- Image credit: @redbullracing on Twitter

Hamilton-Verstappen Battle Timeline: Recapping Critical Moments in fight for win

Need a refresh on the most pivotal events in Hamilton and Verstappen's fight for victory at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix?

6w ago

The inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix brought some of the most chaotic and controversial events of the entire season, particularly between Drivers’ title protagonists Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. After what was one of the most eventful races of the season, here is a recap of the race’s most decisive moments and how they shaped the battle for the crucial lead.

Race start plays into Mercedes’ favor:

Hamilton started on pole position, locking out the front row with teammate Valterri Bottas, while Verstappen lined up P3. Verstappen had pole within his grasp during his final qualifying lap on Saturday, over three tenths faster than Hamilton with provisional pole. On the final turn, however, he went just over the limit and skimmed the wall-- ruining what would have been a sure pole position. The events of qualifying played into Mercedes’ favor, allowing both of their drivers to remain ahead of Verstappen for the race start.

It was a clean run off the start, with no incidents through the initial stages of the lap. The top five remained in the same order. As the first handful of laps go by, it appears that the race is solidly in the hands of Mercedes, with Hamilton taking a commanding lead and Bottas serving as a strategic buffer between Hamilton and Verstappen.

Schumacher crashes, safety car shakes up tyre strategy:

On lap 10, Mick Schumacher has a crash into the barrier of turn 23, and the safety car is brought out. Mercedes takes the opportunity to pit both of their drivers for a fresh set of hards, taking advantage of the “cheap” pitstop opportunity which would lose them only about 16.5 seconds on average, considerably less than under green flag conditions. Verstappen, however, does the opposite by staying out. He takes the lead as a result.

Session red-flagged, gives Verstappen strategy advantage:

All drivers return to the pits as the session is red flagged in order to repair damage to the barrier caused by Schumacher’s crash. Teams would be allowed to change tyres during the stoppage, which is great for Verstappen, who didn’t pit under the safety car. Verstappen now has the net lead of the race, having been given the chance to change off his starting set with no time lost.

As the drivers cleared the track, Commentator David Croft said, “Verstappen hasn’t been given a cheap pit-stop, he’s been given a free one!”

Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff believed that the team still made the correct choice, noting that if the red flag never came to fruition Red Bull could have been in a tough spot. “The call to pit on the safety car was the right one, I think the other guys took a big risk, because if more people would have pitted and no red flag then they would have come out pretty much in the midfield,” Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said in an interview during the post-race show on F1 TV.

Standing restart and second red flag following incidents:

After reparations were completed, the race would resume with a standing start. On the formation lap, Verstappen becomes frustrated as he insists Hamilton is more than 10 car lengths behind. Hamilton’s slower drive to the grid left Max with cooler tyres for the restart. Hamilton ends up getting a better start, which may be somewhat due to this advantage. The two drivers go side-by-side into turn one, which leads Verstappen to dive through the complex, going off track on turn 2 and forcing Hamilton wide in doing so. Ocon gets past Hamilton after the tangle, as incidents further back in the grid--which ended the races of Mazepin, Perez and Russell-- incite another red flag. As the drivers returned to the pits once again, the order was Verstappen, P1, Ocon, P2, and Hamilton, P3.Masi “offers”

Masi “offers” Red Bull a P3 start for Verstappen:

During the stoppage, Conversations with Red Bull and Mercedes over the FIA radio depict Masi’s “offer” in which Verstappen would give back Hamilton’s position which he gained off track on the race restart. It was a unique scenario, as “It’s highly unusual to be negotiating with race control,” Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner said in an interview during the post-race show on F1 TV.

Red Bull accepts Masi’s offer-- this would mean that Verstappen would be restarting P3, behind Hamilton and well as Ocon. Ocon would thereby become the race leader.

Another standing restart, Verstappen takes the lead:

The formation lap is held on lap 16, after the track is cleared to resume racing. Hamilton had hard tyres on for the restart, while Verstappen switched to mediums-- likely to improve his chances of a competitive start. This likely played into Verstappen’s favor, as he had an amazing start that allowed him to go for a gap through the inside line, so he could overtake both Ocon and Hamilton. He overtakes Hamilton, but Ocon remained ahead after going off-track in his tangle with Hamilton. Verstappen was able to move past Ocon soon after, as the Alpine driver likely knew he’d need to give the position back. The running order is now Verstappen, Ocon, Hamilton.

Hamilton passes Ocon, begins to challenge Verstappen:

Hamilton is able to slide past Ocon under DRS with relative ease on lap 18, and is now on the hunt for the lead. The gap expands and compresses between 1.5 to under a second as the Red Bull finds itself thriving in the slower, twistier parts of the track, and the Mercedes gaining on the straights. Questions regarding whether or not Verstappen’s mediums will hold up and allow him to remain ahead begin to surface.

Several VSCs on account of debris:

Three virtual safety cars are brought out mid-race to deal with debris left on the track after several small incidents. This neutralized the race each time-- the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen remained the same. This did, however, play into Verstappen's advantage, as less stress was placed onto his medium tyres, which had the risk of degrading more heavily by the race’s closing stages than Hamilton's hards. On lap 33, the green flag returns.

Hamilton makes his move, Verstappen runs off track to stay ahead:

On lap 37, Hamilton was within DRS on the pit straight, and would make his attempt to overtake Verstappen into turn one. They go wheel to wheel-- just making contact-- and Verstappen is unable to make the turn stick, cutting across off track and gaining a larger lead than before.

Verstappen told to give Hamilton position back, Hamilton collides into him:

Nearing the end of lap 37, Verstappen is told over the radio to give Hamilton the place back for his running off the track in his defense earlier that lap. He downshifts on the straight to let the Mercedes by, and Hamilton ends up running into the back of him-- incurring some damage on his front wing as a result. It seemed as though communication about Verstappen’s yielding did not come through to Hamilton, causing confusion and ultimately a collision. Race control would investigate the incident after the race’s completion. Both drivers gave their view of the incident post-race.

“They told me to give the position back, and so immediately when I heard that on the radio I just pulled off to the right, showing that I was going to move over, and I braked, downshifted, and he just stayed behind me – so I was just looking in the mirror and I’m slowing down and I think there was a bit of a miscommunication and he ran into the back of me,” Verstappen said, as reported by a Dec. 5 article on F1.com titled “Verstappen gives his view on controversial Hamilton incidents, as he says it ‘wasn’t worth fighting’ after mid-race penalty”.

Hamilton also noted the miscommunication aspect, but also felt that Verstappen’s slow down on the straight wasn’t a safe move. “I didn't get the information,” Hamilton said, as reported in a Dec. 5 article titled “Title rival Verstappen ‘over the limit for sure’ in Saudi Arabian GP, says race winner Hamilton” on F1.com, “so I didn't really understand what was going on. It was very, very confusing. All of a sudden, he started backing up and then kind of moving a little bit… I was like, is he kind of like trying to play some crazy tactic? I don't know.

“Then all of a sudden the message started coming through. He hit the brakes so hard, and I nearly went completely up the back of him and took us both out. For him, it doesn't matter if we don’t both finish. For me, we both need to finish.”

Verstappen gives Hamilton position back, takes it back immediately after:

Race control tells Red Bull to cede the position once again on lap 40. In a DRS zone on lap 42, Verstappen slowed down to let Hamilton past, however, the second Hamilton got ahead, Verstappen got into his slipstream and re-overtook him into turn 27.

Verstappen handed 5 second time penalty:

Soon after he retook the lead, Verstappen was given a 5 second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage in doing so. This was in reference to his run off-track in defense of the lead on lap 37.

Hamilton retakes lead, Battle is put to rest:

On turn 27 of lap 43, Hamilton retakes the lead-- the battle has essentially come to a close, with Verstappen’s penalty barring him from possible victory in the last laps of the race. “

When they told me that I had the five-second penalty, it was not worth fighting anymore because I would never pull a gap of five seconds,” Verstappen said in the aforementioned Dec. 5 F1.com article titled “Verstappen gives his view on controversial Hamilton incidents, as he says it ‘wasn’t worth fighting’ after mid-race penalty”.

Chequered Flag:

Hamilton comes home P1, followed by Verstappen-- who was behind by a larger margin as he protected his tyres the rest of the way-- and Bottas, who beat out Ocon to the line by just a tenth of a second

Post-race investigation:

The incident in which Verstappen slowed and Hamilton ran into the back of him would be investigated after the race, and ultimately lead to a 10 second penalty added to his elapsed time and 2 penalty points. Verstappen was sufficiently ahead of Bottas to retain his P2 finish. This excerpt from the FIA decision document reports includes an explanation of the stewards’ decision:‘

“The driver of Car 33 [Verstappen] stated that he was wondering why Car 44 [Hamilton] had not overtaken and the driver of Car 44 stated that, not having been aware at that stage that Car 33 was giving the position back, was unaware of the reason Car 33 was slowing. In deciding to penalize the driver of Car 33, the key point for the Stewards was that the driver of Car 33 then braked suddenly (69 bar) and significantly, resulting in 2.4g deceleration.”

“Whilst accepting that the driver of Car 44 could have overtaken Car 33 when that car first slowed, we understand why he (and the driver of Car 33) did not wish to be the first to cross the DRS.”

"However, the sudden braking by the driver of Car 33 was determined by the Stewards to be erratic and hence the predominant cause of the collision and hence the standard penalty of 10 seconds for this type of incident, is imposed.”


Looking ahead to Abu Dhabi:

After an interesting weekend in Saudi Arabia, Hamilton and Verstappen are tied on points at 369.5 each going into the final race of the season. Therefore, the season finale will be decided by whoever finishes first out of the two next weekend. The championship battle reached another level in Jeddah-- with a level field and tensions rising, the season finale can’t be missed.

Join In

Comments (4)

  • It's getting dirty now.

      1 month ago
  • Verstappen will take Hamilton out as he is champion if neither finish

      1 month ago
  • I can't control my nervousness.

      1 month ago
  • That’s what says it all, for me….;-)

      1 month ago