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January 22, 2022
January 22, 2022
Lap 14/50: The race will resume in 10 minutes. On the radio a while ago, Hamilton sounded suspicious, as if Red Bull had some inkling that there would be a red flag. There is no evidence for that, of course, and as Brundle said on commentary even before the red flag came out, it made sense for Red Bull not to copy Mercedes and pit immediately when the safety car came out. They needed to gamble to try and wrest control back from Mercedes, who had enjoyed a perfect start to the race having started one-two on the grid. But even Red Bull’s Christian Horner may not have hoped it would have worked out quite as well as it has …
Lap 14/50: “That was a roll of the dice and it came up double six for Red Bull,” says Brundle on commentary. “But there’s a long way to go yet.”
Lap 14/50: Hamilton, on the radio, sounds furious. “Find out what the reason for the red flag is?” he asks. Verstappen is back in the pits with his helmet off while the team work on his car. Hamilton knows that Verstappen has gained a huge advantage by virtue of that red flag, taken by the race officials, while they try and tidy up Schumacher’s crash.
“Have they said what the reason is? … that’s unbelievable man. That was a big gamble that they just took …” Hamilton adds.
Big moment. The red flag, suspending the race, means the cars will return to the pitlane … crucially that means that Verstappen can change his tyres, having not previously pitted. On a track where it’s so tough to overtake this could prove pivotal in the title race … Brundle on commentary points out that Hamilton benefited from this scenario at Imola.
Lap 13/50: The safety car remains while they continue to clear up after Schumacher’s accident. A few moments ago Verstappen was asking if the safety car could fo faster, a few moments ago. He’s a man in a hurry. The accident is going to complicate matters for pit strategy.
Brundle: “Mercedes were in control … if they’d just followed Mercedes in, they would be on an identical strategy.”
Lap 12/50: We see replays of Schumacher’s crash, which was a heavy one. Verstappen sits behind the safety car, having not pitted, with Hamilton and Bottas behind him having changed their tyres.
Lap 11/50: The crash has made the pit strategy interesting … Hamilton and Bottas both pit immediately for Mercedes. Verstappen stays out and now leads!
“There’s a very good chance there will be another safety car or incident,” says Brundle on commentary.
Lap 10/50: Mick Schumacher (Haas) crashes heavily! It’s a safety car … “Are you OK, Mick?” his team asks on the radio. “Yeah I’m OK … sorry about that,” he replies sheepishly. The car is a mess but thankfully he is OK.
Lap 9/50: For those of us hoping for a wheel-to-wheel duel between Hamilton and Verstappen today, it’s not looking too good right now. The top three are pulling away from the rest of the field, Hamilton is streaking away.
Live standings on lap 8/50:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +1.486
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing +3.015
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +7.694
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing +9.760
6 Lando Norris Mclaren +15.735
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine +17.341
8 Pierre Gasly Alphatauri +18.787
9 Daniel Ricciardo Mclaren +19.312
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine +22.502
11 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing +23.040
12 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +23.647
13 Yuki Tsunoda Alphatauri +25.114
14 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing +26.210
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +27.855
16 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +31.026
17 George Russell Williams +32.949
18 Mick Schumacher Haas F1 Team +34.531
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams +36.149
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas F1 Team +39.001
Lap 6/50: Verstappen in third place is now 1.5seconds down on Bottas. Both the Mercedes, that of Hamilton and Bottas, are clearly flying. Bottas gets on the radio and seems to ask if Hamilton can push it a little more at the front and widen the gap because he doesn’t want to be in his slipstream.
Lap 4/50: My first impressions of the circuit is that it’s nigh-on impossible to overtake. There it little room for manoeuvre. Bottas takes the fastest lap.
Lap 3/50: Hamilton leads Bottas by 1.5secs. At the start of the race, Sergio Pérez of Ferrari locked up his wheels when he nearly went into the back of his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc.
Lap 2/50: The circuit is noticeably narrow and super-fast. As George Russell said, the drivers need to be millimetre-perfect in everything they do. I’m waiting for some on-screen timings, but Hamilton leads from Bottas, with Verstappen third.
Lap 1/50: Everyone gets away cleanly. Hamilton, Bottas and then Verstappen stay in first, second and third. An ideal start for Mercedes as they look to crank up the heat on Red Bull …
Hamilton gets away well and leads into the first corner!
Hamilton has been flawless in recent races. He’s been playing catch-up for much of the season so perhaps the pressure is on Verstappen not to throw it away …
Anyway, the formation lap has begun, and we are just a couple of minutes away from showtime on this narrow, fast circuit in Saudi Arabia, which is looking stunning at night, positioned on the edge of the Red Sea.
Will yesterday’s mishap affect Verstappen? He would dearly love to have been on pole, and in more control … and how much will he attack at the start, will he go all out to try to get past Bottas in second?
There’s plenty of pressure on the start, which will take place in under 10 minutes. Verstappen currently leads Hamilton by eight points in the drivers’ standings. If he leads by 26 points or more by the end of the race, he is champion. In other words, he needs to out-score Hamilton by 18 points or more today to seal the championship with a race still to go. But as things stand that looks unlikely: for instance, he’d need to win the race, take the fastest lap point, and for Hamilton to finish sixth or lower. We shall see.
Toto Wolff of Mercedes speaks: “One and two is really good for us, I hope we can stay there. If it stays like this – knock on wood – then it’s all wide open for Abu Dhabi.
“I work up this morning and it’s so exciting, this is why we are racing, the butterflies in the stomach … we are so privileged to be involved in a title fight like this.”
George Russell of Williams, who starts 14th on the grid, speaks: “Hopefully a lot of action … you’ll be punished if you got a millimetre too much, or too little … I hope it won’t be too difficult to overtake … you’ve got to be inch-perfect everywhere you go.”
Sir Frank Williams died just a few days ago, of course, and Giles Richards remembers him here:
We’re 15 minutes away from lights out.
You’ve got time to read Giles Richards’s report from qualifying:
Carlos Sainz of Ferrari, who starts 15th on the grid, has a quick chat: “I should be in the points today with a good race … it’s a balance to find.”
Brundle asks Christian Horner of Red Bull if they should have changed Verstappen’s gearbox after that accident: “It’s passed all the tests we’d normally do … there was no pressure to take additional risks … we’ve got to go for it, Max has been driving beautifully this weekend … it was a great shame yesterday not to convert that lap but there is a lot of racing to be done.”
Martin Brundle is doing his famous gridwalk now. He has spoken to Mika Hakkinen, who thinks Mercedes’s recent speed gives Lewis Hamilton the edge in the drivers’ title race, despite the fact they are playing catch-up.
Adrian Newey of Red Bull, their chief technical officer, tells Brundle that no significant damage was caused to Verstappen’s car by that shunt in qualifying.
Half an hour until lights out. Pre-race reading on a controversial sponsorship deal for Mercedes, with Kingspan, an insulation company linked to the Grenfell Tower disaster:
Mathematically speaking, Max Verstappen of Red Bull could win the drivers’ title in Saudi Arabia today, in the penultimate grand prix of the Formula One 2021 season. But with his championship rival Lewis Hamilton on pole position for Mercedes after a dramatic qualifying session, the Dutchman (who starts third on the grid) will not be taking anything for granted.
Hamilton’s fighting spirit has come to the fore in recent weeks and if this season is anything to go by – including that latest instalment in qualifying, when Verstappen looked to be heading for pole before hitting a trackside wall on his final flying lap – we should be in for another generous dose of excitement. There is no shortage of needle between the protagonists either, Hamilton and Verstappen in the drivers’ cockpits along with Toto Wolff of Mercedes and Christian Horner of Red Bull, with the drivers’ and constructors’ championships still up for grabs.
The season finale next week in Abu Dhabi beckons, but could someone strike a decisive blow in Saudi Arabia today? It’s not out of the question. We’ll find out from 5.30pm when the lights go out. Pre-race reading and more coming up.