Formula 1 (F1) politics took the spotlight during the second race of the season at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (GP), which took place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from Friday, March 25 to Sunday, March 27. Lewis Hamilton won last year’s inaugural race, leveling the championship standings before the final race in Abu Dhabi, but the 2021 race weekend was also surrounded by controversy regarding F1’s contract to race in Saudi Arabia, given the country’s long-standing record of human rights violations.

This year’s race became just as controversial when the safety of the drivers, teams, and mechanics came under doubt. After the Bahrain GP, Ferrari and Red Bull were expected to be the top teams in Jeddah. 

Free Practice

As the free practice (FP) sessions began, Ferrari and Red Bull led FP1, with Charles Leclerc topping the timesheets from Max Verstappen in P2 and Carlos Sainz in P4. Valtteri Bottas set an impressive P3. The two Alpha Tauris also looked quick, attesting to the pace of the Red Bull Powertrains, with Pierre Gasly in P5 and Yuki Tsunoda in P6. However, the focus of the drivers and teams was soon drawn to a missile attack that hit an Aramco oil depot just seven miles from the track during FP1, starting a fire and sending up clouds of smoke that were clearly visible from the circuit. 

The attack led to a delay of the second practice session, which was also topped by Leclerc, with Verstappen, Sainz, and Pérez once again behind him. Much of the media attention, however, was focused on the possible danger of continuing with the race. Following the end of FP2, the drivers met as a group for over four hours, late into the night. It seemed that the drivers held serious safety concerns and leaned towards not going forward with the race. Eventually, however, the drivers heard from the team principals and F1 bosses and disbanded, seemingly having been pushed to agree that the race would go on as planned

The drivers returned to the track for FP3 the next day, where Leclerc once again set the fastest lap time by 0.033 seconds from Verstappen, signaling that the fight for pole and the race win would come down to these two drivers, just as it had in Bahrain. Pérez and Sainz clocked in just behind the top two in P3 and P4 respectively, with Bottas once again keeping up with the pack with a time that put him in P5. Kevin Magnussen finally had a more normal FP session after spending time in the garage during FP1 and FP2, ending up in P8 at the end. Mercedes continued to struggle for pace as both cars ended the session outside of the top ten, with Hamilton in P11 and George Russell in P14. 

c/o Oracle Red Bull Racing

c/o Oracle Red Bull Racing


As the first portion of qualifying got underway, the danger of the track’s nearly blind corners and fast turns was seen once again. Magnussen and Mick Schumacher were at the top of the timesheets before a crash from Nicholas Latifi’s Williams brought out a red flag, interrupting the two Ferraris just about to finish their first fast laps. 

The Ferraris set times to easily make it through to Q2 once the red flag was cleared, as did the two Red Bulls, but the timing of the crash proved unfortunate for Hamilton. The Mercedes driver was at risk of being knocked out in P16 with just three and a half minutes to go in Q1, and did not have time to enter the pits for a new set of tires before his final attempt. He was left on his used tires as he started his final push lap, where he set a faster time than Lance Stroll and got himself out of the bottom five. 

However, Hamilton was knocked out when Stroll completed his final timed lap and improved on his time to go P15, leaving Hamilton and Mercedes shocked with a Q1 exit. Given that Mercedes had locked out the front row during last year’s qualifying in Saudi Arabia, the change in pace was hard to believe. The end of Q1 also saw Alex Albon, Nico Hülkenberg (driving for Aston Martin in Sebastian Vettel’s place once again), Latifi, and Tsunoda knocked out. 

In Q2, Ferrari and Red Bull set the fastest times once again, with Leclerc ahead of Pérez, Verstappen, and Sainz. While the other drivers were trying to improve on their times, a very heavy crash from Schumacher saw his Haas split in two. The crash brought out a long red flag period, as the marshals cleared the car and debris. Though Schumacher was eventually ruled to be physically unhurt, Haas later announced that he would not be participating in the race on Sunday. 

When the drivers got back to qualifying, there were less than five minutes to go on the clock, leaving few chances to improve on times. Both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were knocked out for McLaren, though it was an improvement from the team’s qualifying performance in Bahrain. Ricciardo was later given a three-place grid penalty for impeding Esteban Ocon, pushing him back to P14 for the race. Zhou Guanyu, Schumacher, and Stroll were the three other cars knocked out in Q2, with the Mercedes of Russell just making it through to Q3. 

As the final portion of qualifying got underway, Ferrari and Red Bull were clearly the teams to focus on as their drivers fought to take pole. After the first few timed laps, Sainz held provisional pole from Leclerc by 0.044 seconds, which was particularly impressive as Sainz had done the lap on a used set of tires. Pérez was third fastest after his first timed lap, while Verstappen was just P6 after backing off of his first attempt. 

Heading into the final two minutes of the session, Sainz was unable to improve on his lap and was relegated to P2 by his teammate, who set the fastest first and second sectors on his way to taking provisional pole. However, Pérez was just behind him on his final timed lap and managed to be fastest in both the second and third sectors, crossing the line and sealing pole position for the first time in his F1 career. The lap was especially remarkable, as his teammate Verstappen was unable to go faster than either Ferrari and had to settle for P4 on the grid for the race. 


The 50-lap race on Sunday night saw multiple retirements and a fierce battle between Ferrari and Red Bull, with the first of the retirements coming from Tsunoda, who was unable to start the race after running into an engine power issue on his way to the grid. The start of the race was also a record-breaking 180th race start for Hamilton with Mercedes, the most race starts for one driver with a single team. The record highlights the long and successful history that Hamilton has had at Mercedes, which the team from Brackley is unfortunately struggling to match this year. 

Ahead of the start, every driver was on the medium tires except Magnussen, Hamilton, Hulkenberg on the hard tires. As the lights went out, Pérez got off to a strong start, keeping his lead as his teammate made a strong move on Sainz, getting past the Ferrari to chase after Leclerc. Hamilton also got off to a decent start, getting into P14 to begin his chase and making it into the points by Lap 14 with a move on Gasly. 

A close fight developed in the first few laps between Alpine teammates Ocon and Fernando Alonso as the young French driver tried to protect his position from the two-time world champion. When Alonso made it past his teammate’s defense, Ocon went off track twice at Turn 1 in his attempts to regain his place. Ocon was finally told to hold position by the pit wall, with Bottas soon getting past him into P7 on Lap 14. 

As the first round of pit stops approached, Leclerc made a call to the Ferrari pit wall that he wanted to box to overtake, sending Red Bull into a hurry to cover off a possible Ferrari undercut by pitting Pérez on Lap 15. Seeing Perez go into the pit lane, Leclerc stayed out on track and took the lead of the race. 

The timing proved incredibly lucky for Ferrari when Latifi crashed on Lap 16, bringing out a safety car. The safety car allowed Leclerc, Verstappen, and Pérez to pit without losing position, but greatly hurt Pérez’s race, as he had pitted right before Latifi’s crash. Hamilton did not pit, leaving him on the same hard tires as the race got back underway on Lap 21. 

As Sainz came out of the pit lane, he had a brief moment of contention with Pérez about which car had crossed the safety car line first. However, as Leclerc kept the lead on the restart, his teammate was able to get into P3 when Pérez gave Sainz back the position for crossing the safety car line first.

As the race continued, Hamilton made good progress through the midfield, catching up to his teammate Russell as he made his way into P6 past Magnussen’s Haas into Turn 1 on Lap 25. That progress would soon come undone, however, as multiple cars began to see a sudden slew of issues on Laps 35 and 36. Alonso, Ricciardo, and Bottas all found themselves slowing with a loss of power and attempted to make their way into the pit lane. Though Bottas reached the Alfa Romeo garage to retire his car, Ricciardo and Alonso both came to a stop on the track near the pit lane entry, bringing out a virtual safety car. 

While Magnussen and Hulkenberg were able to come into the pits for a stop, the pit lane was closed just after Hulkenberg came in for his first stop, leaving Hamilton the only driver yet to stop in the race. With the pit lane remaining closed while Alonso and Ricciardo’s cars were cleared, the Mercedes pit wall was left scrambling to figure out a strategy to get Hamilton in for his required pit stop as the number of laps remaining in the race continued to decrease. 

The virtual safety car ended on Lap 41, with Hamilton immediately pitting for new medium tires but coming out of the race in P12, far from his previous track position, and facing a lot of work in the remaining few laps of the race if he wanted to finish in the points. Hamilton eventually made it into the points with a move on Stroll, but the British driver surely rues his missed chance to pit under the virtual safety car. 

At the front of the field, Verstappen renewed his chase of Leclerc, getting past the Ferrari and into the lead with the help of DRS on Lap 42, but Leclerc then had DRS down the main straight and overtook Verstappen before Turn 1 on Lap 43. The battle for the lead was a replay of their fight in Bahrain, with both drivers knowing that whoever had DRS would have the advantage. With just five laps to go, Verstappen looked to be getting closer, finally solidifying an overtake on Leclerc on Lap 47 as he made use of DRS to pass the Ferrari down the main straight. 

A collision between Albon and Stroll then brought out double waved yellow flags and put Albon out of the race, eventually also handing him a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Australia for the incident. The double waved yellow flags in the first sector, for which drivers are supposed to slow down and are not permitted to overtake, limited Leclerc’s ability to try and pass Verstappen to just the final sector of the circuit. As the final lap of the race arrived, Leclerc seemed to be getting closer and closer, making a final attempt on the Red Bull in the final DRS zone, but the Ferrari driver was ultimately unable to take back the lead. Verstappen crossed the line to win the race, with Leclerc taking the chequered flag just 0.5 seconds behind him. 

Behind the two, Sainz came home in P3 to make it another Ferrari double podium after the team’s 1–2 finish in Bahrain, with Pérez  finishing the race in a disappointing P4 after the Mexican driver’s unlucky timing with his pit stop. Russell finished in a strong P5 for Mercedes while Hamilton had to settle for P10 following his late pit stop and Ocon was behind Russell in P6 for Alpine. 

Norris had a much better weekend for McLaren in P7, while Gasly settled for P8 for Alpha Tauri and Magnussen brought home points for the second weekend running for Haas in P9. Zhou, Hulkenberg, and Stroll finished in the final three places outside of the points, with Aston Martin sure to be disappointed by the continued lack of pace in the AMR22. 

Six drivers—Albon, Bottas, Alonso, Ricciardo, Latifi, Tsunoda—did not finish the race, along with Schumacher not partaking in the race following his crash in qualifying, which left just 13 cars by the end of the race. The race results, the dangerous nature of the track layout, and the political controversy of racing in Saudi Arabia will surely raise questions from the drivers about returning for another Saudi Arabian GP, even if the heads of F1 want to continue racing in the country.

Leaving the weekend, Leclerc continues to lead the Drivers’ Championship with 45 points followed by Sainz with 33 and Verstappen with 25, while Ferrari hold the lead in the Constructors’ Championship with 78 points over Mercedes with 38 and Red Bull just behind with 37. The race only confirmed that 2022 looks to be a good season for the Scuderia, with Red Bull appearing to be the Italian team’s biggest competition as Mercedes tries to improve their pace before the next race.

F1 will finally return to Melbourne, Australia for the 2022 Australian GP from Friday, April 8 to Sunday, April 10. The Australian GP has not been held since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and everyone on the grid will surely be looking forward to getting back to racing at Albert Park, particularly Ricciardo, as the McLaren driver will hope to give a decent performance at his home race.


Jiyu Shin can be reached at

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