· Red Bull driver takes the 21st win of his career by just 0.5 seconds
· Charles Leclerc tried to hold off Verstappen, but conceded the lead three laps from the finish
· Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz takes the final podium ahead of pole-sitter Sergio Perez
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has won the FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2022, beating Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by just half a second in a thrilling battle between the two drivers. The reigning World Champion took the lead of the race just three laps from the chequered flag and kept Leclerc at bay to clinch the 21st victory of his career.
In the closing stages, the two drivers had the crowd on their feet, as they swapped positions under the floodlights around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. Verstappen made his first move for the lead on lap 42, passing Leclerc into the final corner. But with the aid of DRS, Leclerc reclaimed the position back into Turn 1 on the next lap and the Jeddah crowd cheered with delight.
The Ferrari appeared to have the pace on the first sector of the lap, but the Red Bull enjoyed more top speed and Verstappen made his move stick across the start/finish line as the pair began the 47th of 50 laps.
A coming-together between the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll and Alex Albon’s Williams at Turn 1 two laps from the end of the race brought out the yellow flags and it meant Leclerc had to settle for second. His Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz joined them on the podium in third.
“Wow! That was close Max. Unbelievable. Great, great job,” said Red Bull’s team boss Christian Horner to Verstappen on his slowing-down lap. When he stepped out of his winning car, the Dutch driver was delighted to take his first win of the year. “We were battling hard at the front,” said Verstappen. “It was tough but I’m really happy we’ve finally kick-started the season”
“It wasn’t enough today, but I really enjoyed that race,” said second-placed Leclerc in response. “It’s hard racing but it’s fair and every race should be like this. It was fun, but I’m obviously disappointed, I wanted to win today.”
Leclerc had taken the lead of the FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2022 on lap 17 when the Safety Car had been deployed to clear up the damaged Williams of Nicholas Latifi, after the Canadian had crashed at the last corner. A lap earlier pole position holder Sergio Perez (Red Bull) had pitted for fresh tyres, but with the race neutralised behind the Safety Car, he was shuffled down to fourth place.
Perez did lead at the start, while Verstappen — from fourth on the grid — brilliantly passed Sainz for third at the first corner. In the opening stages of the race the order was Perez, Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz until the Safety Car appeared.
When the track was clear racing resumed on lap 21 with Leclerc keeping a gap between one and two seconds to the Red Bull behind him. With the leaders only making one pitstop, Verstappen’s only chance to win the Grand Prix was to pass Leclerc on-track. Following on from their battle last week, fans watching the race unfold in Jeddah were again treated to a thrilling contest.
Behind the leaders there were exciting battles throughout the field to keep the thousands of spectators lining the Jeddah Corniche Circuit entertained. Many were watching the progress of seven-time
World Champion Lewis Hamilton, who had started a lowly 15th on the starting grid. He chose not to pit when the Safety Car appeared and ran as high as sixth at half distance.
But his race was ruined by a number of retirements on lap 37. Firstly Fernando Alonso (who was engaged in a cat-and-mouse duel with his Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon) suffered a mechanical problem in which he reported a loss of power. Then the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo also lost drive and slowed as he headed for the pits. With the two cars needing the assistance of the marshals, the race director neutralised the race with a Virtual Safety Car. He also closed the entry to the pitlane. That scuppered Hamilton’s opportunity to take advantage of the VSC and at the chequered flag he could only manage tenth place.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate George Russell finished fifth while Ocon managed to nip ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris for sixth on the final lap.
After the race the crowd stayed behind to enjoy the firework display that lit up the Arabian night sky, bringing to a close an exciting weekend of racing.