Hamilton wins dramatic Saudi Arabia GP from Verstappen to level amazing title battle

Lewis Hamilton secured an incredible 103rd race victory in his glittering F1 career after an incident packed Saudi Arabia Grand Prix saw him draw level with Max Verstappen with just one round remaining.

In a race punctuated with three yellow flags and incident aplenty, it was Hamilton who eventually emerged victorious, heading home his arch-rival and teammate Valtteri Bottas.

“I’ve been racing a long time but that was definitely very tough, and I tried to be as sensible and as tough as I could be out there but also sensible and with all my race experience over the years, just keeping the car on track and staying clean,” said Hamilton after his race win.

“That was difficult, but we persevere as a team. We’ve had all things thrown at us particularly in the second half of the season, so I’m really proud of us and also really grateful for the crowd we’ve had this weekend. So nice to be here.

“They’ve got some raw pace, they’ve been so quick was very hard to overtake them here but  we’ve done an amazing job with what we have and Valtteri did an amazing job to get team points again so great points for the team and all the girls and guys back at the factory.”

The foundations for his latest victory were laid on Saturday with a 103rd pole position. And it was the perfect start for Mercedes man, Hamilton streaking away from teammate Bottas as Verstappen hung onto his third position grid spot ahead of Leclerc as the top four maintained their grid positions.

On this newest of Hermann Tilke designed circuits, the fastest of all street tracks, the long straights and tight corners made DRS all important. But overtaking opportunities seemed few and far between.

But when Mick Schumacher impacted heavily into the barriers on lap 10, Bottas and Hamilton dived into the pitlane for a set of hard compound Pirelli tyres to possibly take them to the end of the race.

It meant that Verstappen was in the lead of the race and perhaps gambling on another safety car situation to then give him track advantage with a new set of tyres. And then a red flag situation. A repair to the barriers meaning Verstappen could pit for a new set of tyres to take him to the end of the race.

On the face of it, it was advantage Verstappen and Red Bull. Now it was Hamilton who had to track down his quarry after a standing start. And he got got a fantastic start, catapulting past his rival until Verstappen retook the lead, but controversially running wide off the circuit in order to make the pass stick.

And then yet more drama, a crash involving Sergio Perez, Nikita Mazepin and George Russell throwing another spanner into the mix. It meant Esteban Ocon led from Hamilton for the third restart.

This time it was Verstappen who got the jump on both Ocon and Hamilton, but the Englishman swept past him soon after to set about his rival. With Hamilton still on his hard compound Pirellis and Verstappen on the mediums, it would be an intriguing game of chess until the end.

Indeed, it appeared that Hamilton’s hard tyres were coming into optimum range before Verstappen’s mediums, the Mercedes man closing to the gearbox of Verstappen’s Red Bull machine. Then yet another virtual safety car meant a further head scratcher for race tacticians. Would Hamilton pit for softer tyres and Verstappen stay out?

The answer was neither, and it seemed inevitable that there would be another incident. So it transpired, Verstappen told to concede position on lap 28 after seemingly brake testing his rival.

It led to Verstappen gaining a five second time penalty, and with Hamilton sweeping past on Turn 27 on lap 43, it was advantage Mercedes once more. And that’s how the race finished, meaning it’s perfectly poised going into the final round in Abu Dhabi – both drivers locked together on 369.5 points apiece.

“It was quite eventful,” reflected Verstappen. “A lot of things happened I didn’t agree with, but it is what it is. At least I tried it on track and give it my all but I’m not sure my tyres lasted to the end. It was good for the beginning but nevertheless still second.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.