A weekend that began explosively off track ended with fireworks on it – but thankfully for the right reasons.
At one stage it looked like we might not see a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, especially when the drivers – perhaps with a lack of anything better to do on a Friday night in Jeddah – stayed in the paddock until gone 2.00am discussing whether it was safe to race after a terrorist attack on a nearby oil facility.
But despite a horrific crash for Mick Schumacher in qualifying, we are mighty glad they went ahead for we were treated to a pulsating head-to-head battle between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc for the second consecutive Sunday – this time, one that went all the way to the line.
Here’s how the racers fared at what Sergio Perez described as “the most dangerous circuit on the calendar”…and that’s before the threat of missiles.
Max Verstappen: It would be hard to describe it as a perfect weekend for the World Champion when he started P4, three places behind his team-mate, but there was no faulting what he did in the race.
Like last week, the Dutchman was not exactly the epitome of calmness, agitatedly calling for rival Charles Leclerc to be penalised for crossing the pit-entry line and being told by his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase to concentrate on his job “while we do ours”.
But Verstappen is a true racer and heeded warnings to look after his tyres in anticipation of a prolonged attack in the decisive stages, eventually making a move stick and fending off a late retaliatory thrust from the Ferrari.
Sixteen weeks ago in Saudi, the Red Bull driver was not far off disgracing himself in his contentious fight with Lewis Hamilton. This was at the opposite end of the scale. 9.5.
Charles Leclerc: So nearly two out of two for the Ferrari man, only for his boyhood karting nemesis to thwart the 100% record.
But a 12-point lead at the top of the Drivers’ standings will be a satisfying consolation for the Monegasque, who already looks to be reasserting his authority at the Scuderia against the team-mate that scored more points than him last year.
Although he inherited the lead from Perez due to the timing of the Safety Car rather than seized it with a pass, Leclerc gave everything he had against Verstappen and can be proud of his start to the campaign. 9.
Carlos Sainz: Worryingly for the Spaniard, it is now two races in a row where he has been decisively outpaced by his colleague as he struggles to extract the maximum from the F1-75.
Sainz never looked like finishing higher than third, where he started the race, and ended up in his own private battle with Perez for that position after the Safety Car period.
Having a place rightly gifted back to him by the Mexican was Sainz’s biggest win of the day and although he still sits second in the championship, the spectre of becoming Ferrari’s No 2 driver is beginning to loom again. 7.
Sergio Perez: You sense Red Bull probably, deep down, won with the car they wanted to, but Perez was unlucky and it is no surprise he felt “hurt” by the timing of the Safety Car just after he had made a pit-stop.
Until that point on lap 16, he had run comfortably in front, but the fact it was a one-stop race meant he never had a chance to redress the balance via strategy.
Closing in on Sainz towards the end with the race’s fastest lap until that was snatched away by Leclerc, the Mexican’s stock has undoubtedly risen again this weekend. And that pole-position lap was fantastic. 9.
George Russell: Two races into his Mercedes career and Russell is six points ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the World Championship. What’s the weather like up there, George?
How long that will last is anyone’s guess, but this was a weekend when the younger Briton was able to get more out of that recalcitrant Mercedes than his team-mate.
He got past Esteban Ocon, who had started ahead of him, but the W13 was way off being able to challenge Red Bull and Ferrari – as a final gap of 32 seconds to Verstappen showed. 8.
Bit of a lonely one tonight but we made the best of it with P5. Two weeks to Melbourne, time to get stuck in. pic.twitter.com/PU45lp5Ghh
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) March 27, 2022
Esteban Ocon: Qualifying went much better than race day for the Frenchman, who was part of the tussle that lit up the early part of the race – in luminous pink – with his team-mate, Fernando Alonso.
The former World Champion got the better of that scrap and Ocon was also passed by Russell and Valtteri Bottas, but a late overtake on Lando Norris left him with a smile on his face in P6. 7.
Lando Norris: We have not seen much of the 2021 Lando so far, but this was better for both he and McLaren as they each got their points totals ticking over.
The MCL36 is still nowhere near where they would want it to be, but in Norris’ words “a lot of positives” here as he improved significantly on his Bahrain result – and there could have been more had he not lost out to Ocon on the final lap. 8.
Pierre Gasly: AlphaTauri had a tough weekend all round and Gasly found himself passed by Kevin Magnussen and Norris on the opening couple of laps.
Another driver, like Perez, to drop unlucky with the timing of the Safety Car, it would have been a fairly nondescript race for the Frenchman except he said later he had felt like he was “getting stabbed every left corner” due to severe intestinal pain.
That has to be worth at least one extra mark in our book. 8.
Kevin Magnussen: We had our hat put on straight by certain individuals – you know who you are! – last week for not giving K-Mag a full 10/10 and this was another rock-solid effort from the smiley Dane.
One of three drivers to try an alternative tyre strategy – hard-medium rather than vice versa – he jousted with Lewis Hamilton before the Virtual Safety Car came at the right time for his stop on lap 38. More valuable points for Haas thanks to Magnussen. 8.
Lewis Hamilton: The seven-time former World Champion had talked of wanting to go home after his shock Q1 exit and even suggested he was toying with a pit-lane start to address the issues with his troublesome car.
He will be glad he did neither in the end, although the timing of the VSC and the closing of the pit lane were a hindrance and meant Hamilton probably missed out on a P6 finish.
Nevertheless, there were some terrific overtakes, including three in five laps on Lance Stroll, Norris and Gasly, to show conclusively the Briton has lost none of his skill, determination or desire. 9.
Zhou Guanyu: After last week’s heroics, this was ‘welcome to Formula 1’ for Zhou.
He made a poor start and dropped to last – hard to tell if that was down to him or the car – then made contact with Daniel Ricciardo and incurred a five-second penalty for failing to give back an advantage illegally gained.
It was certainly not Zhou’s fault that he later had to serve a drive-through penalty because the original punishment was not adhered to properly – the Alfa Romeo was jacked up when it should have been stationary – and yet he still ended up just outside the points!
A bit more of a rookie performance, but there remains plenty of potential for both driver and team. 6.
Nico Hulkenberg: The “old rusty guy”, in his own words, said he was proud of himself for a “faultless” race, but one in which he was a sitting duck for faster cars on fresher tyres after starting on the hards.
What The Hulk’s future holds is uncertain, but if Sebastian Vettel is back in the Aston Martin from Australia onwards then the deputy can step back knowing he let nobody down. 7.
Lance Stroll: “That idiot divebombed me” was Stroll’s account of the incident where he was turned sideways by Alex Albon at Turn 1 on lap 48, Aston Martin and Williams now being the only two teams without a point.
An early pit-stop onto the hard tyres was the opposite strategy to Hulkenberg but whatever they try, Aston Martin just look slow at the moment and there is little their drivers can do about that. 6.
Did not finish
Alex Albon: This was a terrible weekend for Williams, who ended up with both of their cars coming to rest next to the barrier.
Things may not get any better in Australia, where Albon will serve a three-place grid penalty for colliding with Stroll having never been a factor in the race here. 5.
Valtteri Bottas: Alfa Romeo look to have strong race pace, they just need things to start going their way more than they are.
There was nothing wrong with Bottas’ driving here as he passed eventual P6 finisher Ocon early on and was pressurising other rivals until worryingly high engine temperatures forced him out on lap 37. 7.5.
We gave it a shot but we were just outside. For sure there's more opportunities ahead.
— Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN (@alfaromeoorlen) March 27, 2022
Fernando Alonso: The feisty Fernando, strangely subdued in Bahrain, was back in full effect here as he waged one of his customary battles…against his own team-mate, of all people.
Another occurred later in the race with Magnussen but just when it looked as though the Spaniard had conquered the Haas, it all went wrong and the Alpine ground to a halt in the pit lane. It was fun while it lasted though. 8.
Daniel Ricciardo: First man to pit for hard tyres on lap nine, Ricciardo was running ahead of team-mate Norris but was forced to utter the dreaded words “no drive” on lap 37 as he, Alonso and Bottas dropped like flies in quick succession. 7.
Nicholas Latifi: Oh dear. Latifi’s weekend was like that of a footballer who committed two bad fouls and had a yellow card turned into a red before half-time.
Having crashed in qualifying, the Canadian also hit the wall in the race – for the second time in three grands prix…remember Abu Dhabi? – and is putting himself under a lot of early pressure this season. 3.
Did not start
Yuki Tsunoda: Problems with his AlphaTauri on Saturday and Sunday meant Tsunoda left Jeddah without completing a flying lap in qualifying or even reaching the grid for the race, parking up in a run-off area. N/A.
Mick Schumacher: Impossible to give a rating as he did not line up on Sunday following a huge crash in qualifying, where he had looked on course to reach Q3 for the first time in his F1 career.
10/10 from an accident safety perspective, though. N/A.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix highlights
The Saudi Arabian GP once again provided us with a fantastic race, with Max Verstappen having to work hard for his win.