We all remember the shenanigans and the controversy surrounding last year’s Saudi Arabian GP. That’s why many F1 fans were intrigued to see whether we would see any repeats this year. On top of that, the exciting 2022 season opener saw Ferrari take a 1-2 and other teams seeking redemption. The 2022 Bahrain GP was a crazy race that led perfectly into the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP. It was just what the fans wanted – another race exactly a week after the opener.
After a painful double-retirement for Red Bull in Bahrain, the Bulls were seeking redemption in Jeddah. Although it wasn’t an ideal race, Red Bull did get redemption by winning the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP. Max Verstappen held off the charging Charles Leclerc to win the race. The gap between 1st and 2nd was a mere 0.549 seconds. That was the smallest gap between 1st and 2nd since the 2020 Italian GP. That was the race where Sainz was incredibly close to overtaking Pierre Gasly for the win. This close a gap at the end is indicative of the intense battle that took place in the final laps of the race. That is something I will analyse in the Red Bull vs Ferrari section. Carlos Sainz finished the race in P3 to make it 3 consecutive podium finishes for him. And after qualifying on pole, Perez finished a disappointing 4th place.
Speaking of qualifying, qualifying was very exciting at the Saudi GP this year. Lewis Hamilton was out in Q1 and started the race in P15 thanks to Schumacher not taking part in the race. That’s because in Q2, Mick Schumacher suffered a massive crash. This brought back safety concerns for the circuit. It’s such a high-speed circuit, but at the same time, it’s a street circuit. This means that it’s narrow and the barriers are very close, leaving no margin for error. Under these conditions, making mistakes is easy. That means the safety measures have to be extremely good. Otherwise, the cars could take heavy damage, and most importantly, the drivers could sustain injuries. In Q3, despite Charles Leclerc completing a monstrous lap, Perez took pole position. He beat Leclerc’s lap time by a narrow 0.025 seconds!
With a Perez v Leclerc battle shaping up, the fans couldn’t be more excited for the race. The action already started in the pre-race laps when Yuki Tsunoda’s car broke down. Then, as the 5 red lights went out for the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP, the Red Bull v Ferrari battle started immediately. Max Verstappen overtook Carlos Sainz for P3, making it 1st and 3rd for Red Bull. But 5 laps into the race, all eyes were on the Alpine cars. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon entertained the crown with a fierce battle under the floodlights.
The Alpine Battle
The Alpine drivers were spicing up the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP completely by themselves. Fernando Alonso, who was running in P7, was trying to overtake Ocon for P6. Both drivers were on the same tires in the same car. Whoever won this battle could be seen as the better driver at Alpine. But in the worst-case scenario, they could collide with each other and take each other out. It’s something we’ve seen so many times in F1 when teammates battle. The last time I remember two teammates taking each other out was at the 2019 Brazilian GP when the Ferraris collided when battling.
In this battle in Saudi, there was a genuine fear that this could happen. This is because Esteban Ocon shut the door on Alonso the first time he tried to make an overtake. Down into Turn 1, Ocon nearly squeezed Alonso into the pit wall. 2 laps later, on Lap 7, Alonso got Ocon around the outside of Turn 1. Ocon tried to fight back, but Alonso was ahead. This time, it was cleaner, smoother racing. On the next lap, the battle got more complicated. Bottas had caught up to the Alpines, meaning this wasn’t just a battle between Alonso and Ocon anymore. Into Turn 1, Ocon hit the brakes too late and cut Turn 1 and 2. That meant he would have to give the position back to his teammate. However, he had to slow down and almost lost a position to Bottas as well.
Ocon managed to stay ahead of Bottas, but by Lap 9, Magnussen made it a 4-way battle. Alpine didn’t intervene when their drivers were battling, but when Magnussen and Bottas joined the battle, Alpine told Ocon to hold position. However, on Lap 14, Bottas overtook Ocon down into Turn 1. On Lap 16, Latifi crashed at the exit of the final corner and brought out the Safety Car. The Safety Car was when that 4-way battle ended since Magnussen, Hamilton, and Hulkenberg shook up the order by deciding not to pit.
Later in the race, Alonso retired due to a mechanical failure, which was one of 5 DNFs from this race. As for Ocon, he also had an intense battle at the end of the race. Norris overtook Ocon at the beginning of Lap 49, the penultimate lap of the race. Ocon re-overtook Norris into the final corner, leaving the battle for P6 to the last lap. On the final lap, into the final corner, Ocon slowed down and optimised his racing line.
Norris optimised his racing line even further, but Ocon played this perfectly. He slowed down just enough for Norris to be just about ahead on the DRS detection line. If you look at the footage, Norris was less than the length of a front wing ahead at the detection line. Even though he got a great exit out of the last corner, Norris just couldn’t get Ocon at the line because Ocon had DRS. Ocon learned from last year, which is when Bottas overtook Ocon for P3 at the finish line.
All of this battling in the midfield is part of why this race was so exciting. And I’m not really surprised that there was this much battling. The 2022 Saud Arabian GP was at a circuit that was optimised for overtaking. The circuit worked in tandem with the new cars. That’s why it isn’t so surprising that, like it did last year, the Jeddah Corniche Circuit didn’t fail to provide exhilarating racing. Before last year’s race, many were sceptical about whether the circuit would provide good racing.
I was sceptical about it too, which is why I analysed the circuit. There were some great overtaking spots, including Turn 1, Turn 13, and Turn 27. But with the reduced dirty air in these 2022 cars, following the car ahead through the twisty turns of the first sector further enhanced the racing. This Alpine battle is a testament to what F1 fans truly want to see in F1 races. But that wasn’t the only battle of the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP…
Red Bull vs Ferrari Truly Kicks Off
This is EXACTLY what F1 fans want to see! A battle between the reigning champion and a new challenger. Of course, that’s what we saw last year, but this year, it’s even better. That’s because this is a battle that proves that the next generation has arrived. It’s a very interesting dynamic between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc this year. Last year, it was Verstappen vs Hamilton. Verstappen was the young-gun challenging the experienced reigning champion. Although he was the reigning champion, we a saw a side to Hamilton where Hamilton was worried. He was actually losing to a young driver. Verstappen was so aggressive, so desperate, so hungry for that title. At the same time, Hamilton was craving that record-breaking 8th title. So things were very aggressive, and it got sour between the two drivers.
This year, Verstappen’s the reigning champion. Charles Leclerc takes the role of the young challenger. But it’s not the same as it was last year. Although he’s still aggressive and often angry, Verstappen is more calculated this year. He learned from his mistakes and is playing it differently this year. After all, he is in his 8th season of Formula 1. I know, that’s mind blowing!! Even though Verstappen is trying to win his 2nd championship more cleanly, he still wants to win at all costs. I think his aggression will still be near the maximum, because he has to make up for the deficit he has after retiring from the 2022 Bahrain GP.
As for Leclerc, he’s replaced Verstappen as the challenger. But Leclerc is a different driver to Verstappen. He’s got a different personality, and a very different mindset. Leclerc is a calmer, warmer personality. He’s more relaxed, more humble as compared to Verstappen. He will always seem calm and talk about on-track battles being fun on track, but he is RAPID on track. Leclerc’s an incredibly skillful driver who will pounce on his rivals. Based on his attitude off the track, it’s often surprising to see how talented, and in some cases, aggressive Leclerc can be on track. In a way, Leclerc is a silent killer.
In summary, in terms of their on-track ability and behaviour, Verstappen and Leclerc are pretty similar. This is something we’ve seen in the past, back in 2019 when Leclerc and Verstappen had some excellent battles. And based on the first 2 races of the 2022 F1 season, it’s something we’re seeing again. I must mention that Leclerc is also very smart on track. In Bahrain, he let Verstappen brake late and overtake him into Turn 1 for 3 laps in a row. And in each of those 3 laps, Leclerc would use DRS to get ahead of Verstappen into Turn 4. Leclerc would brake earlier on purpose, allow Verstappen to brake late, and then use DRS down the next straight. This worked very well because Verstappen’s aggressive driving style means he would pounce at an opportunity and try a late braking manouvre.
At the Saudi GP, Leclerc did the same. To figure out why Verstappen and Leclerc were fighting for the lead in the first place, we need to go all the way back to Lap 15. Before the first pit window, Perez was leading the race after a strong start from pole position. Leclerc was in 2nd, with Verstappen in 3rd after overtaking Sainz. On Lap 15, Ferrari told Leclerc to come into the pits. As a reaction to that, Red Bull told Perez to do the same. However, Ferrari bluffed, because Leclerc decided not come into the pits and carry on after seeing that Perez did go into the pits. That pitstop was painfully unlucky for Perez. Because at the end of Lap 15, Nicholas Latifi was coming out of the final corner, and he crashed into the wall, causing a Safety Car.
That’s not the first time Latifi’s crashed and the leader’s lost the lead of the race! Under the Safety Car, Verstappen, Leclerc, and Sainz were one of the many drivers to pit. Sainz came out of the pits just as Perez was going through Turns 1 and 2, meaning Perez didn’t realise Sainz was there and almost squeezed Sainz into the barriers at the exit of Turn 2. Sainz claimed that he was ahead of Perez at the Safety Car line, meaning Perez would have to give P3 to Sainz. The FIA informed Red Bull that Perez would have to give the position to Sainz after the SC restart. After that happened, it left Ferrari in 1st and 3rd, and Red Bull in 2nd and 4th. It was terrible luck, and Sergio Perez lost the lead of the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP through no fault of his own.
That’s exactly why Leclerc and Verstappen were 1st and 2nd in the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP. They stayed in that order for many laps, and it was on Lap 42 that Verstappen got close enough to challenge Leclerc for the lead. This was after the Virtual Safety Car that was caused by Bottas, Alonso, and Ricciardo all having engine failures around the same time in the race (kinda suspicious). On Lap 42, Verstappen used DRS down the long back straight to make an easy move and overtake Leclerc into the final corner. This was really interesting, because these were the last few laps of the race. Leclerc then used his smart racing tactics to get a good exit out of Turn 27, and use DRS down into Turn 1. Charles Leclerc got Verstappen into Turn 1, once again proving that he’s skilled in battle.
On Lap 43, the very next lap, Verstappen was careering down the back straight. However, he was smarter this time. He started braking hard for the final corner in order to stay behind Leclerc in the DRS detection zone. They both locked up heavily, as Verstappen just about managed to stay behind. Into Turn 1, as Lap 44 began, Verstappen couldn’t catch Leclerc. On Lap 46/50, Verstappen finally showed patience and maturity. In order to stay behind Leclerc into the final corner, he closed DRS early and braked early. He stayed close behind Leclerc, so he could use DRS and make an easy pass into Turn 1.
The final laps of the race were intense, as Red Bull fans hoped that Verstappen would stay ahead, and Ferrari fans hoped that Leclerc would be able to overtake Verstappen again. As a Ferrari fan, it’s slightly sad that Red Bull won in this situation. However, it seems that Leclerc saved energy for a couple of laps, and really pushed in the final two laps, but simply couldn’t beat the reigning champion.
Leclerc is still 1st in the Drivers’ Championship, with Sainz 12 points behind in 2nd. Verstappen is a further 8 points behind Sainz, meaning he has some catching up to do. In the constructors’ standings, Ferrari is 40 points clear of Mercedes in 2nd, with the Prancing Horses holding 78 points. Red Bull have 37 points and are just 1 point behind Mercedes. This championship battle has kicked off very early in the season, and I can’t wait to see it unfold!
Latifi and Albon’s Crashes
Williams Racing have had an underwhelming start to the season. They struggled in Bahrain, but that was the case for all the Mercedes-powered customer teams. In Saudi Arabia, however, their weekend was exceptionally bad. Unlike in Bahrain, Alex Albon failed to make Q2. That’s not a surprise, since it was his first qualifying session around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. The race, however, was incredibly disappointing.
Nicholas Latifi started the race in P18, which was last on track. Latifi only gained positions when drivers made their pitstops. At the end of Lap 15, out of the final corner, Latifi got a snap of oversteer and hit the barrier at the exit. Albon made his first pit stop the lap before Latifi’s retirement brought out the Safety Car, which left Albon in last place. He simply wasn’t fast enough, because he ran in dead last on track for around 15 laps.
Ghanti Zhou came into the pits and served his 5-second penalty, which is the only reason why Albon got out of last place. In the last 10 laps of the race, with more retirements and more pitstops, Albon was up in P12. On Lap 46, Stroll fell to P11, after Hamilton overtook him for P10. That’s when Albon started chasing after Stroll. On Lap 47, with 4 laps to go, Albon went for the move into Turn 1. And we all know what happened next.
Albon’s ambitious divebomb DID NOT end well. He locked up heavily on the front-left tire. Lance Stroll, who was on the outside, was turning in for Turn 1. So, just after the apex of Turn 1, Albon’s front-right tire hit the left sidepod of Stroll’s car. It left Albon with a severe puncture, forcing him to retire the car. As for Stroll, Albon briefly turned right to avoid spinning after contact, which in turn spun Stroll around. Stroll’s car didn’t sustain any damage, but he did fall from P11 to P13. P13 was last place on track thanks to the retirements. It wasn’t a huge problem for Stroll – he was never going to catch Hamilton for P10 anyways. But the stewards did have to penalise a driver for the incident.
Before I give my opinion, let’s look at the FIA’s decision. The FIA gave Alex Albon a 3-place grid penalty for the next race and two penalty points. Not the harshest penalty, but it’s not exactly lenient either. The reasoning behind this was as follows: “Car 23 was attempting to overtake Car 18 on the inside by braking late. In executing the overtaking manoeuvre, Car 23 locked up and collided with Car 18 at the apex of the corner. We determined that Car 23 was wholly or predominantly to blame for the collision.”
So, it’s clear that Alex Albon was to blame for this. This is real life, it’s not the F1 2021 game where you can make a cheeky divebomb, lock up, bang wheels a couple of times, and then move on. But I don’t think that he was wholly to blame for it. While being predominantly to blame, Lance Stroll could’ve taken action to avoid the incident. When Albon broke late for Turn 1, Lance Stroll would’ve seen the Williams in his mirrors. He could’ve left more space for the Williams. Then the incident wouldn’t have happened. However, I do understand that Albon made a huge divebomb that Stroll couldn’t have anticipated. And at the same time, Albon was never fully alongside Stroll, meaning Stroll wasn’t obligated to leave a car’s width.
That’s it for the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP Race Review! It was a fantastic race with some intense moments and battles. Verstappen vs Leclerc and Red Bull vs Ferrari finally kicked off. Ferrari have a 41-point advantage on Red Bull thanks to the double-DNF that Red Bull suffered in Bahrain. At the 2022 Australian GP, we’ll see round 3 of the exhilarating and exciting 2022 F1 season. Stay safe, and enjoy F1ntastic!