Verstappen fights back against Leclerc, wins in Saudi Arabia

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen gets in the RB18. Bahrain March 2022.

Max Verstappen climbs into the Red Bull RB18 prior to the race start. Bahrain March 2022.

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc put on another thrilling battle for the win, this time in Saudi Arabia, with the Red Bull driver coming out on top for his first points of the season.

Verstappen and Leclerc both benefitted from a Safety Car, brought out when Nicholas Latifi crashed, the free pit stop allowing them to leapfrog early race leader Sergio Perez.

That set up another tussle between Leclerc, who was leading, and Verstappen, the latter applying pressure lap after lap.

It took him four attempts but eventually the Red Bull driver made it stick into Turn 1 on lap 47, taking his first win in his title defence by half a second.

Leclerc was second ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz.

As for Lewis Hamilton, he recovered from his Q1 exit to score points, P10 on the night.

With the field already down to 19 runners, Mick Schumacher out after his high-speed Q2 crash, the Saudi Arabian grid was reduced by one more as Yuki Tsunoda suffered a loss of power on his out-lap, his night over.

The 18-car field lined up on the grid with Sergio Perez on pole position ahead of Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen but that wasn’t how they went into the first corner with Verstappen leapfrogging Sainz.

Esteban Ocon stayed fifth ahead of George Russell, Fernando Alonso, Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly. Lewis Hamilton, one of three drivers starting on the hard tyres, was up to 14th with Lando Norris taking P10 off Gasly and Russell up the inside of Ocon for fifth.

That put Ocon into Alonso’s clutches, the Alpine team-mates engaging in a three-lap battle that was eventually won by Alonso with Otmar Szafnaeur on the pit wall saying “we’ll let them race” before adding that they had to “keep Bottas behind”.

Losing time to Perez, the gap up to 2.5s on lap 10, Ferrari told Leclerc that he is going “plan A, and our tyre degradation is better than Red Bull”. As for Sainz, he was “still on plan B”.

Meanwhile Gasly took P10 off Norris and Hamilton moved up to 11th, overtaking Lance Stroll, the driver who booted him out of Q1 on Saturday night, before passing Norris. He then took that P10 off Gasly.

Alonso and Ocon were back at it on lap 12, the double World Champion squeezing the Frenchman as he tred to pass around the outside, Ocon going off the track. And then came the message to Ocon: “Hold position, hold position.” He didn’t, but not as Alpine had wanted, rather he lost said position to Bottas.

1.7s behind Perez, Leclerc was told to “box to overtake” with Red Bull responding by pitting Perez for hard tyres. Ferrari kept Leclerc out… And then Nicholas Latifi crashed at the final corner, his second of the weekend with the Safety Car out.

Leclerc and Verstappen both pitted – and they all came out ahead of Perez with Leclerc taking the lead, Verstappen second and Perez down to third, the pole-sitter noted by the stewards passing Sainz after the Safety Car line. Only Magnussen, Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg did not pit, the trio up to P6, 7 and 9.

Restarting on lap 21, Leclerc stayed ahead of Verstappen while Perez let Sainz through to avoid a penalty, told by Red Bull to “give up the position”. Russell stayed fifth ahead of Magnussen, Hamilton and Alonso with Hulkenberg and Bottas making up the top ten. Hamilton overtook Magnussen for sixth on lap 24, the Haas fought back, and Hamilton had to do it all again the next lap.

With Verstappen hounding him, Leclerc upped his pace while the Red Bull driver complained that the Ferrari man had cut the white line on the entry to the pit lane.

Leclerc responded with a fastest lap time while his team-mate Sainz, who had a wiring issue in the build-up to the race, reported a “mis-shift” but he didn’t seem to be losing any time because of it.

Alonso’s next battle, brief as it was, was against Magnussen. He passed the Dane for P7 on lap 36, Magnussen yet to stop. And then Alonso’s race ended, the Spaniard suddenly slowing and reporting “no power” as he tried to limp back to the pits.

Seconds later Daniel Ricciardo also slowed. He stopped on the run down to the pit lane with Alonso also coming to a halt just before the entry. Bottas made it three in less than three minutes but he pulled into the pits to park Alfa Romeo.

The VSC was deployed while the positioning of Ricciardo and Alonso’s cars meant the pit lane was eventually closed.

Magnussen pitted just in time, Hulkenberg potentially did not and Hamilton didn’t even try. The VSC ended on lap 41 of 50 with Leclerc leading Verstappen by two seconds and Hamilton coming into the pits immediately for fresh medium tyres. He came out P12.

Verstappen closed in on Leclerc, getting to within DRS range, before pouncing on lap 42 to take the lead with the help of DRS.

Leclerc came back at him at Turn 1 on lap 43, retaking the lead. Verstappen tried again, both locking up with Leclerc staying ahead. They went wheel-to-wheel again on lap 46, Leclerc again staying ahead before Verstappen tried again a few corners, making it stick into Turn 1 on lap 47.

Verstappen was given a brief moment of respite from Leclerc’s harassment when Alex Albon and Stroll collided, the Williams driver retiring and the yellow flags out. But they were lifted for the final lap, Leclerc closing in on Verstappen’s rear wing. He wasn’t able to get close enough, the Red Bull driver taking the win ahead of Leclerc and Sainz.

Perez was fourth ahead of Russel, Ocon, Norris, Gasly, Magnussen and Hamilton.

Guanyu Zhou had a night to forget, the Alfa Romeo rookie handed a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage from his battle with Alex Albon on the opening lap. He was then given a drive-through penalty for not serving his penalty during his stop because of a mix up with the front jack.



1 Max Verstappen Red Bull
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.549s
3 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 8.097s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull 10.800s
5 George Russell Mercedes 32.732s
6 Esteban Ocon Alpine 56.017s
7 Lando Norris McLaren 56.124s
8 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 62.946s
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas 64.308s
10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 73.948s
11 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo Racing 82.215s
12 Nico Hulkenberg Aston Martin 91.742s
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1 lap

Did not finish

Alex Albon – Williams – crash
Valtteri Bottas – Alfa Romeo –
Daniel Ricciardo – McLaren – engine
Fernando Alonso – Alpine – cooling
Nicholas Latifi – Williams – crash