Red Bull’s Max Verstappen bounced back from his disappointment in Bahrain to take a thrilling victory ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc at Sunday’s Saudi Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old Dutchman, who failed to finish due to a fuel problem in the first race, won by just half a second after the pair swapped positions in a tense battle in the closing laps.
It was the closest race finish since the 2020 Italian Grand Prix.
Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz finished third ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull, the top four proving to be in a class of their own.
Mercedes new kid George Russell came home fifth ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and McLaren’s Lando Norris, with Pierre Gasly taking eighth for AlphaTauri.
Kevin Magnussen finished ninth for Haas and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton 10th, salvaging some pride after starting 15th on a difficult weekend in the second Mercedes.
It was the 21st career win for Verstappen and, like Leclerc, he welcomed the success of new-era cars that allowed for closer racing and allowed drivers to make up positions after being overtaken.
Leclerc congratulated his rival on his win on his slow laps, but after two races he remains the embryonic championship leader earlier in the season by 12 points.
“Of course I am disappointed, but I enjoyed that race and I hope we will have more races like this this season,” he said.
“It should always be like this!”
Verstappen said he had come very close and had also reveled in the competition. “I managed to get to the front and stay there, but it was a great race.”
Perez made a perfect start from his first pole position on the 215th attempt, as behind him Leclerc’s move behind the Mexican only served to block Ferrari teammate Sainz and gift Verstappen a free pass. to third position.
After a hot day, the temperature was 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) when the lights went out with a reduced grid of 18 cars, Mick Schumacher missing after his big accident with Haas in qualifying and Yuki Tsunoda afterward. of technical problems with his AlphaTauri on a warm-up lap.
Zhou Guanyu’s aggression in a struggle to overtake Alex Albon sent him off the circuit, a move that earned him a five-second penalty before, on lap 16, Pérez pitted from the lead and came back third.
Within one lap, Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams on the widened exit of the final corner and a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed, followed by a full Safety Car, giving away cheap pit stops to both the Ferrari men and the Verstappen, Leclerc had ignored his team’s call to “box to overtake”.
It was desperately unlucky for Pérez, who made a strong claim to third place as Sainz came out of the pits.
Leclerc and Verstappen were exchanging fast laps and running close.
By lap 30, Ferrari was leading by 1.6 seconds, leaving Sainz 5.2 seconds behind in third and Pérez in fourth, seven seconds further behind.
With 12 laps to go, the heat seemed to take its toll with a series of retirements led by Fernando Alonso’s Alpine, apparently due to cooling problems.
Daniel Ricciardo followed suit, stopping his McLaren at the pit lane entrance, while Valtteri Bottas abandoned his Alfa Romeo in the pits.
This left 14 cars when the race continued on lap 41. Hamilton quickly pitted for new medium tyres, but rejoined 12th to start another final charge as Verstappen battled Leclerc for the race lead.
The Dutchman passed him in the last corner of lap 42, only for Leclerc to respond. On lap 43, he tried again, but Leclerc held on.
Verstappen continued to press, goofing around and threatening before passing him again on lap 47.
Holding it up for two laps, Leclerc tried to respond but waved yellow flags after a clash between Lance Stroll and Albon, leaving him frustrated as they started the final lap.