Wild Race in Jeddah!

The Podium

What a wild race this weekend. Watching the practices and qualification, one thing was very clear, the new Saudi Arabia Grand Prix is extremely fast. Of the tracks raced this year, it is the second longest track only to SPA. Most of the turns are open enough for the drivers to hit them full speed. However, a few of the turns are very tight creating a bottle neck which became the bane of a clean race this week. This race was marked by multiple racing incidents, shunts and the Formula 1 championship leaders locking horns on multiple occasions.

Lewis Hamilton started on pole for the 103rd time for his career with his teammate Valterri Bottas in 2nd followed by Max Verstappen in third. Max could have had pole but for a wild last turn incident during Q3 on Saturday. During qualification, he had the pace on Hamilton, but he couldn’t bring it home. That seemed to be the story of race day as well.

The fireworks began when Mick Schumacher wrecks into the wall around lap 13. The race was red flagged. A few laps earlier, Hamilton and Bottas had pitted leaving Verstappen in the lead. Verstappen restarted number one on the grid.

At the restart Hamilton executed an excellent start. Max pushed wide, cuts across the corner and gets back on track in front of Hamilton. As this happens, Esteban Ocon in his Alpine passes Hamilton by. It appears it was an unfair advantage taken by Verstappen because he took the lead off the racetrack.

Meanwhile, further back in the field, the restart had barely taken off when Sergio Perez’s rear right tire was clipped by Charles LeClerc’s Ferrari, spinning Perez out, damaging his wing and drive shaft. Perez’s spin forced George Russell among others to slow down to get around the spinning Red Bull. Unfortunately, when Russell slowed, Nikita Mazepin rear ended Russell and ran underneath him virtually destroying Mazepin’s Haas. While the second red flag was in place to clean the track up again, it was agreed amongst the teams that Ocon would restart one, Hamilton two and Verstappen three. Lastly, during this restart Red Bull decided to switch to the medium tire. This decision would come back to haunt them.

The race restarted at lap 17. This time Max Verstappen had the fantastic restart and took advantage of Hamilton leaving the inside lane open. Verstappen darted to the inside, passed up Hamilton and drove around the outside to pass up Ocon to take the lead. Hamilton eventually found his way around Ocon and then once again another race incident occurred. The race was yellow flagged on lap 24 due Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen tangling. The race was yellow flagged for 9 laps and Hamilton was nipping at Verstappen’s heals awaiting the rolling restart.

The drama at lap 37 set the stage for the end of the race in part. Hamilton and Verstappen were wheel to wheel on lap 37, and Hamilton bumped him on the turn and Verstappen jumped the curb and took the lead. He didn’t give an inch. The racing stewards thought that he should have let Hamilton by. Personally, I think that is debatable. It was good hard racing and Verstappen came out on top. The stewards disagreed opting for a more civilized solution. Verstappen was ordered to let Hamilton pass. As Verstappen slowed down in the DRS zone, Hamilton ran directly into the rear of the Red Bull. Apparently, Verstappen was told to let Hamilton pass, but the message was not relayed to Hamilton causing the collision. Verstappen took off. Verstappen once again was told to let Hamilton by. He was unable to make up the pace in the end. The change to the mediums earlier in the race likely had an adverse effect on Verstappen’s ability to overcome the penalty assessed. Hamilton rear ending him also likely had some ill effect on the car and tires.

History was made on Sunday as this was the first Formula 1 race ever in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia.

The race result is controversial given the story of the race. In any case, Verstappen and Hamilton share the top two places for 13th time this year. This is Verstappens 17th podium this season tying a Formula 1 record for most number of podiums in a season. This race extends Hamilton’s storied legacy as well. He earned his 103rd poll and 102nd win in his career extending his Formula 1 records.

Today’s race raises questions about how to race. Many are critical of Max Verstappen’s style of racing. I for one have no issue with it. I grew up watching NASCAR. Rubbing is Racing in America. There is no compromising and there are a lot of wrecks. Max Verstappen hung it all out on the rails on Sunday and as fans that is what we want to see. There is another driver in Formula 1 history that used to do that: Michael Schumacher. He won seven world championships. We don’t want to see wrecks and we want the drivers to be safe…but that concept runs in direct conflict with the notion that these drivers participate in an inherently dangerous sport. They all know what they are doing. Max Verstappen was voted driver of the day for a reason. He is uncompromising. He is talented. He is really fast. His quote encapsulates his mindset: “Luckily the fans have a clear head about racing”. Why yes Max. Yes we do.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are now tied at 369.5 points as we head into the last race of the season. The season is coming right down to the wire as it should. Experience versus uncompromising skill. Who will win?

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