Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor CFD1801J
Ambient 28.6° Track 32° Humidity 76.9% Wind 0.2 m/s
The deep of night gently ensconced the brilliant diamond of Jeddah circuit as the teams worried themselves over last minute details, maths triple-checked and every nut and bolt gone over with a torque wrench to the hundredth of a foot/pound, this late into a championship run every detail looming larger than life, with just 8 points in it for the drivers.
Pirelli are on it with a one stop, Medium-Hard, with a pit window somewhere between laps 19 and 25, or Soft-Hard with a window between laps 16 to 21. Of course, the real chaos agent will be the Safety Car, with guessing wrong and winding up underfueled a potential catastrophe for any team on the wrong side of those numbers. Also crucial will be ERS efficiency, with multi-lap battles likely to fall the way of the more efficient setup. Last, will be drag on the straight bits when DRS isn’t activated, as the lower the drag the faster the speed, and the less fuel needed for the whole race. Attached to that, will be the ability to follow through the final turn, as being ahead into Turn 1 will be the prime overtaking spot.
Red Bull has bet on Max’s gearbox being strong enough to withstand the hit it took yesterday, a bet that didn’t pay off at all for Leclerc earlier in the year when he put his Ferrari in the wall during Q3 in Monaco. Mercedes have bet on their straight line speed to the detriment of the twisty bits and no one really knows how the tyres will do during the race, as the long runs in FP2 were, well, remarkably short… And as the blankets come off it was Norris stuck on his quali Softs and Vettel, Sainz, and Ricciardo betting on a long run with the Hards to save their day.
The start is where it will all kick off and Mercedes starts with a wall of Silver to deny Verstappen the sweet glory of the lead when the lights go out, but as ever it will be the racing gods that have the final say….
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by the Silver Wall as Hamilton took the lead through Turn 1 with Bottas trailing behind. Verstappen was forced to defend from Leclerc on the way down to Turn 3 and in the braking zone very nearly came to grief as Perez was forced to lockup to keep his nose out of the back of Verstappen’s rear wing.
Further back it was Ocon, doing the damage up two places and ahead of rival Gasly whilst Tsunoda was the biggest loser off the line, shuttled down to P12 as Alonso got the better of him, winding up in tenth place as the second lap came to a close. Sainz, too, was on a march and had already reclaimed two places.
With DRS coming into play it was still status quo at the front, with the top three all hanging out about a second apart and it was lap 5 where the Red Bull driver began to push, beginning to set lap times with a tenth of the two Mercedes ahead, about 3 seconds back of Hamilton. That number was critical, as the pitlane delta relative to the lap length is low, and 3 seconds is usually about the edge of an undercut, from which Mercedes will be at great pains to protect Hamilton.
Lap 7 and Bottas asked if Hamilton could give him a bit more clean air, and duly asked, Lewis knocked a few more tenths off his laptime, in order to help his teammate keep Verstappen behind. Further back, Ricciardo was all over Gasly and into the start of lap 8, got the job done, with Ocon next up in his queue. Sainz caught Alonso as Alpines day was going a bit sideways, though for the moment it was Ocon saving their bacon, running in P7 and closing in on Norris whilst keeping Ricciardo at bay….. and then, lap 10, it all came to a halt with Schumacher into the wall Turn 22 bringing out the Safety Car almost immediately. Russell and Stroll were the big winners, able to duck into the pits for fresh tyres ahead of the Safety Car, effectively getting a free stop.
Mercedes bet on a double stack while Verstappen stayed out. Ocon and Ricciardo stayed out, but Leclerc was in, along with Perez. The resorted top 10 was Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Ocon, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Gasly, Perez, Sainz and Giovinazzi. Further back it was Norris and Alonso in as well as bets were made up and down the grid. Now the biggest question was exactly how many laps would the Safety Car linger…
Norris appeared to be the biggest short term loser, as he wound up P14, just ahead of Alonso, the magic moment to be rid of his Softs penalty free done in by pitlane traffic. And end of lap 13 out came the red flag, effectively giving Verstappen a free stop and the lead of the race…. Also winning big were Ocon and Ricciardo, now starting P4 and P5, thanks to their staying out under the Safety Car to claim position. Although a bit of maths also points out that the Hard tyre will be on the absolute edge of Pirelli’s predicted ability to get to the end of the race…
Sure enough, as the race restart approached, it was some shiny new Hards as the cars took to the track and rolled around to lline up on the grid. Ricciardo was on Mediums, as he started on Hards, which almost certainly meant another stop for him, and it was a similar situation for Sainz and Vettel…Immediatley Max was on the radio and concerned about how slow the Safety Car was going, concerned about getting enough heat into his tyres.
Lights Out, Again!!!! Great start from Hamilton and he was ahead going into Turn 1, but Verstappen kept his foot in on the outside and went off track as Hamilton took the racing line, cutting the entire kerb and then barged into Hamilton rejoining the track, which also gifted Ocon the pace to get by Lewis and take P2. Further back, it was Perez sandwiching Leclerc and getting spun and then Mazepin put it square into the back of Russell, who had slowed for the carnage ahead.
Of course, looking at the replay it was hard to imagine how Verstappen would not get dinged, as he clearly took the place off track, nevermind the somewhat unsafe rejoin… The interesting player in this was Ocon, who, presumably might actually lead off the next and sure enough, on the phone, Masi offered Red Bull the spot behind Hamilton to keep it out of the stewards’ office.
It didn’t take long and Red Bull took them up on the offer and high in the heavens, the racing gods cackled with glee, playing Hamilton and Verstappen fans for the sport to new and ridiculously cruel levels… And sort of, status quo ante was resumed, with the twist of Ocon now on pole, yes the same Ocon who won Hungary from Vettel and Hamilton…
For the restart, it was Verstappen back to the Medium tyre, and at nHAAS, now with both drivers out, sad scenes of them already breaking down their garage as the remaining cars paraded around to the grid.
Lights Out, Again, All Over!!!! Great start by Verstappen and he nicked Hamilton by taking the inside into Turn 1, which left Hamilton, who had drifted out to cover off Ocon, sandwiched between the two. There was contact between them and Ocon wound up cutting the corner as a result and it was Hamilton, stuck briefly behind Ocon before he rocked by as the Alpine was harvesting for the battery recharge. And, after an hour and change, the race finally got lap 17 done and was back underway.
But not for long, as Verstappen was on the radio with a lack of power and sure enough, there was a momentary dip in pace, but that was down to the battery recharging according to his race engineer. Lap 21 and it was the edge of DRS for Hamilton, briefly, before a mistake in the first sector dropped him back a bit at the start of lap 23. Well, at least until he got through the next two sectors and he closed back up.
Ooopsies and then it was a touch between Tsunoda and Vettel and the contact removed Tsunoda’s front wing whilst spinning Vettel. Tsunoda then became beached on it and out came the Virtual Safety Car as the marshals got back to work.
Lap 25 and off went the Virtual Safety Car and normal racing was resumed. Following lap and it was Hamilton as close as he’d been all race and for the moment the fast lap marker resided on his side of the scale. Tsunoda got a time penalty for causing a collision. Lap 27 and Raikkonen was in for some Mediums and a new front wing and it was another Virtual Safety Car, this time for the debris from the Raikkonen Vettel tap, in which Raikkonen tried to hang it round the outside of Turn 4 and it all went rather badly…
Lap 28 then and it was about a second between Verstappen and Hamilton at the start, and sigh, again a Virtual Safety Car, this time for more debris on the circuit. Getting close to the range where a new set of Mediums could get the job done and Hamilton was looking at around about a pitstops worth of advantage over Ocon…
Every VSC tilted the field a bit more towards Verstappen although now Verstappen was stuck right up behind Raikkonen, whom he couldn’t pass and it brought forth the ire of Verstappen, who could feel the temperature bleeding out of his tyres….Lap 33 then and finally the VSC was off and racing again resumed…
No DRS heading into lap 34 but again, the pace of the Mercedes in the last two sectors was astonishing, with the Red Bull maintaining an advantage in the first… At the front, the pace was destructive, into the 1:31s with 15 laps to go. Again Hamilton got close to DRS and then, another VSC, at the start of lap 36…
Ended on the same lap and DRS for the first time and it was all the way down to Turn 1 and yet again, Verstappen drove him off the road, again, and this time there was no avoiding the stewards and then oh no, Max is told to give the place back and sat in the center of the road and not realising that, Hamilton took the right side of his front wing off avoiding the radically slowing Red Bull…Hamilton was on the radio claiming he was brake tested…which was a not unreasonable observation.
Believe it or not, there was other racing happening, with Bottas still duelling Ricciardo which had granted Ocon an entirely comfortable 5 second margin. At last, on lap 40, Bottas rocked on by Ricciardo but it had descended into utter chaos with the Race Director, with Mercedes arguing with Masi about the fact that Verstappen had still failed to yield
End of lap 42 and Verstappen at last complied, barely sending Hamilton round the outside them immediately accelerating to crowd him off as they entered the straight and using DRS to keep the place. There was no sense of happiness from the stewards, and immediately a 5 second penalty followed the order to yield position, with the immediate ramification of putting the race win out of Verstappen’s reach. On the run around to lap 44, Hamilton again rocked into DRS and this time made sure that Verstappen couldn’t impinge on him, going to the outside of the track and leaving zero room for Verstappen and at last retook the lead that his team gave away so early in the race.
Lap 46 and worse news, as Verstappen said his rears were going off, and he now, with the five second penalty, no longer had a pitstop gap to Ocon, who was doing his absolute damndest to hold onto the last podium position. Lap 48 and it was ever so close, Bottas just a second off the back of Ocon, and he whittled that down but was just a bit too far back to get the job done and the debate carried onto the penultimate lap. Again a good defense and at last, at the start of lap 50, the Alpine driver could do no more and Bottas ahead into Turn 1 on the outside, locked up and went off, job well done as Ocon started the final lap in podium position.
Ahead, Hamilton crossed the line firmly in the lead, with the fast lap in his pocket to boot, but behind it was Bottas, recovering from his off and beating Ocon to the line from Turn 27 in a drag race, nicking the last podium spot by just a tenth of a second.
Well, a win is a win and that was the messiest win in a long time, but it was still a mad celebration for Mercedes as not only had Hamilton tied Verstappen going into the final race, but with Bottas taking third, the Constructors was now all but out of reach for Red Bull… There will still be questions about the strategy of pitting Bottas and Hamilton at the first Safety Car and handing the lead to Red Bull as Mercedes ability to react quickly to changing circumstance continues to plague them.
Not such a great day for Red Bull, with Perez out and Max finishing P2, but the means employed by Verstappen and Red Bull, will certainly be, ummm polarizing. Still, a tie is a win for Verstappen, and with one race to go Red Bull did what they had to do and the decider will will now be kicked to the reprofiled Yas Marina circuit.
Fantastic result for Ocon and Alpine, the loss of the podium notwithstanding, as P4 keeps them gaining on Alpha Tauri and puts P5 just that further bit into their pocket. Unfortunate for Alonso that they did pit him, but with Tsunoda also out of the points, their late season form is a bit of encouragement heading into the last race.
McLaren have at last broken the spell of bad results, putting Ricciardo P5 as Norris was the big loser in the pitstop shuffle under the first Safety Car, but still managed to recover and score the last point of the race.
Gasly P6 was a big improvement for Alpha Tauri over Qatar, and once Tsunoda gets his starts a bit more sorted, they look to be a pair to be reckoned with indeed. Likewise, despite the poor starting position of Carlos Sainz, getting the pair of them to P7 and P8 was a massive undertaking, with the only blot on the strategists copy book being Leclerc pitting under the Safety Car, a big gamble under the circumstances, but a mistake made by Mercedes as well.
That leaves Alfa Romeo, specifically Giovinazzi, rocking home in P9, a nice memory for him as his teammate once again had many several adventures and finished dead last of the drivers who finished…
We do it all over again next weekend, with the ultimate prize yet to be decided… Not exactly sure how the racing gods are going to top this one, but they will surely try….
And remember to play nice in the comments!!