Verstappen beats Leclerc in frantic fight to the flag: 2022 Saudi Arabian GP report


Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc staged a second round of their Bahrain F1 battle at the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, with the Dutchman holding on for victory in an action-packed cat-and-mouse finale

Max Verstappen ahead of Charles Leclerc in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Close racing – but it could be closer

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If Formula 1’s rulemakers could have picked two races to start the season to show they’ve got their new regulations right, they would probably have settled for the two they’ve just got.

For the second race running, a thrilling battle between two of the sport’s brightest young stars lit up the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and for a few hours dispelled the unease at racing in Jeddah in the first place.

It wasn’t quite the chaos of four races ago, but it once again hinged on a safety car and this time wasn’t decided until the final corner of the final lap.

For a spell on Friday night the drivers were united in their desire not to race, before eventually agreeing to. As the race passed without security concerns, that decision was in part vindicated, but Nicholas Latifi and Yuki Tsunoda must be wishing that U-turn had never happened.

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Tsunoda didn’t get to set a time in qualifying and then stopped on his way to the grid, so never completed a competitive lap all weekend, leaving just 18 starters after Mick Schumacher’s withdrawal. It wasn’t much better for Latifi, who had crashed in Q1 and then did the same 16 laps into the race, this time at the final corner.

By then, the only movement between the top four had been Max Verstappen clearing Carlos Sainz for third on the opening lap, while the two Alpine drivers came perilously close to contact on numerous occasions fighting for sixth place behind George Russell.

But the safety car changed everything. It was bad timing for Kevin Magnussen and Lewis Hamilton – starting on hard tyres and running long – but even worse for leader Sergio Perez, who had controlled proceedings from pole position and kept Charles Leclerc at bay until that point. Perez had been duped into a stop on the previous lap by Ferrari after Leclerc was called in, but the early championship leader stayed out as Red Bull responded, and Perez lost out massively.

Overhead view of 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix start

Verstappen edged around Sainz to take third


Fernando Alonso and team mate Esteban Ocon battle in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Alpine battle offered a taste of what was to come

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“Yes, we had a good start and, basically, after the first stint everything felt under control,” Perez said. “We had a good first, long stint and then, later on, we had the issue with the safety car and that ruined our race weekend. There was nothing else I could really do.”

With the rest of the field having started on mediums, they were all straight into the pits for a free stop at exactly the lap they wanted. Leclerc emerged in the lead ahead of Verstappen, with Sainz just pipping Perez to the safety car line at the pit exit to steal third, too.

Leclerc held off Verstappen at the restart despite the defending champion pulling right alongside before he dropped the hammer, while Hamilton found his way past Magnussen after two attempts to run sixth behind Russell.

Lewis Hamilton and Kevin Magnussen battle in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Hamilton was fighting Magnussen for the second race in a row

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Perez could make no inroads against Sainz, but the lead Red Bull was putting the pressure on Leclerc. The pair were never more than two seconds apart, and were trading fastest laps as they pushed to the limit in cars that had different strengths. It was Bahrain all over again, with the Ferrari quicker in the corners and the Red Bull showing straight-line speed, but this time no reliability issues were going to end the battle.

In fact, they were going to enhance it. After a relatively calm spell of racing, Fernando Alonso suddenly lost power after swapping places with Magnussen on consecutive laps, he suddenly slowed on lap 36 and started coasting. Valtteri Bottas then made a pitstop, one that appeared to pre-empt a safety car but actually hinted at wider issues having been in the fight for sixth with the Alpine pair.

Before Alonso could reach the final sector, Daniel Ricciardo also started coasting, his car losing drive at the final corner and rolling to a halt at the pit entry. The virtual safety car was required, and Magnussen made it into the pits before the pit entry closed, with Hamilton having gone past and now stranded out on track on old tyres.

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By now, Bottas had brought his car into the Alfa Romeo garage, and Alonso made it into the pit entry before stopping, meaning all three retired on the same lap.

The race restarted with nine laps to go, and Hamilton immediately headed for the pits to switch to mediums, emerging in 12th, on Magnussen’s gearbox.

But also on a gearbox was Verstappen, who had closed Leclerc down with a blistering restart lap and attacked at the end of lap 42, taking the lead before the final corner, only to see Leclerc regain the place using DRS on the run to Turn 1.

In almost a sense of déjà vu after Bahrain, a similar fight occurred one lap later. On the second occasion, Verstappen had the inside line but braked hard to not be in the lead at the DRS detection point. Too hard. He locked up and Leclerc – also slowing for the same reason – accelerated through the final turn to gain a big enough advantage to retain the lead.

Eventually, the pressure told, and with four laps to go Verstappen finally stayed close through the last corner and got ahead before Turn 1.

Max Verstappen locks up as he fights Charles Leclerc for the lead of the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Neither car wanted to hit the DRS line first

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Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerec in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Holding the lead was tough, said Verstappen

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“On the hard tyre I had a much better feeling,” Verstappen said. “I tried to stay with Charles after the safety car restart, trying to keep the gap the same, that was basically it, trying to match the lap times, trying to get a bit closer, then he was pulling away a bit, I got a bit closer. Then we had the VSC at the end, then it’s always a question mark what would happen with the tyres because they cool down a lot, but it seems we had a good first three laps on that restart.

“I had a good feeling with the car and the tyres were holding on quite well through the high speed. Then I had a few good opportunities, but Charles really played it smart in the last corner so it was not easy for me to actually get by, and of course then I had to line myself up again to have another go, and eventually I had a go and got ahead.”

That wasn’t the end of the fight, though. Leclerc could stay close and with DRS was a threat, forcing Verstappen to defend.

“Once I got ahead it was like four laps flat out trying to stay ahead because Charles was consistently in my DRS. It was quite tough out there.”

Alex Albon with broken front wheel in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Albon’s lunge left his Williams with terminal damage

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Describing them as “qualifying laps”, Verstappen was helped by one last bit of action. Alex Albon lunged down the inside of Lance Stroll at Turn 1 on the penultimate lap and the pair collided, with Albon forced to park his car in the first sector. The incident was covered by yellow flags – that would lead to a later investigation into all drivers in the final two laps but resulted in no further action – but it also saw DRS disabled on the pit straight.

At the time, Leclerc was lining up a response, but the 0.7sec gap was too big to close without the overtaking aid.

“I definitely enjoyed the fight, it’s obviously disappointing to lose the win so late in the race but it was a fun fight,” Leclerc said. “It was very difficult as we had two cars that were in a very different place, I was very strong in the first sector, all the corners, and basically much less strong in the straights.

“It was very tricky, I tried to have the DRS in the last corner, it worked twice but didn’t the last time. Then we had the yellow flag, the one where I could have had a chance to be alongside into Turn 1, I had no DRS there, a bit of a shame, but it’s part of the game.”

Red Bull crew cheer as Max Verstappen wins the 2022 F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Half a second between the leaders at the finish

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Leclerc could still use DRS in the latter half of the lap and on the final lap got close as it came down to the very last corner, but he was too far back to commit to a move and had to settle for second by just 0.5sec.

Sainz comfortably held on for third ahead of a frustrated Perez, while Russell’s strong start continued with a lonely run to fifth. There was at least some cheer for McLaren as Lando Norris was more competitive in finishing seventh, just failing to emulate Bottas as he attacked Esteban Ocon out of the final corner for sixth but fell 0.1sec short.

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc shake hands after the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Leclerc described the duel as a “fun fight”

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Pierre Gasly, Magnussen and Hamilton rounded out the top ten, with Hamilton bizarrely asking his race engineer Peter Bonnington after the race: “Is there even a point for that position?”

It’s a rapid fall for Mercedes after Hamilton won here last year, but the baton has been picked up by Ferrari and Leclerc who more than played their part in a thrilling fight. The cars allow close racing, the teams are closely matched, and all signs are there will be plenty more Verstappen v Leclerc fights this season.

And this was one in a race that nearly didn’t happen…

Max Verstappen sprays champagne after winning the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix