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Ruthless, reckless or racing? The verdict on five Saudi Arabia GP title flashpoints

·7-min read
F1's craziest race: the three key incidents at chaotic Saudi GP explained
F1's craziest race: the three key incidents at chaotic Saudi GP explained

Lewis Hamilton claimed an incredible victory in an action-packed Saudi Arabian GP on Sunday to draw level with Max Verstappen in the world championship standings with just one race remaining.

Having stormed to pole position on Saturday, Hamilton came out on top in a wild race which was twice halted by red flags and saw him tangle with the Red Bull of Verstappen - who he labelled "f------ crazy" - as the pair wrestled on the track and bickered over the radio.

Telegraph Sport looks at five key controversial moments in Jeddah and offer our verdict on whether it was fair racing, ruthless or plain reckless.

Lap 15, the first restart: Verstappen refuses to back down

What happened: Hamilton keeps the lead at the start, with Valtteri Bottas second and Verstappen third. But, when Mick Schumacher crashes heavily into the barriers, a safety car is called. The two Mercedes drivers pit, but the Dutchman does not, assuming the race lead in a strategic gamble.

The risk pays off. When the race is red flagged, it allowed Verstappen to change tyres without penalty for the standing restart. But the advantage only lasts so long. On the restart on lap 15, Verstappen gets bogged down and Hamilton has the inside line and track position.

The ruthless Verstappen does not back down, failing to take the corner, cutting over the apex and kerbs to retain first. Hamilton has to back off to avoid a collision on exit as Verstappen rejoined the track aggressively. The Briton then slipped to third behind Esteban Ocon.

Outcome: The race is red flagged within moments after Sergio Perez, George Russell and Nikita Mazepin all crash out. The incident is not referred to the stewards, however, as FIA race director Michael Masi offers Red Bull the chance to slip down to third behind Hamilton and Ocon at the restart.

Telegraph Sport’s verdict: In recent rounds, Verstappen’s ruthlessness has turned into recklessness. Hamilton got the much better start and held the inside line. The corner was his but Verstappen refused to accept that, knowing that the Mercedes was likely quicker in race trim. An all or nothing strategy.

He had no intention to take the corner and, had he not reverted to third at the second restart, a five-second time penalty would have been fully justified. Yet again Hamilton had to back out to avoid contact.

Lap 17, the second restart: Verstappen takes the lead with a rapid start and a bold move

What happened: Having lost track (or grid) position, Red Bull gamble again on the softer but less durable medium tyres, which gives their driver a starting advantage over Hamilton and Ocon. He makes it work, diving up the inside of Hamilton - who had moved to the outside to fend off Ocon - and taking the lead.

Hamilton, makes contact with Ocon, though escapes any significant damage. The Alpine driver misses the corner but keeps the lead momentarily before Verstappen gets through.

Outcome: Red Bull’s choice paid off again. Verstappen keeps crucial track position but is tactically vulnerable to Hamilton, who has more durable tyres. Hamilton soon passes Ocon and begins his chase of Verstappen.

Verdict: The tyre gamble was a sensible one from Red Bull. The first restart on the hard tyres had gone wrong so prioritising the chance of leapfrogging Hamilton was the right thing to do. Verstappen lacked the pace to overtake, so track position was essential for any chance of a win.

Hamilton did leave the door open for Verstappen, who took it with both hands as you would expect, but his collision with Ocon seemed to be over concern over another crash with Verstappen, steaming up the inside. Hard racing and nothing worthy of a penalty here, but it could have easily been a classic lap one shunt.

Lap 37 (I): Verstappen runs Hamilton off the track to retain the lead

What happened: After numerous Virtual Safety Car periods due to debris on the track, Hamilton finally gets close enough to Verstappen to attempt a move. With a slipstream and his Drag Reduction System activated, he moves to the outside of Verstappen on the pit straight as the Red Bull driver takes the middle of the track.

Verstappen goes deep, not attempting to take the corner in any meaningful way, giving Hamilton the choice of running wide or crashing. Hamilton chooses the latter but they both run off at turn two. Verstappen retains his lead.

Outcome: Verstappen keeps his lead but is later given a five-second time penalty. However, the drama continues throughout the lap.

Verdict: Another case of Verstappen refusing to cede track position when he knew he was done. Other great drivers would have fought the position but not to this extreme. It was all or nothing. Hamilton was once more offered ‘either you back off or we crash’ by Verstappen. He chose to back out and, really, with an eight-point deficit he could not risk retirement. This was persistent recklessness. This one knocks what he did in Brazil into a cocked hat.

A five-second penalty seems correct and proportionate, though given repeated violations more could have been warranted.

Lap 37 (II): Hamilton runs into the back of Verstappen in a confusing, strange incident

What happened: Easily the strangest incident of the day if not the season. After controversially keeping the lead earlier in the lap, Verstappen is then told to hand the lead back by his team, presumably to avoid being given a five-second time penalty.

Heading into the final corner, Verstappen slows right down. Hamilton, who was unaware what his rival was doing, does not attempt the overtake initially despite having plenty of room to do so. He then jinks to the left, running into the back of the Red Bull. His front wing is damaged, but not critically.

As soon as he feels the collision Verstappen puts his boot down and accelerates away down the pit straight, keeping the lead.

Outcome: This incident was reviewed after the race and ended in a 10-second time penalty to Verstappen; not enough to drop him to third, crucially. After reviewing the clash, the stewards found that Verstappen braked “suddenly and significantly”. They accepted that Hamilton could have overtaken but understood why he did not, as both drivers wanted to be able to have the advantage of DRS on the pit straight. 10 seconds it was.

Verdict: On subsequent viewings it was clear that the position of the DRS detection line led to the silliness here. Verstappen was trying to be crafty in giving the position back before this line thus getting the use of DRS on the pit straight, potentially helping him retake the lead. The sudden braking, though, turns it from a racing incident caused by confusion into one where Verstappen takes nearly all of the blame.

Lap 42: Verstappen finally surrenders the lead… but then retakes it within moments

What happened: By this point Verstappen had still not been given any sanction for the incident at turns one and two on lap 37. The first attempt to let Hamilton take the lead had been unsuccessful, so he tried again.

Again, it was a crafty manoeuvre. Heading into the final hairpin turn, Verstappen slows up to let Hamilton through. He then tucks into his slipstream and dives up the inside of the corner, retaking the lead. To make matters worse for Hamilton, the Red Bull driver gets the use of DRS on the pit straight to extend his lead, having been behind at the detection point.

Outcome: Almost at the same time as this was taking place, Verstappen was given his five-second time penalty, making the letting through and overtake redundant. With the slower car on more worn tyres his chance of a win was done. Hamilton eventually overtook successfully (and for the final time) at the hairpin at the next lap, though not without running Verstappen wide.

Verdict: This incident encapsulated the farcical and silly nature of the entire race. If you are going to hand the place back because you fear a five-second time penalty from the stewards if you do not do so, then you have to do it decisively and properly. Verstappen had no intention of doing this and this surely would not have been enough to satisfy the FIA. Indeed, it was not. Yes, racing is racing and you have to get an advantage however you can, but this was petty and small-time.

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