show. These two are both great drivers in great cars but are playing games of chicken and checkers rather than strategy and chess. These two are stars in a drama at 200 mph with the whole soap opera cast behind them.
Another writer referred to the Saudi Arabian GP as a staccato affair and that could not be a better description. The four safety car periods and the two standing starts after the opener offer all the evidence needed to support the claim.
From another perspective, the Jeddah track is a hot mess. Just because it is fast does not make it a good layout and it is definitely due for a little bit of redesigning. The claustrophobic and blind nature of the omnipresent walls seems to be a detriment as much as the fact that it could stand to have another chicane or two to bring more challenge to the car’s handling other than the straight-line speed.
Not only would these changes improve the race itself but perhaps qualifying would not be such a calamitous affair with drivers hovering in parts of the track in such a way that it looks more like a traffic jam than an F1 event.
This race is the first to feature three standing starts since Mugello in 2020 but the last time that happened prior was in 1990, indicating that it is a rare feat. While three standing starts may be entertaining it is also not racing at its pinnacle.
Give Esteban Ocon and Alpine credit for almost sneaking a podium finish from this mess of a grand prix. Moving to the front after the first safety car/red flag period, Ocon held at the front of the grid for the rest of the race, even if he could not match speed with Verstappen and Hamilton as they sped off into a 20-second gap.
Christian Horner and Toto Wolff have taken bickering, whining, insulting, trashing, and cursing to a professional level this season. That Horner was summoned to the stewards after the last race in Qatar and reprimanded for his criticism of race officials serves as evidence.
But Wolff has not been immune to outbursts and frustration and has lobbed his verbal grenades in the media. Wolff has avoided a visit to the stewards’ room but has certainly been open in his disapproval of how things have been run.
While neither of these two is likely to change anything about the way they do things they have given a disappointing view of the concept of sportsmanship. Acting more like children racing to a parent to tattletale, these two are both constantly seeking to become the favorite–when that outcome is impossible.
While nothing may change, enjoy Wolff’s reaction to Hamilton nipping the rear-end of Verstappen’s car.
Toto Wolff – 1
Headphones – 0pic.twitter.com/igiIf1zqyg
— Rachel Gilmore (@atRachelGilmore) December 5, 2021
Sure, it would be fun to discuss where Alpine went wrong with Fernando Alonso’s tyre strategy, or how Lando Norris was jobbed out of a better finishing position because of the red flags and safety cars, the truth is that this race comes down to the incidents between Verstappen and Hamilton.
Restarts, negotiations, the give-back not give-back. For all the hype that establishes these drivers as being the best in the world, this race gave evidence to the contrary.
And then there was this confused exchange between the two drivers.
Only the data will say who is at fault but the incident looked disturbing and later caused Verstappen to incur an irrelevant 10-second penalty that changed nothing in the results. If anything, the FIA was trying to send a message to Verstappen that wrecking Hamilton out of the deciding race in Abu Dhabi will not win him the championship.
Verstappen takes his champagne bottle and walks off the podium, not taking part in the spraying. No eye contact whatsoever between him and Hamilton https://t.co/a4AL7SqT10
— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) December 5, 2021
The Notable Driver
For finishing second, Verstappen won the driver of the day award from F1 fans (with 26% of the vote) but Valtteri Bottas deserves a nod for taking third after languishing back in fifth and fourth for much of the race. He started second and held that position until the craziness began with Mick Schumacher’s wreck on lap nine.
Then he fell down in the order due to the red flags and pit stop and he was no longer part of the story at the front. But on the last lap, Bottas did what has been expected of him the entirety of his Mercedes career–make the passes that are necessary when necessary.
On the last lap, Bottas snuck by Esteban Ocon who had been holding on to the final step of the podium. The French driver pounded his steering wheel in frustration as Bottas cruised in elation. The result does not just look good for Bottas it also pushes Mercedes ahead further in the constructor’s championship over Red Bull (587.5 – 559.5).
– Lewis Hamilton described Max Verstappen during the race, “This guy is fucking crazy, man.”
– Max Verstappen with his view of the race, I was told to give the position back, so I moved off the racing line and slowed down, Lewis just stayed behind me, I don’t understand why he didn’t pass. I don’t agree with the five-second penalty, but it is what it is and we’ll just move on.”
– Esteban Ocon celebrating his fourth-place result said, “I gave it my all today. The competitor inside of me is disappointed to miss out on the podium by such a short distance, but I’m very proud of the whole team today. What we achieved is outstanding and to take fourth place and add 12 more points in the bag in the championship is what counts.
The Results – Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah Corniche Circuit (Dec. 5)
|2||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||50||+21.825s||18|
|4||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||50||+27.633s||12|
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren Mercedes||50||+40.121s||10|
|6||10||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri Honda||50||+41.613s||8|
|9||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||50||+58.505s||2|
|10||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Mercedes||50||+61.358s||1|
|11||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Mercedes||50||+77.212s||0|
|12||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||50||+83.249s||0|
|13||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||49||+1 lap||0|
|14||22||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri Honda||49||+1 lap||0|
|15||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||49||+1 lap||0|
|NC||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Mercedes||44||DNF||0|
|NC||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Honda||14||DNF||0|
|NC||9||Nikita Mazepin||Haas Ferrari||14||DNF||0|
|NC||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||14||DNF||0|
|NC||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||8||DNF||0|
Note – Hamilton scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race. Tsunoda received a five-second time penalty for causing a collision. Verstappen received a five-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a further 10-second penalty for causing a collision
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