Lewis Hamilton won a thrilling Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, a race that was stopped twice, to pull even on points with rival Max Verstappen and set up a winner-take-all showdown for the Formula One title.
On a chaotic night in Jeddah, the first race in the Gulf kingdom took almost as many twists and turns as an already astonishing and enthralling roller-coaster season — and also left a bitter aftertaste.
There were crashes, collisions, safety cars, red flags and claims of dirty driving after seven-time world champion Hamilton hit the back of Verstappen’s suddenly slowing car on the super-fast Corniche street circuit.
Extraordinary, and at times angry, radio exchanges between race director Michael Masi and the top two teams filled the airwaves.
With a bonus point for fastest lap, Hamilton is now even with Verstappen at the top of the standings with 369.5 points after 21 races.
Verstappen, who finished second with Valtteri Bottas third for Mercedes, has a 9-8 edge in wins — meaning the Dutch 24-year-old will be crowned champion if neither he nor Hamilton scores another point.
Mercedes extended its lead in the constructors’ championship to 28 points and a record eighth successive title is looking likely.
The final race is in Abu Dhabi next weekend.
Hamilton started on pole but lost out to Verstappen, who began the day with an eight-point lead, twice at the standing restarts.
The Dutch driver was ordered to hand back the lead — for going wide as Hamilton tried to pass on lap 37 — but when he slowed, Hamilton ran into the back of his car.
“He just brake-tested me. I’ve just hit him, man, my wing’s broken,” the Briton said. “That was dangerous driving dude.”
Stewards summoned both drivers after the race and found Verstappen predominantly to blame, handing him a 10 second penalty that changed nothing.
The Dutchman handed back the lead on lap 42, but took it back immediately.
Stewards then gave him a five-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining a lasting advantage, but Verstappen again let Hamilton through.
“We didn’t need to do that, Max,” his race engineer said.
Mercedes told Masi they had not been given sufficient time to inform Hamilton that Verstappen would give back the place, and the Red Bull driver was also furious.
“What happened today is unbelievable and this sport is more about penalties than racing,” he fumed after being told he had been voted ‘Driver of the Day.’ “For me, this is not Formula One.”
The first red flags came out on lap 14 after a safety car period triggered by Mick Schumacher crashing his Haas.
That aided Verstappen, who stayed out while Hamilton pitted from the lead for fresh tires to take advantage of the safety car’s deployment.
The advantage disappeared, however, when the standing restart triggered more chaos.
Hamilton made the better getaway, but Verstappen went off track to keep the lead.
“I had to avoid a collision there,” exclaimed Hamilton. “He (Verstappen) cut across the whole curb. He just overtook me outside the white line.”
The race was halted a lap later when Nikita Mazepin, Hass’ Russian rookie, and Williams’ George Russell collided while Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez was tagged by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Masi offered Red Bull the “opportunity” to line up on the grid for the third standing start behind Hamilton, with Esteban Ocon in the lead.
“You’d be back behind Lewis,” Australian said. “That is my offer.”
“We accept that,” came the reply from Red Bull’s team manager Jonathan Wheatley.
Verstappen seized the lead again, with Hamilton passing Ocon, and the battle was on — punctuated by more virtual safety car periods.
“Get in there Lewis!” Hamilton’s race engineer shouted at the checkered flag. “That has got to be the craziest race I can remember, the cool heads won that out.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.