And here’s Charles Leclerc: “It wasn’t enough today but oh my god – I really enjoyed that race! It was hard racing, but fair … every race should be like this. We are in a street track, we’ve been pushing like I’ve rarely pushed before, so there is respect. But I’m also a little disappointed.”
Verstappen speaks: “It was a good race, we were battling hard. We just had to play the long game, the tyres were wearing out quite quick. It wasn’t easy but eventually I managed to get ahead – I’m just really happy to kickstart the season.”
How they finished
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
5) George Russell, Mercedes
6) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
7) Lando Norris, McLaren
8) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
9) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
10) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
Max Verstappen wins the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix!
Leclerc can’t do it – quite – and Verstappen emerges from the final corner in front, Leclerc just too far back to make a proper move on his rival at the last. Ferrari get second and third, with Sainz just behind his teammate, but the victory goes to Verstappen and that late drama! Perez and Russell make up the top five. Will Verstappen v Leclerc be the story of the season?
Lap 49/50: It looks like Hamilton will have to settle for a point, and unless Leclerc can come up with the goods on the final corner this is Verstappen’s race…
Lap 48/50: Like when Hamilton overtook Magnussen, Verstappen learnt his lesson when overtakes were exchanged and waited for the second DRS zone to make his move, giving Leclerc no chance to reclaim the lead.
Verstappen takes the lead
Lap 46/50: Verstappen attacks again and he and Leclerc go wheel to wheel, but the Dutchman has DRS and roars into the lead and the cars cross the line! Leclerc doesn’t have much time to fight back.
Lap 45/50: Verstappen is told to “calm down” over the radio, and he may have flat spotted his tyres. Leclerc’s lead sits at 0.4secs. Hamilton passes Stroll and is back into the points.
Lap 43/50: Verstapen floors it going into the final corner and both drivers lock up! Leclerc gets better traction and escapes away quicker! Verstappen is not happy: again he’s claiming Leclerc crossed the pit lane entry line.
Verstappen and Leclerc swap overtakes!
Lap 41/50: Hamilton pits now, with the VSC gone, and emerges in P12. Now Verstappen, who has hit top speed much quicker than Leclerc attacks Leclerc’s lead! He steams ahead of him going into the final straight but – as we’ve seen a few times already tonight – hanging back can be no bad thing and Leclerc rattles back past his rival with DRS on turn one!
Lap 40/50: The VSC is still out. It’s still a Leclerc-Verstappen-Sainz-Perez-Russell top five. The green flag is out and Hamilton has missed his chance to pit under the VSC.
Lap 39/50: The virtual safety car is out. Magnussen pits, Hamilton doesn’t, the only driver yet to do so. Confirmation that Alonso has retired, along with Bottas, while Ricciardo is still in the pit for now.
Lap 38/50: Now it’s Ricciardo whose car appears to have failed him. “I’ve got no drive. I can’t accelerate,” he says – and he can’t get into the pits so just stops next to the entrance. And now Bottas has stopped short – his race looks over! What’s going on!?
Lap 36/50: But Magnussen has taken back P7 and something looks the matter with Alonso’s Alpine, which he inches into the pits. In the garage, the team have their heads in their hands. It looks like a power failure, which would be a huge shame for Alonso who’s having a great race.
Lap 35/50: Verstappen receives instructions over the radio: “Let’s just keep it sensible in the high speed at the moment, we can put pressure on later in the race. Let Leclerc use up his tyres for the moment.”
Lap 34/50: Hamilton has made up nine places so far, great stuff from him – and with his tyres 33 laps old, he’s making it look like a one-stop race. Now Alonso is eyeing Magnussen in P7, and sneaks ahead of him going into turn one
Lap 32/50: Leclerc’s lead has stretched ever so slightly to 1.7secs, no joy for the dogged Verstappen so far.
Lap 31/50: The Perez/Sainz incident will not merit further investigation, we’re told: Perez gave his place back to Sainz – and has just clocked up his best lap of the race.
Lap 30/50: “Tyres are still OK”, says Hamilton, who hasn’t switched up his hards yet. But Sainz isn’t entirely happy with his car: “I had a misshift,” he says. “I don’t know why, strange.”
Lap 28/50: That aside, Leclerc is doing well to hold on to his 1sec+ lead with Verstappen not giving him an inch. Perez is now 6secs off the lead, back in fourth, with Sainz 1.5secs ahead of him.
Lap 26/50: Ricciardo attacks Hulkenberg, who was just passed by Ocon, and takes P11. Meanwhile there are whispers that Leclerc may be in trouble for crossing the white pit lane line just before the safety car drama – you can’t do that unless you pit.
Lap 25/50: One lap later and Hamilton attacks again, but this time he delays it so as not to give Magnussen the chance to retaliate. He zips ahead on turn one, P6 is his and this time he keeps hold of it.
Lap 23/50: … but he bides his time then attacks coming into the last corner and passes the Dane neatly, but Magnussen has DRS so snatches P6 straight back off him at turn one!
Lap 22/50: Leclerc’s lead is hovering around the one-second mark, and he’s just set the fastest lap. Hamilton is still stalking Magnussen, who remains a tenth or two ahead.
Lap 21/50: The green flag goes up pedals hit metal. Russell steams past Magnussen into P5 at turn one while Hamilton fends off the advances of Alonso to hold onto P7. Leclerc hold his leads but Sainz passes Perez for P3. So it’s a Ferrari-RB-Ferrari-RB top four.
Lap 20/50: Latifi’s race is run, and the safety car is still out, ending imminently. The leaders have all pitted Hamilton, up in P7 for now, has stayed out on hards.
How they stand
1) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
2) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
4) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
5) George Russell, Mercedes
6) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
7) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
8) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
9) Nico Hulkenberg, Aston Martin
10) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
Lap 19/50: Will Perez’s race go from bad to worse? Sainz reckons he was victim of some foul play when the Mexican came out of the pits: “He pushed me off. The FIA needs to judge this… I was ahead at the safety car line.”
Lap 17/50: Leclerc was told to do the opposite of Perez, which is why he stayed out. But the virtual safety car has been upgraded to a real one, and Leclerc and Verstappen use the opportunity to pit … and they come out ahead of the brutally unlucky Perez. And all of a sudden it’s a Leclerc-Verstappen-Perez top three! Nicholas Latifi is fine.
Lap 16/50: Perez pits from the lead. Ferrari were readying themselves to do so, but pulled the plug on it when they saw Perez pit. And now Latifi is into the barriers – and we have a virtual safety car!
Lap 15/50: Hamilton pulls off an identical trick, seeing off Gasly in the same place in the same way to claw his way into the points.
Lap 14/50: Zhou Guanyu has been given a five-second penalty for leaving the track. Bottas gets himself between the warring Alpines, taking advantage of DRS to scoot round the outside of Ocon on the home straight.
Lap 12/50: Magnussen looks to attack Bottas in P8 but the Finn gets his elbows out early and keeps his place. Ahead of them, Alonso and Ocon are still going at it. Hamilton picks off Norris for P11.
Lap 10/50: So a confident Perez leads Leclerc by 2.2secs, with Verstappen, Sainz and Russell following behind. Lewis Hamilton has sprinted past Stroll and into P12.
Lap 9/50: “The lights of Leclerc don’t work on the back of his car,” yells Verstappen down the radio. Eeek.
Lap 7/50: More fun: Ocon reclaims P7 from Alonso but leaves the track to do so, and has to give his place back. He does so, but keeps his teammate firmly in his sights. In the garage, the Alpine team watch on with gritted teeth.
Lap 6/50: We’ve got a nice duel here between Alpine teammates Alonso and Ocon. First Ocon employs some aggressive moves to keep the eager Alonso behind him, but a bit later Alonso goes again and does the business with DRS on the home straight.
Lap 5/50: Zhou Guanyu is having problems with his car – his wheels spun in the first corner early on – and is right back in P18.
Lap 3/50: Russell shimmies past Ocon in the final hairpin bend and to sneak into P5. The stewards are looking into an incident involving Norris and Magnussen. Perez’s lead has settled at about 1.5secs. Hamilton isn’t happy with his tyres – “No grip”.
Lap 2/50: Perez covered Leclerc into turn one, pushing Sainz outside which allowed Verstappen to pounce. Meanwhile Gasly has already been passed by Magnussen and now Norris, while Hamilton’s battle of attrition begins with him passing Albon into P14.
Lap 1/50: And we’re off! Perez keeps his from the Ferraris into turn one, and holds on to it brilliantly. Verstappen attacks Sainz straight away, and the two are side by side into turn one before the Dutchman nips ahead. Great start for Red Bull!
Sergio Perez, for the first time in his career, leads the cars off for the formation lap. Not long now.
Here’s Lando Norris: “The tyres are quite interesting. There’s going to be a lot of deg, so whoever can manage them the best is going to have a much better result today.” He’s not wrong, but how will they manage them, especially now all drivers have free tyre choice from the start? There were 58 stops last week, though this circuit really should warrant no more than two.
How they line up
1) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
5) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
6) George Russell, Mercedes
7) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
8) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
9) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
10) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
11) Lando Norris, McLaren
12) Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo
13) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
14) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
15) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
16) Alex Albon, Williams
17) Nico Hulkenberg, Aston Martin
18) Nicholas Latifi, Williams
Ten minutes to lights out
Max Verstappen is keen to get going: “I’m looking forward to it, we have good top speed, [Ferrari] have good cornering. Let’s see which works best.”
The drivers are at the front of the grid for the Saudi national anthem.
“Question,” writes Kurt Perleberg. “What is porpoising?” Well indeed. I can report that it’s an aerodynamic phenomenon, a bouncing induced by a break in downforce on straights. It has affected all teams going into the new season, with the all-new regulations, but Mercedes seem to have struggled by far the most (though Carlos Sainz has also been heard complaining about it on the radio). The smoother surface on this track should make it less of an issue than last week … but time will tell.
A bit of detail on Tsunoda’s exit, from AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost: “It looks like something in the drivetrain and he cannot race. With Pierre we hope everything works well and he can score some points.”
Cat on the track klaxon! Get your puns in now, while we still have time for that sort of fluff.
Charles Leclerc is sounding chipper: “Whenever you go into race day you have to be confident. The pace is good, we are in the mix. Hopefully we make a good start and then we will see.”
Fighting talk too from Christian Horner: “[Verstappen] is absolutely still in it. We’ve tried to focus our setup to be good in the race, maybe that compromised a little qualifying speed. Max struggled a little bit yesterday but I think his race runs have been very impressive so hopefully we can fight the Ferraris hard today.”
Yuki Tsunoda pulls out of the race
“Lost engine, lost engine,” wails the AlphaTauri driver as he makes his way to the grid. He had troubles in qualifying yesterday, and that’s his GP over – his team have called him back into the garage. And then there were 18…
As a counterpoint, here’s our F1 correspondent, Giles Richards, on that very issue:
There is no evidence any change ever occurs. Since the mass protests in Bahrain in 2011, F1 has raced on in the country and human rights groups insist the situation has worsened for everyone who speaks out against the regime and that imprisonment and torture has, in fact, increased.
The real danger with sportwashing is that it normalises regimes over time. The fuss dies down as people come to accept the event but business as usual continues in the background. This is the deal F1 has done.
Read his article in full here:
Here’s Stefano Domenicali, chief executive of Formula One, speaking to Sky Sports about the event in Saudi Arabia: “We are not blind but this country is making massive steps forward that you cannot change in the blink of an eye. I believe we are playing a very important role in the modernisation of this country.
“No one can judge our morality, it is a matter of putting in place all the things that have to be considered. We believe what we are doing will have a very positive impact on the political situation.”
A flurry of activity in the Ferrari garage, where it looks like Carlos Sainz’s car has undergone a last-minute alteration – an electric component by the looks of it.
Also in qualifying yesterday, Mick Schumacher was involved in a huge crash – serious enough to mean he will sit out today’s race as a precaution, leaving Kevin Magnussen as the sole Haas driver. “I just wanted to say that I’m OK,” he tweeted earlier. “Thank you for the kind messages.”
Meanwhile, Max Verstappen is blaming his substandard qualifying display on his tyres. “Q1 and Q2, everything felt normal, felt good but then I don’t know, my first set in Q3 was terrible,” he said. “I had no grip and honestly, I don’t understand because there was not really anything weird going on.”
Precision-engineered carbon fibre bodywork with aluminium honeycomb. Pull-rod front suspension with unique geometry for clean airflow. Centreline cooling ducts covered by full double-decker beam wing. Ventilated carbon ceramic-disc brake system. And a longitudinally mounted direct-injection Powertrain engine filled with ethanol E10 fuel.
Red Bull’s all-new RB18 car certainly sounds impressive. Last week, though, we got a faintly hilarious reminder of an F1 car’s most fundamental requirement: to cross the finish line. It was a test failed in slapstick style by a $140m team whose high-spec cars both chuntered to a stop as the race was reaching its business end – proof that the best sporting drama comes with a healthy dose of schadenfreude.
If the boffins in Red Bull’s garage have come up with a fix in the intervening week, then we can expect a rip-roaring battle between them and Ferrari today, after Sergio Perez claimed the first pole of his 215-race career with an impeccable display in Q3. He was two-hundredths up on Charles Leclerc – who proved his title credentials with victory last week after a thrilling scrap with Max Verstappen – while Carlos Sainz scooted into third. Ferrari’s supremely impressive one-two in Bahrain gives every impression that their decision to write off last season in order to develop this year’s car is a gamble that could pay off lavishly.
Ahead of the curtain-raiser in Bahrain, the big questions concerned Mercedes, whose new car was beset by engineering problems and whose drivers were getting grouchy. And despite the surprise late podium for Lewis Hamilton, those issues haven’t gone away: Hamilton suffered a rare exit in qualifying yesterday, his car still beset by the porpoising problems that plagued pre-season. “It’s a long, long way back,” he grumbled afterwards. “I am looking forward to going home.”
This week, though, the truly big question is whether this should be happening at all. This Grand Prix is hosted in a state accused by Human Rights Watch of a “brutal crackdown on peaceful dissidents”, where same-sex relations are illegal, and at a circuit 10 miles from a site that was attacked by missiles on Friday afternoon. “This weekend’s Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia is sportswashing – plain and simple,” said Felix Jakens of Amnesty International this week. Something to bear in mind this evening.
Thoughts, theories, wild conjecture? Feel free to email in.
Race begins at 18:00 BST.