JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Lewis Hamilton continued his march towards history Sunday.
The seven-time Formula 1 champion rose above the chaos that was the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to win at Jeddah Corniche Circuit. The result, combined with Max Verstappen’s runner-up finish, means for the first time since 1974 the top two drivers in the series point race are tied heading into the final event.
Hamilton weathered a number of challenges, most notably a red-flag period on lap 13 that played into the strategy of Verstappen, followed by two heated mid-race incidents with his championship rival. One took place on lap 37, which damaged his nose wing, and the other on lap 42, when Verstappen received a five-second time penalty for pushing Hamilton off the track during an attempted pass.
The winning move came with six laps to go when Hamilton completed a pass around Verstappen that paved way for Hamilton’s 103rd career Formula 1 win, his eighth victory of the year and his third triumph in a row.
Next Sunday at Yes Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton will gun for a record eighth Formula 1 title while Verstappen tries to regroup to claim his maiden championship.
“I’ve been racing a long time but that was definitely, that was incredibly tough,” Hamilton said, “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.
“It was difficult,” Hamilton added. “But we persevered as a team, we’ve had all sorts of things thrown at us particularly in the second half of the season, so I’m just really proud of everyone and also I’m really grateful for the crowd we’ve had this weekend; it’s been nice to be here.”
The defining moment of Sunday’s wild event was the time penalty issued to Verstappen on lap 42. Five laps prior, Verstappen was penalized for veering off course on the second restart and told to yield the lead to Hamilton. But Verstappen slowed right in front of Hamilton, triggering contact that damaged Hamilton’s nose wing.
Verstappen received a 10-second time penalty for the incident from the stewards post-race for being predominantly at fault for causing the collision. He still finished second despite the penalty.
“What happened today is unbelievable,” Verstappen said. “I’m just trying to race. This sport is more about penalties than racing. So for me this is not Formula 1 but at least the fans enjoyed it.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team was equally bothered with the officiating.
“I didn’t understand why all of a sudden he hit the brakes quite heavily then I moved into the back of him,” said Hamilton of the lap 37 run-in.
Mercedes didn’t know Verstappen was told to let Hamilton by.
“I slowed down, I wanted to let him by,” Verstappen explained. “He didn’t want to overtake and then we touched. I don’t really understand what happened there.”
There was a time Sunday when Verstappen and his Red Bull Racing team swung the championship fight their way without a cloud of confusion hanging over them. The red flag period on lap 13 for Mick Schumacher’s crash and subsequent cleanup gave Verstappen the opportunity to change tires without losing time.
Hamilton had pitted three laps prior and therefore didn’t need to follow Verstappen’s sequence, but Verstappen was now the leader as a result. A wild restart followed that saw Verstappen emerge with the lead, only for the race to be red flagged for a crash behind the leaders.
However, Verstappen had held the lead by going off track and the decision was made for Verstappen to drop from first to third behind Esteban Ocon and Hamilton for the second restart. He was able to get the back on the second restart with a daring three-wide move.
Verstappen held the lead until thing intensified on lap 37.
With the battle for the championship now tied, it comes down to a winner-take-all showdown in Abu Dhabi.
“We are equal on points now, and I think that’s really exciting of course for the whole championship and Formula 1 in general,” Verstappen said. “Yes, it will be decided there, so hopefully we have a good weekend, so let’s see.”
“Very difficult physically and mentally [demanding],” Hamilton said of Formula 1’s first visit to Jeddah, “but you wouldn’t want it any other way. So, on to the next one.”
Valterri Bottas, Ocon and Pierre Gasly completed the top five.