F1 on target but missiles the point: Goin' up, goin' down in Saudi Arabia


The action on the track couldn't have been better, but events off it certainly could

Stefano Domenicali and Mohammed bin Sulayem after meeting after FP2 practice for the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Corcuit. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

"Nothing to see here, everything's fine, honestly!"

Grand Prix Photo

So F1 2022 truly has arrived: practice sessions delayed by missile strikes, the sport currying evermore favour with murderous regimes – but hey, the cars look great and the racing’s better than ever!

Here’s what was going up and, er, coming down less than ten miles from the circuit at the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Goin’ down

TV race director having a ‘mare

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 27: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 leads Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving (16) the Ferrari F1-75 during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 27, 2022 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Incredible F1 action – but wait, the crowd is reacting!

Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

It seems that F1 broadcasters are so unused to continuous action, the idea of keeping the cameras on what’s happening, actually right now, in this race we’re watching at this moment, seems a complete anathema to them.

Constantly throughout yesterday’s broadcast we were subjected to overly long action replays or cringe-inducing shots of the crowd, when some of the best racing we’ve seen (or in this case, very much not seen) was still going on!

Someone needs to have a word with that trigger-happy TV race director.


F1’s polemic political approach

Missile at at Jeddah, 2022 Saudi Arabian GP DPPI

Just another day at the F1 office

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

F1 claims to be shielded from goings-on outside of the sporting world, whilst simultaneously purporting to be on a noble mission to positively effect all these horrid, frightful things happening on our semi-war-torn globe. In Saudi Arabia, it failed on both fronts thanks to a missile attack that set us up for what must have been grand prix racing’s most dystopian event yet.

That image of Lewis Hamilton driving past a gigantic, ominous cloud of black smoke whilst F1 continued on in its own cute little world will remain synonymous with this race and championship for years to come.

It also says something about how shielded the world of F1 is (media included) when attacks were intercepted over the circuit during the Formula E race at Diriyah (on the outskirts of Riyadh) last year, but no-one really mentioned it before this weekend’s race and not much whilst the latest attack was going on either.

With F1 anxiously turning a blind eye to the en-masse execution of political dissidents and a bloody proxy war as well, you shudder at the thought of where the sport will go next. The Sport Pesa Ugandan GP anyone? The Six Hours of South Sudan? People joke about North Korea, but after this weekend in Saudi almost nothing now seems out of the realms of horrifying possibility.

Famously liberal and definitely-not-committing-atrocities Azerbaijan in a few races everyone!



F1’s most influential driver

Nicolas Latifi (Williams-Mercedes) in front of Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) during qualifying for the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Corcuit. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Another Latifi masterclass

Grand Prix Photo

Nicholas Latifi’s control over an F1 car appears to be tenuous at best. After his trip into the barriers, in a manner you rarely see anyone crash at Abu Dhabi, caused you-know-what, a similar incident occurred in Jeddah.

The Canadian embarrassingly directing himself into the barriers out of the last corner and an early cryogenic bath meant poor old Sergio Perez got totally stuffed pińata-style on strategy, whilst Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz all benefitted for not having done very much so far.


Goin’ up

F1 drivers united

F1 drivers 2022 Saudi Arabian GP Grand Prix Photo

F1 drivers took matter into their own hands

Grand Prix Photo

F1 drivers showed themselves in an unusually good light by having a marathon four-hour GPDA meeting on whether to race in Saudi Arabia after the aforementioned Houthi attack, eventually persuaded by the fact of the matter that even if they didn’t compete, logistics meant most grand prix staff would be stuck in Jeddah anyway, and the-not-entirely-convincing argument that the rebels don’t have a record of attacking sporting events.

Impressively, several drivers said they would push to question the appropriateness of racing at venues such as Saudi Arabia in the future.

Perhaps one benefit of social media et al is that drivers are now acutely aware of the image they and the sport projects, and the effect it can have on the outside world.


Game of DRS chess

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 27: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 and Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving (16) the Ferrari F1-75 lock their wheels under braking as they battle for track position during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 27, 2022 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Game of DRS cat-and-mouse

Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

You know F1 racing has reached its logical post-modern state when drivers aren’t just using DRS to overtake, they’re actively playing games before the activation line to gain an advantage.

The DRS dicing between Verstappen and Leclerc provided a modern classic, with more passes for the lead than you can shake rear wing flap at –just don’t compare it Villeneuve vs Arnoux or any of those classic Monza drafting sessions from the ’60s and ’70s, whatever you do!


Ban-Ki Bottas

Valtteri Bottas 2022 Saudi Arabian GP DPPI

Statesman-like Bottas


Statesman like (by F1 driver standards anyway) off the track, and back on top of his game on it – until a “technical issue” halted his points in Jeddah charge anyway.

Must have been intense pre-season double-helping of saunas, espressos and porridge for Valtteri.


F1’s safety drive

Mick Schumacher's destroyed Haas F1 car, 2022 Saudi Arabian GP

Read end has had enough, quite frankly

One thing F1 doesn’t appear to have become misguided on is its constant safety drive – aided further by research conducted after Romain Grosjean’s fiery crash at the end of 2020.

This weekend’s case in point was Mick Schumacher, who hit a concrete wall at 170mph, sustaining an impact of 33g, and appeared essentially completely fine afterwards.

It was a fitting tribute to the safety of grand prix racing, even if the rear end of his destroyed Haas did make an unnerving bid for freedom stage left as it was craned away.



Alpine's of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon fight at 2022 Saudi Arabian GP

The exact moment Otmar Szafnauer’s Fitbit exploded

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Alpine’s ‘let them race’ approach to wisened matador Fernando Alonso and excitable upstart Esteban Ocon fighting each other brought spectators much joy – and a few heart in mouth moments.

Team boss Otmar Szafnauer’s Fitbit must have been working overtime – despite him hilariously trying to keep it cool mid-Alpine duel whilst interviewed by a probing Crofty and Jenson Button.