Saudi Arabian GP: Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic race after Max Verstappen collision to set up title showdown
Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic race ahead of Max Verstappen, with title rivals now level on points ahead of 2021 finale; Hamilton and Verstappen collided when the Red Bull driver slowed - Dutchman penalised by stewards; Two red flags and multiple crashes in Jeddah's F1 debut
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 06/12/21 10:22am
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are level on points heading into the final race of the season after the Mercedes driver won an incredibly dramatic Saudi Arabian GP that included red flags, multiple crashes and a bizarre collision between the championship rivals amid heated tension.
The 50 laps of the inaugural street race around the Jeddah Street track were absolutely chaotic and often incalculable, and arguably provided the most controversial chapter of the epic championship battle so far.
- Hamilton: Verstappen's driving is 'over the limit'
- Verstappen penalised for causing Hamilton collision, stays second
- All square for the decider: Updated championship standings
Hamilton and Verstappen, head to head through much of the race, clashed wheel-to-wheel after two of the three race starts and then made contact when Verstappen slowed down to try and give his rival the lead as instructed following a questionable defence earlier on Lap 37 - only for Hamilton to run into the back of the Red Bull.
Verstappen was handed a 10-second penalty by stewards over that incident but stays second, with Hamilton - who called Verstappen "dangerous" and "crazy" during the race - claiming he was "brake tested" by the Dutchman.
The collision damaged Hamilton's front wing but he still came back through to pass Verstappen, getting the last laugh of a bad-tempered evening to claim the win that means the pair are, remarkably, level on points.
Verstappen is ahead in the championship on the race-win tie-break but it will be a winner-takes-all Abu Dhabi GP, live on Sky Sports F1 next Sunday.
Verstappen was also handed a five-second time penalty by stewards for forcing Hamilton wide into Turn 1 on Lap 37, which both worsened his mood and effectively ended his race hopes, eventually just clinging on to finish.
"What happened today is unbelievable and this sport is more about penalties than racing," fumed Verstappen, who did not join in the podium celebrations with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. "For me, this is not Formula 1."
Although Hamilton protested: "He's over the limit, for sure. I've avoided collision on so many occasions with the guy."
Saudi Arabian GP: Final top 10
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
4) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
5) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
6) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
7) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
8) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
9) Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
10) Lando Norris, McLaren
Explaining the bizarre collision between the title rivals
The battle between Verstappen and Hamilton came to a head on Lap 37.
Hamilton closed in on Verstappen, who was struggling on medium tyres to his longer-lasting hards, and tried a move around the outside. Hamilton appeared to edge ahead and both drivers broke late, and both ran off the track with Verstappen keeping the lead.
On team radio, F1 Race Director Michael Masi told Red Bull they should either give the place back or it will be investigated by the stewards - after which Red Bull say they will give the place back.
They told Verstappen to do so, but "strategically".
Masi then told Mercedes' team manager Ron Meadows that Verstappen will let Hamilton past, although this seemed to be unbeknown to the seven-time world champion as Meadows was informing race engineer Peter Bonnington just as Hamilton and Verstappen approached Turn 27.
The Red Bull driver slowed but Hamilton crashed into the back of his car, saying he was "brake tested" - where a driver flicks between braking and accelerating.
Both Mercedes and Red Bull said they could point to data that would exonerate their drivers from blame from the stewards, who eventually found Verstappen was predominantly at fault.
"I didn't get the information so it was very, very confusing," explained Hamilton afterwards. "All of a sudden he started backing up and then moving. I was like 'is he playing some sort of crazy tactic?'.
"All of a sudden messages started to come through, but he hit the brakes so hard l nearly went up the back of him. For him, it doesn't matter if we both didn't finish."
Hamilton-Verstappen drama hits new level in F1's penultimate round
The tension in the Hamilton and Verstappen battle has been rising all season, and while the collisions in Silverstone and Monza had race-ending consequences - it would be fair to say the penultimate round was their most dramatic duel, and has led to the most animosity between the pair.
The seeds were sewn to the crazy finish via the extraordinary stop-start Saudi Arabian GP.
Hamilton and Bottas kept Verstappen behind at the start but a heavy Mick Schumacher crash in the Haas caused a Safety Car on Lap 10, after which both Mercedes drivers stopped for fresh tyres with Verstappen staying out and taking the lead.
But that Safety Car then became a red flag, a decision that gave Red Bull a chance to change Verstappen's tyres without a pit-stop, angering Mercedes.
Upon the restart, however, Hamilton surged ahead of Verstappen before the title leader passed him around the outside and off the track - illegally so.
Sergio Perez, George Russell and Nikita Mazepin then crashed on that lap which led to another red flag, and during that stoppage Red Bull agreed with Race Control to drop Verstappen back behind Hamilton, and Esteban Ocon, on the next grid.
But the narrative flipped again as Verstappen went from third to first on that restart, overtaking Hamilton and the Alpine car to give him the race lead proper. Hamilton would soon pass Ocon to set up a head-to-head duel, with 33 laps left.
Verstappen was holding Hamilton back, often helped by Virtual Safety Cars which were deployed due to debris after various collisions, two of which involved Sebastian Vettel, before the Lap 37 drama played out.
Hamilton's front-wing end plate was broken but he still set a soaring pace. He was let through again by Verstappen, before momentarily losing his lead - only to take it back soon after and then surge off into the distance as Verstappen, hampered by a time penalty and worn tyres, dropped back.
Hamilton finished with a fastest lap despite the damage while there was more late drama in the race when Bottas overtook Ocon for the final podium position on a DRS-aided sprint for the line.
While the drivers' battle is locked, that result gives Mercedes a huge 28-point advantage over Red Bull for the final race.