Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 27, 2022.
© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Max Verstappen surges to victory in Saudi Arabian stunner

The reigning world champion leaves it late to take victory for Oracle Red Bull Racing in Jeddah, fighting past Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc to get his title defence back on track.
Written by Matthew Clayton
9 min readPublished on
If this is the new look of Formula One, count us in. A week after Max Verstappen's title defence started with disappointment in the desert in Bahrain, the reigning world champion quickly made amends with a stunning late-race surge to win the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The Oracle Red Bull Racing star making his 21st career victory.
A strategic race-long battle between Verstappen and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc that had simmered all night on the ultra-fast Jeddah Corniche Circuit came to a boil in a dramatic shootout for the silverware in the final 10 laps. Long-time race leader Leclerc was stalked for the lead by Verstappen as the laps counted down.
Formula One's new rulebook for 2022 promised to make the cars more able to race one another in wheel-to-wheel combat, and that certainly played out in the dash for the finish as Verstappen and Leclerc passed, re-passed and re-passed again in the final stages. The Dutchman finally wrested the advantage by blasting past his Monegasque rival with four laps to go and holding on to bank 25 crucial world championship points.
Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 27, 2022.
Expect Verstappen vs Leclerc to rumble on in 2022
It was a ferocious, thrilling and fair fight, the rivals pulling up alongside one another on the slow-down lap back to the pits and giving one another the thumbs-up of approval. After 50 breathless laps, the final margin in Verstappen's favour – at just 0.549s – shows 2022 has the potential to provide a dramatic encore to last season's last-gasp drama.
Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Pérez was the hard-luck story of Sunday in Jeddah, the Mexican driver looking assured while leading the early stages after his maiden F1 pole position. Unfortunately, he was caught out in the first round of pit stops under a safety car period to be shuffled back to fourth, his eventual finishing position.
Ferrari made it a double podium for the second straight race with Carlos Sainz finishing third, while Leclerc continues to lead the world championship on 45 points – but Verstappen, on 25, is looming large in his mirrors in third place.
Here's how a dramatic finale came to pass in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

Max picks his moment

Verstappen's raw speed has been the feature of his dramatic rise to the upper echelons of F1, but this was a victory earned as much on patience as pace. From fourth on the grid, the Dutchman vaulted past Sainz into the first corner of the race. He was then elevated a spot when Pérez pitted just before Williams driver Nicholas Latifi crashed on Lap 16, the resultant safety car period shuffling the order of the quick quartet at the front.
A game of cat and mouse emerged between Leclerc and Verstappen, both drivers conserving their hard Pirelli tyres to have enough life left to fight at the finish. That wisdom proved crucial on Laps 36-37, where Fernando Alonso (Alpine) and Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) both crawled to a halt in separate incidents on track, prompting a safety car to remove their stricken machines from the entrance to pit lane.
It was a really tough but good race
When the race resumed on Lap 41, it was game on between Leclerc and Verstappen. Leclerc led, Verstappen passed him. Leclerc fought back, Verstappen retook the advantage. It came down to the final corner of the final lap, Verstappen getting his braking into Turn 27 just right and not allowing his rival a sniff of a chance as he took the flag first.
Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 27, 2022.
Verstappen played a patient game before upping his pace
After he retired from the first race of the season at Sakhir, Verstappen was as relieved as he was elated to get his season properly started.
"It was a really tough but good race," he beamed.
"We were battling hard at the front, we just tried to play the long game. [Ferrari] were really quick in the corners, we were quick on the straight. The tyres were wearing out quite quick around here. You could see at the end we had a little bit more pace, so I just tried to get by. It wasn't easy, playing smart tricks in the last corner, but eventually, I managed to get ahead.
"I'm really happy that we finally kick-started the season."
Oracle Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner likened Saudi Arabia to being the opening rounds of a prize fight that looks set to rumble on for some time yet.
"It was an exciting last few laps, but we just had enough to bring it home," Horner said.
"It was a very patient race by Max. He looked after the tyres for the end of the race, and after the last safety car, he really went for it.
"Ferrari have a great car, they've got great drivers… if that's what we’re set for the rest of the season, it's going to be epic."

Checo cruelled by safety car timing

Verstappen's delight contrasted with the despair on the other side of the Oracle Red Bull Racing garage, as Pérez was desperately unlucky after proving the feel-good moment of the weekend in qualifying on Saturday night.
Pérez took his maiden F1 pole position for his 215th race, becoming the first Mexican driver to be on pole for 61 years since compatriot Ricardo Rodriguez qualified fastest for the 1961 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
"It took me a couple of races," Pérez grinned.
"It was unbelievable… I can do 1,000 laps and I don't think I can beat that lap."
Sergio Pérez of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 27, 2022.
Pérez was the star of the show in qualifying on Saturday
Pérez aced the start and had Leclerc covered for the opening 15 laps, but his decision to pit from the lead – just before the first safety car period – was the beginning of things unravelling for him. He later had to cede third place to Sainz after the Spaniard's pit stop, being found to have overtaken the Ferrari as Sainz blended back onto the track and finished just two seconds away from what would have been a deserved podium.
After his own non-finish in Bahrain seven days earlier, 12 points and seventh place in the title chase at least provided some salvation.
"This is just racing," a pragmatic Pérez shrugged afterwards.
"Things were looking really good, but unfortunately, Latifi put it in the wall at the wrong time for me. This is racing, it will come around one day, but it hurts because we did everything we possibly could to win this race from pole."
Horner felt for his driver but was buoyed by the pace of both cars in every session.
"It was such bad luck for Checo, because he'd done all the hard work at the beginning of the race," Horner said.
"To have the safety car come out at the wrong time, you can't do anything about that. But a great weekend for him. He's driven brilliantly all weekend."

Gasly salvages points, Tsunoda an early spectator

Pierre Gasly rescued a weekend that looked to have taken a turn for the worse in Saudi Arabia. The Scuderia AlphaTauri driver scoring his first points of the year in eighth after hovering around the fringes of the top 10 for much of the race.
Starting ninth, Gasly was overtaken by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen on the first lap and had a fight on his hands to hang onto the top 10 thereafter. The Frenchman eventually making it back past the Dane after the final safety car period to bank four points for eighth to get his season off the mark.
Pierre Gasly of Scuderia AlphaTauri at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 27, 2022.
Gasly fought back after his first lap went awry
Unfortunately, the second event of the year was a non-event for Gasly's team-mate Yuki Tsunoda; the Japanese driver qualified 20th and last after a water system issue struck during Q1. He didn't complete a lap in the race either, a drivetrain gremlin seeing his AT03 machine crawl to a halt on track after leaving the pits on his reconnaissance lap to the grid.

Friendly fire and a lucky escape

With Red Bull and Ferrari clearly the class of the field again in Jeddah, the battles for the points from fifth place onwards always looked likely to light up the night skies, and it was Alpine team-mates Alonso and Esteban Ocon who provided much of the fireworks.
Before Alonso's late-race retirement, the Spaniard and Frenchman would have raised heart rates on the Alpine pit wall with numerous near-misses as they fought ferociously in the early stages. The experienced Alonso eventually coming out ahead. While Alonso didn't see the finish, Ocon prevailed in a fight to the finish line with McLaren's Lando Norris, stealing sixth place by 0.107s.
Elsewhere, Mick Schumacher was left thanking his lucky stars after a massive crash in Q2 on Saturday. The Haas driver was airlifted to a hospital for precautionary checks after a 270kph impact with the wall that fortunately left the 23-year-old German unscathed.
With his car beyond repair, Haas raced with just Magnussen on Sunday, the Dane finishing ninth for a second straight point finish.

An overdue date Down Under

From a relatively new F1 venue to an old one F1 hasn't been to for a while; Australia (April 10) is the next stop on the 23-race calendar, and it's a rebooted Albert Park circuit that awaits the teams and drivers since the most recent race in Melbourne in 2019.
The track has been re-laid for the first time since Melbourne first came onto the calendar in 1996. A new high-speed second sector and removing two corners will lop five seconds from lap times and give the track, which has always been tough to overtake, a greater chance of hosting an action-packed race.
Verstappen (for Toro Rosso in 2015) and Pérez (for Sauber in 2011) are two of the 12 current drivers who made their F1 debuts in Australia, with the world champion taking third place on the last visit three years ago.
If the thought of Australia not hosting the season-opener seems strange, you're right; 2022 is Albert Park's 25th race, and this year is only the third time (after 2006 and 2010) that Melbourne hasn’t seen the lights go out on a new campaign.