For the very first time in Formula 1 history, F1 raced in Saudi Arabia. The 2021 Saudi Arabian GP was the 2nd-last race on the 2021 F1 Calendar, and it set things up perfectly for the season finale in Abu Dhabi. This race review is going to be an important one because of all of the crashes and controversy in this race. There were some serious moments that need to be analysed because, after some of the things that happened on Sunday, some serious changes need to be made.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit is the fastest street circuit in the world, but with that quality came some challenges. And with the title race reaching the very end, it was obviously going to get intense. Before the race, I analysed the Jeddah Corniche Circuit to see if it could provide good racing and entertainment. Little did I know that pure racing wouldn’t be the reason the Saudi GP became as memorable as it was.
Lewis Hamilton gained 8 points on Max Verstappen after the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP. Hamilton won and secured the fastest lap, with Verstappen finishing 2nd. That result brought the rivals equal on points heading into the season finale. Let me know in the comments below – have you ever seen this happen in Formula 1? I know I haven’t because the last time that happened was in 1974! However, this end result came after confusion, mishaps, a lot of aggression, and a broken pair of Bose headphones.
That last one was the latest Toto Wolff moment, which came after Verstappen and Hamilton made contact. I’ll get into the details of Hamilton vs Verstappen later because it got exceptionally complicated in this race. There were many different factors that led to the shenanigans at the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP…
Coming to the constructors’ championship, it looks like Mercedes have got this one in the bag. With Hamilton and Bottas finishing 1st and 3rd while Perez retired from the race, Mercedes now have a 28-point lead. With only 1 race to go in this season of F1, it looks highly unlikely that Red Bull can gain 29 points on Mercedes.
However, Valtteri Bottas barely grabbed the podium. At the first restart after the first Red Flag, Bottas locked up massively into Turn 1 and lost 2 places. However, it took a while for him to start showing some pace and start getting those positions back. On Lap 40, Bottas overtook Ricciardo for P4.
Bottas now had 10 laps to gain 5 seconds and overtake Esteban Ocon if he wanted a podium. Unfortunately for Ocon, Bottas caught up to Ocon. On Lap 50, the final lap of the race, Bottas was half a second behind Ocon. The Alpine was clearly slower than the championship-leading Mercedes.
But coming into Turn 27 (the final corner), Ocon was ahead. But Bottas nailed his exit and used the slipstream and DRS to snatch P3 from Ocon at the finish line. Ocon was 0.102 seconds away from a podium. It was heartbreaking for Ocon and Alpine – they deserved that podium way more than Bottas did, even though Bottas pulled off a comeback to get that podium. However, P4 is still a fantastic result for Alpine, and it’s helped them massively in their battle with AlphaTauri. But AlphaTauri didn’t have a bad race either, with Pierre Gasly finishing in P6.
Speaking of the midfield battles, McLaren finally ended their streak of losing points to Ferrari. While Lando Norris finished P10 for the 3rd time in the last 4 races, Daniel Ricciardo finished in P5. The Ferraris finished in P7 and P8, with Leclerc beating his teammate after some intense racing between the Prancing Horses. McLaren only gained 1 point on Ferrari, leaving them 38.5 points behind the Scuderia.
Daniel Ricciardo wasn’t the only driver who ended their dry run of points. Antonio Giovinazzi scored 2 points in Jeddah after finishing in P9. He got very close to points in Turkey, the United States and in Mexico, but he finally finished in the Top 10 in Jeddah. Giovinazzi is going to be racing in Formula E next year, and we wish him the very best of success in that stage of his career!
There were 15 finishers in this race because 5 drivers retired from the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP! The first driver to retire was Mick Schumacher, who retired on Lap 10 after a crash at Turn 22. Perez, Mazepin, and Russell retired on Lap 14 at the restart after the first Red Flag. And lastly, Sebastian Vettel retired on Lap 44 because of damage sustained from contact with Tsunoda and Raikkonen. He was running in P8 after the first restart, but he made contact with Tsunoda on Lap 23, which ruined his race. On top of that, he made contact with Raikkonen later on in the race, which forced Seb to retire.
I recently uploaded a video on F1ntastic Gaming, which is my F1 gaming YouTube channel. In that video, I raced around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit as Sebastian Vettel, and I managed to score a podium! It’s unfortunate that Vettel had to retire from the race in real life – I’m sure I’m not the only one who was happy to see him potentially score points again.
Now it’s time to get into the analysis! First of all, I’ll analyse the incidents that led to the race director stopping the race TWICE. Then, I’ll analyse the shenanigans that took place between Hamilton and Verstappen, because it was a complete trainwreck. And lastly, I need to make it clear that the FIA needs to pull it together and sort out some serious issues that cannot be ignored. The 2021 Saudi Arabian GP was an example of how the FIA needs to step up.
It’s Lights Out And Away We Go…For The 3rd Time!
Yes, there were 3 starts off the grid in the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP. First was the regular race start, in which, to the surprise of many, not a single driver retired or made significant contact with another driver. At a street circuit, the track is narrower than a permanent circuit. On top of that, this particular circuit narrows down into Turn 2. I definitely did not see that clean start coming. However, on Lap 10, Mick Schumacher had a big crash at Turn 22.
It was similar to the crash Leclerc experienced in FP2 – Schumacher was just turning into the corner when he just completely lost the back end of the car, which sent him hurtling into the barrier. The barrier absorbed the shock really well – however, the barrier needed to be fixed and the marshals needed to remove the car from the track. As you can see in the image above, the car took some significant damage. But so did the barrier. This is something that we saw at the 2020 Italian GP as well – the race was suspended because the barrier needed replacing after a big crash.
However, a Safety Car was brought out before the Red Flag. That Safety Car period was from Lap 10 to Lap 13 – there was a bit of a delay with the race director deploying the Safety Car and then the Red Flags, which I’ll get into later. During that Safety Car period, Mercedes did a double-stack and brought both drivers into the pits, promoting Verstappen to P1. However, the Red Flag meant Verstappen could change his tires and still retain his lead, meaning he got a free pitstop. This race suddenly got spicier, yet there was so much more to come.
After the barrier repairs were completed, it was time to get the race back underway. And as expected, the race would restart from a standing start, with the race continuing on from Lap 15. The lights went out for the 2nd time, but this time, it wasn’t as clean as the first start at all. First of all, Hamilton overtook Verstappen down into Turn 1, but Verstappen tried to fight back and ended up cutting Turn 2 and gaining an advantage. He also squeezed Hamilton out at the exit, which allowed Ocon to slip into P2. I’ll get into detail about Hamilton vs Verstappen later.
When the leaders were approaching the entry for Turn 4, there was chaos at the rear end of the field. Perez was 8th on the grid for the restart because of Ocon, Ricciardo and Gasly gaining positions by changing tires during the Red Flag instead of during the Safety Car. Down into Turn 1, Perez went to the middle of the track to try and overtake Leclerc. The Red Bull and the Ferrari were side-by-side through Turns 1 and 2. But into Turn 3, it was 3-wide, with Leclerc on the far left, Perez in the middle, and Gasly on the far right.
3-wide can work through Turn 3. The issue is, Gasly wasn’t driving close enough to the wall on the right. He didn’t leave enough space for 2 cars to be next to him because he couldn’t see that both Perez and Leclerc were there. It wasn’t Gasly’s fault – this was just the root cause of this incident. Because there wasn’t enough space, Leclerc was right up against the wall, yet he still made contact with Perez and spun Perez around. It was a racing incident – there’s no driver predominantly to blame for it.
When Perez spun, almost all of the cars behind him slowed down, because the car that has spun in the middle of a narrow street circuit leaves the other drivers with very limited space, so they have to slow down. But like I said, almost all of the cars behind Perez slowed down. Nikita Mazepin slowed down far too late and ploughed into the back of Russell’s Williams car. To be honest, there was no real way of telling that there was an incident.
The drivers ahead of Mazepin had to slow down very suddenly, and with Mazepin being dead last he couldn’t see that there was a spun car on the track. There were no yellow flags, nothing indicating that Mazepin had to slow down. Also, Russell seemed to slow down even more than the drivers around him did, which meant the impact from Mazepin caused even more damage to both cars. It was a pretty big hit that resulted in Mazepin and Russell retiring from the race along with Perez. Since there were 3 retired cars and a whole lot of debris, the Red Flag was brought out…again!
When the 5 red lights went out, it was a clean, yet incredibly exciting start. The excitement came from an INSANE divebomb by Verstappen into Turn 1 to jump from P3 to P1. That divebomb was the kind of racing that I experience when playing the F1 game, not something I expect to see in real life! That aggression can sometimes pay off for Verstappen. But in other instances, it REALLY doesn’t…
My Take on Hamilton and Verstappen At The Saudi GP
There was a great deal of controversy around the racing between Hamilton and Verstappen at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. It wasn’t just one incident, it was multiple incidents in which the title rivals were battling each other. Fans expected something to happen between the two drivers. It was the penultimate race of the season and you could feel that the tension had really built up between them. Hamilton had the opportunity to bring himself up to being equal on points with Verstappen. Verstappen knew that he had to stop Hamilton because Hamilton had the momentum that he needed, while Verstappen didn’t.
As I mentioned earlier, Mick Schumacher’s crash prompted the race director to deploy the Safety Car. Mercedes brought both cars in for a pitstop during the SC, because that makes the pitstop much cheaper. But they compromised track position because Verstappen was now leading. To make matters worse, the race director Red-flagged the race, meaning Verstappen could get a fresh set of tires on the car without losing a single position. At this point, Red Bull had the upper hand.
At the Red Flag restart, which was after the first red flag, Hamilton got a perfect launch off the grid. Hamilton was ahead of the Red Bull into Turn 1. But Verstappen is very confident with the brakes of the Red Bull, which allowed Verstappen to almost pull alongside Hamilton. Verstappen’s front wing was in line with Hamilton’s front-right tire, so he was almost completely alongside Hamilton.
However, Hamilton was ahead, which means he had the right to squeeze Verstappen off the track. The drivers didn’t make any contact, so it wasn’t dirty racing. But since Verstappen went off the track at the inside of Turn 2, he cut the corner and skipped over the inside curb of Turn 2 to rejoin the track ahead of Hamilton. That also forced Hamilton to slow down, allowing Ocon to go up into P2.
Verstappen clearly gained a lasting advantage for going off the track. The FIA had to do something about that incident. Barely 10 seconds after the incident at Turn 1, Sergio Perez spun and Mazepin hit Russell. That, of course, caused the 2nd Red Flag at the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP. Michael Masi (the race director) had a discussion with Red Bull during the Red Flag period, where he was giving Red Bull the offer for Max to start in 3rd behind Hamilton. The FIA should be enforcing that and saying that ‘you must do this or it’s a penalty, instead of giving the teams an offer.
Verstappen did line up in 3rd on the grid for the race restart. This was one of the most important moments from the race – Verstappen got a great restart, and made a huge divebomb down into Turn 1 to take the lead of the race! It’s unbelievable how Verstappen made that double-overtake. Again, that’s what I experience when playing the F1 game, not something drivers do in real life! Ocon stayed ahead of Hamilton after the restart, which meant Verstappen had recovered from having to go behind Hamilton for the restart.
After a crazy first 17 laps, there were around 20 laps where it was relatively calmer. Hamilton overtook Ocon on Lap 18 down into Turn 1, so for the next 19 laps, Hamilton would be chasing after Verstappen, trying to make the overtake. Hamilton came within 1 second of Verstappen multiple times, but it didn’t lead to a battle until Lap 37. On Lap 37, the title rivals went down into Turn 1, with Hamilton trying to go for the move around the outside. Verstappen stayed on the inside line but locked up and faced oversteer into Turn 2. That forced Verstappen to cut Turn 2, which meant he gained an advantage by going off the track…again!
This time, the FIA were prompt with letting Red Bull know that Verstappen had to give the position back to Hamilton. The issue is, the FIA didn’t inform Mercedes about it. So when Verstappen slowed down into the final corner on Lap 37, Hamilton wasn’t clear on what to do. On top of that, Verstappen was told to let Hamilton by “strategically”, which is exactly what Verstappen did. Both drivers slowed and Hamilton didn’t overtake Verstappen because he didn’t want Verstappen to be behind him in the DRS Detection Zone.
Verstappen slowed down even further, but because Verstappen slowed significantly and erratically, Hamilton couldn’t avoid Verstappen in time. The result was Hamilton hitting Verstappen’s rear-left tire, and Hamilton’s front wing sustained damage. Verstappen stayed ahead of Hamilton, and for some reason, it stayed that way for a few laps. It took until Lap 42 until Verstappen finally let Hamilton past.
However, Verstappen immediately re-overtook Hamilton by diving down the inside into the final corner just after letting Hamilton past. That’s not allowed in F1, and the stewards had had enough, so they awarded Verstappen a 5-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. Ok, Verstappen’s been penalised, and now it’s just up to which driver is the fastest, right? Verstappen would be pushing to create a 5-second gap in order to keep his lead at at the end of the race, and Hamilton would be focusing on trying to maintain good pace despite having damage to his car.
After this, there’s still madness. On Lap 43, Hamilton was still behind Verstappen. Verstappen already received the penalty from the stewards, so he wouldn’t need to let Hamilton overtake him, right? But the Red Bull slowed down into the final corner, letting Hamilton by. Hamilton overtook Verstappen in a way that Verstappen had to go around the outside of the corner. Then Hamilton just squeezed Verstappen off the track to secure the position. Verstappen’s tires were done, so he couldn’t fight back or regain the position. Verstappen didn’t know that he didn’t need to let Hamilton by, and had dead tires and a penalty, which is why he lost the race win.
After the race, the stewards awarded Verstappen a further 10-second penalty for causing a collision. The stewards determined that Verstappen’s sudden braking was erratic and the predominant cause of the collision. It was putting the cherry on top of a race that didn’t end well for Red Bull. The tension and the pressure was hitting Verstappen harder, and it resulted in him being overly aggressive, which only ruined his race. Hamilton still went ion to win the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP, and the rivals now head into the season finale equal on points.
The FIA NEEDS To Pull It Together
This year has been filled with controversy about the stewards, the FIA, and their decisions. Formula 1 is the highest-tier of open-wheel racing in the world. That means there’s no room for mistakes and inconsistency, especially from the people governing the sport. There are some incidents that stand out where the stewards haven’t been consistent. For example, during the 2021 Austrian GP, the stewards penalised Perez and Norris for pushing another driver off the track when racing side-by-side. That’s not what the stewards usually did. They were criticised because the stewards always say that the penalty is based on the incident, not the consequences. They’ve got to stick the regulations that the FIA have set.
There were a couple of instances at the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP where the stewards weren’t competent enough. Let’s take a look at Mich Schumacher’s crash. The Safety Car should immediately be deployed when it’s that clear that there was a major crash. And the TV feed clearly showed that the barriers were damaged, and it was clear that they needed repairs. So why did it take so long for the race director to suspend the race?
Next was the first incident between Hamilton and Verstappen, where Verstappen went off the track and gained an advantage. Of course, the race director suspended the race again because of Perez’s, Mazepin’s and Russell’s cars. But Verstappen was still in the lead, so the race director would either have Verstappen give the position back to Hamilton in some way or have the stewards penalise Verstappen. It seems that the race director chose to make Verstappen line up behind Hamilton for the restart, which made sense. But then he offered Red Bull to line Verstappen up in P2? Ocon was in the lead, so that would still put Verstappen ahead of Hamilton? That made no sense…
Then Michael Masi offered Red Bull to let Verstappen start in P3, behind Hamilton. Again, offered. The FIA should be enforcing the rules, not negotiating with the teams about which way to follow the rules. The next Hamilton-Verstappen incident was when Verstappen outbraked himself and ran off at Turn 1. Again, left the track and gained an advantage. This time, the FIA made it clear to Red Bull that Verstappen had to return the position to Hamilton. Yeah, they made it clear to Red Bull – Mercedes didn’t know about it. Then Verstappen and Hamilton made contact, which resulted in damage to the endplate on Hamilton’s wing, and Verstappen stayed ahead.
After that for 3 laps, nobody knew what to do, because the teams didn’t receive any word from the FIA. Then Red Bull informed Verstappen that he had to give the positon to Hamilton. 2 laps later, he did that, but then broke the rules by taking the position back straight away. As I mentioned earlier, the stewards awarded him a 5-second time penalty. But then, he let Hamilton through, even though the stewards already gave him a penalty. It’s safe to say that this was total disarray.
This season has been insane, and it’s surely attracted plenty of new fans. But if these new fans see the sport in disarray like it has been multiple times, then they’ll walk away. The top tier of motorsport can’t afford to have a regulatory body that’s all over the place. The FIA need to analyse their own systems and procedures and see where along the line there are unresolved issues. These unresolved issues are going to ruin a sport that so many people know and love. Thank you for reading the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP Race Review. Stay safe, stay on the lookout for new posts, and enjoy the finale in Abu Dhabi!