Max wins the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP while Checo finishes P4
When the lights went out for the start, Checo got the power down quickest to surge into the lead. Behind him, Leclerc didn’t react as quickly and was instantly put under pressure by Sainz to his right and from behind by Max, who had also made a good start from fourth place on the grid.
As they approached turn one, Leclerc moved to the right to fend off Sainz and that gave Max the opportunity he needed. He darted down the inside and then, as Leclerc held P2, Max stole P3 from Sainz who had been slightly disadvantaged by his Ferrari teammate.
At the front, though, Checo was already beginning to stretch his legs. With a clear track ahead, the Mexican began to forge a gap and by lap six he was more than 2.5s clear of Leclerc, with Max 1.3s off the lead Ferrari and three seconds clear of Sainz.
The order at the top remained static until Checo called the first stint done when he pitted at the end of lap 15. The Mexican switched to hard tyres in a 2.9s second stop and emerged in fifth place, but the timing of the stop proved to be the worst possible as almost as soon as he re-joined the VSC was deployed due to Williams’ Nicholas Latifi crashing out in the final corner with the virtual caution quickly being replaced by the physical safety car.
Discussing his fortune today, driver Sergio Perez said: “I think sometimes when you don’t have the right luck you cannot win the race, especially on crazy tracks like this, it knocks you down. I think I dominated the first stint and I was comfortably in the lead and had the race under control but unfortunately that wasn’t enough. At first, it was a virtual safety car so I was going to lose a position and then under the safety car I lost out to Carlos too. It was the worst timing straight after my pit stop and made regaining P1 impossible after that.
"It was a bit of a shame I couldn’t get Carlos at the end to be on the podium but I didn’t get the chance. There are definitely a lot of positives to take from this weekend, yesterday putting it on pole and today having the race pace. So, we will keep pushing and working hard because today I really deserved the win but bad timing stopped that. I am really pleased for Max and the Team that we got a good result today, it could have been a one, two but unfortunately, we didn’t get it.”Max immediately pitted along with Leclerc and Sainz and when they emerged Leclerc led behind the safety car with Max second and Checo now down in third place ahead of Sainz and Russell.
The safety car left the track at the end of lap 20 and Leclerc held the lead ahead of Max. Checo, meanwhile, was advised by his race engineer that he would have to give up third place to Sainz on the restart as he had passed the Ferrari driver under the safety car when the Ferrari was leaving the pit lane. As the field exited turn one the Mexican slowed and Sainz cruised past to take P3.
As the second stint developed the battle at the front between Leclerc and Max ebbed and flowed and by lap 29 Max was just 1.4s behind the Ferrari. Behind them, Sainz held third but only by the same margin, with Checo matching the Spaniard’s pace and looking for an opportunity.
The complexion of the race changed again on lap 37 when Daniel Ricciardo suffered a mechanical problem and halted his McLaren just short of the pit entry. The VSC was deployed and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen pitted for new tyres.
Almost simultaneously Fernando Alonso, also suffering with a mechanical issue, parked his Alpine close to Ricciardo’s car and the pit lane was closed by race officials. Marshals rushed to push the McLaren and the Alpine into the pit lane and the VSC caution continued to be displayed.
The cat and mouse game began and at the end of the lap Max attacked again on the next lap, once more closing under DRS ahead of turn 27, but this time he locked up and Leclerc held the lead as they began lap 44.
With five laps to go Max attempted to make a move into turn one. Leclerc positioned his car well though and the World Champion had to back out of the attempt. He closed again rapidly, however, and at the end of the lap put his car almost alongside the Ferrari.
That gave him the perfect opportunity at the start of lap 47, and with the aid of DRS on the main straight he swept past the Ferrari to take the lead.
Leclerc wasn’t finished, however, and almost immediately he was on the attack, looking to pressure Max into a mistake. The Dutchman resisted well though and when the yellow flags were shown for an incident between Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Williams’ Alex Albon, the Monégasque driver had to back out of any assault.
He would have one last chance, at the end on the final lap, but while Leclerc got close in turn 27 and his rear wing opened to give him an extra boost of speed it wasn’t enough and Max roared across the line to take his first victory of 2022.
Commenting on his first race win of the year, driver Max Verstappen said: “It was a tough and crazy race today. I had a lot of fun battling with Charles again, I really enjoyed it and it’s not easy to get past him, patience is always key, especially if you want to fight for the Championship. In the beginning it was pretty difficult to follow but I think once we swapped to the hard tyre we were able to push more and the pace was better. We played the long game on the tyres which seemed to pay off.
“Towards the end of the race it felt like we were doing lots of quali laps, which was intense but really cool. Ultimately, we were able to win and we can be very proud of that as a Team. It wasn’t easy out there, but I think we maximised all that we could today. It was really unlucky for Checo with the timing of the safety car but we have plenty of races ahead of us where we can make up for it.”
After two races, Oracle Red Bull Racing sit third in the Constructors Standings on 37 points. The 2021 World Champion, Max Verstappen sits third on 25 points and Saudi Arabian Pole-sitter, Sergio Perez is 7th on 12 points in the Drivers Championship.
Commenting on the result, Team Principal and CEO Christian Horner said: “What a great race, it was a very strategic race from Max, not taking too much out of the tyres and making sure he had enough left to attack at the end of the Grand Prix. There was some great racing between him and Charles, it was fantastic to watch, thankfully he had enough to hang on right at the end there. It is desperately disappointing for Checo because he drove an incredible lap yesterday to get his maiden pole, he then converted that from the start to keep the lead and was controlling the race beautifully. He pitted on the lap we discussed before the race and then bang a safety car, and he was very unlucky today.
“It was great for the Team to rebound after the disappointment of Bahrain, everyone has worked very hard over the past week to understand and address the issues that we had. The first two races have delivered great racing between the two teams, Ferrari are very quick and we are expecting the competition to continue over the next few races.”
After back to back races, Formula 1 has a week off before heading Down Under for the Melbourne GP, the first time the paddock will be in Australia since 2020 at a reformatted Albert Park Circuit.