Lewis Hamilton raced to first place at the newly-built Jeddah Corniche Circuit in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix held on Sunday, closing the gap to rival Max Verstappen in the Championship points rankings. The two drivers will now enter the finale at Abu Dhabi tied for points, in a thrilling finisher.
The penultimate race at the circuit on the banks of the Red Sea was one of the most chaotic this year as multiple crashes and retirements brought out two red flags, forced two standing starts and led to four Virtual Safety Cars and two Safety Car sessions. Mick Schumacher's crash on lap 13 triggered the first red flag, while collisions between his Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin, WIlliam's George Russell, and Red Bull's Segio Perez and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc caused th second.
A collision with Tsunoda led to Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel retiring from the race due to heavy damage to his car.
Following his crash during the qualifying session, an aggressive Max Verstappen looked to be succumbing to immense pressure, once colliding with Hamilton as he was ordered to give first place back due to advantage gained by cutting a corner. The crash resulted in a ten second time penalty and two penalty points for Verstappen handed down after the race.
The collision has been passed off as a miscommunication between teams as Verstappen said he was slowing down to let Hamilton past while Hamilton accused the other driver of "brake-testing" him by braking so abruptly that the Mercedes rammed into the back of the Red Bull, damaging the car's front wing. Furious team radio conversations highlighted the incident in the aftermath with Mercedes saying they had not been informed of the place swap in time.
Red Bull's foresight to use the restart to change Max's tyres as well as pitting Perez earlier under the safety car came to naught as the reckless Verstappen's driving elicited penalties which eventually cost him the lead. The Dutchman was ordered to swap places with Ocon and Hamilton during the second restart owing to racing off-track and gaining a first-place advantage.
"We didn't need to do that, Max," was the reprimand from Verstappen's race engineer as the Dutch driver recived a penalty for racing off-track and had to swap positions yet again later in the race.
Alpine's Esteban Ocon briefly lead the race from the second restart, eventually looking to come third but was overtaken by Mercedes' Valterri Bottas right on the finish line by mere tenths of a second.
Jeddah's tight and narrow circuit elicited criticism which was proved at least partially true as the chaos unfolded, with blind Turn 22 claiming Mick Schumacher's car, lengthy red flags needed to clear the narrow track and very little scope for overtaking despite the speed of the track. The Formula 2 race held earlier had also seen a terrible crash between Theo Pourchaire and Enzo Fittpaldi who collided.
"I took a lot of risk at the end, with the damage that I had, to get the extra point [for the fastest lap] ... we keep pushing, we never give up ... today I think I've seen a passion in my team which I don't think I've seen in 10 years, and that's amazing," said Hamilton after the race.
A visibly frustrated Verstappen said that the Red Bull could not match the speed of the Mercedes, which was equipped with the powerful engine that had shown it's merit at the Interlagos track last month.
The next and final race at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina circuit will see Lewis Hamilton battling it out to win his eighth World Championship title which will put him ahead of racing legend Michael Schumacher's record of 7. Max Verstappen will look to erase the ignominy of the Jeddah race as he seeks to win his maiden World Championship tied with his rival at 369.5 points.
Mercedes is expected to take the Constructor's Championship, with Red Bull in second place and Ferrari in third.