The 2021 Formula 1 season was already full of drama, but the first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix brought another meaning to the word. Even before the teams touched down at Jeddah, there were concerns swirling about the blind corners and the speed of the track, the fastest one yet.
Lewis Hamilton ended up winning the race, his first time winning three in a row this season, beating out his rival Max Verstappen to tie the Drivers Championship and celebrating a landmark race for teammate Valtteri Bottas. But leading up to the confetti and fireworks was much action that even "Drive to Survive" could not have scripted.
Here are nine wild moments from the first F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix:
Charles LeClerc Crashes in FP2
The danger of Jeddah was evident very early in the weekend as Ferrari's Charles LeClerc crashed at Turn 23 in Free Practice 2. The collision was so strong that there was a red flag that stopped the session early. LeClerc's chassis and power unit were amazingly spared in the crash and the Ferrari team worked their magic to get his car ready for Qualifying the next day. LeClerc returned in flying colors, qualified P4 and finished the race seventh in front of his teammate Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard climbed to an eighth place finish all the way from P15. He now has 521.5 points, the most in Formula 1 history without a race win.
Max Verstappen Misses Out On Pole With a Crash At Last Turn Of Qualifying
There were several scenarios where Max Verstappen could have clinched the Drivers Championship this weekend at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The Dutchman was flying leading up to qualifying, and, on the last lap to determine the starting grid, he was on pace to take pole position from his rival Lewis Hamilton. But on the very last corner of the circuit, he swerved into the wall, dashing his chances of a front row start and landing him in P3. Several were shocked at the Red Bull's poor luck, including Fernando Alonso, who was mid-interview when the crash occurred and his reaction expressed what all of us were feeling.
Mick Schumacher's Crash Causes First Red Flag In Race & Gives Max Verstappen Free Pit Stop
Mick Schumacher was the first to fall victim to Jeddah's intensity in the actual race as he spun out and crashed into the barrier at Turn 23, the exact place Charles LeClerc crashed in FP2. The race was put under safety car and Mercedes quickly pulled both drivers for hard tires, giving Max Verstappen the lead. The race was soon stopped as a red flag was called so that the barrier could be fixed properly. This basically gave Verstappen a free pit stop and the lead, which many were disgruntled about. But the Dutchman's not the first to get help from a red flag. Stoppage at Imola helped Lewis Hamilton make up an entire lap and land on the podium. Lando Norris is among those frustrated at the advantages given by a red flag, telling Sky Sports, "It's just complete luck, and it's luck that doesn't need to be given to someone."
Chaos Ensues At Second Race Start
After the red flag, the drivers lined up for their second standing start of the day. When it was Lights Out Pt. 2, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton dueled with Alpine's Esteban Ocon in the mix. The fight was so intense Verstappen went off track and cut across the curve to maintain his lead. The stewards investigated the incident and...
Nikita Mazepin Crashes, Causing Second Red Flag During Which Max Verstappen Loses Lead
It simply was not a good day for Haas as Nikita Mazepin also crashed shortly after the race resumed. He ran into the back of George Russell, who was trying to avoid Sergio Pérez who was clipped by Charles LeClerc. So the three drivers are out of the race, which is red flagged again. During the stoppage, the stewards figure out how to settle Max Verstappen's off-road debacle. There is confusion as to where the Red Bull should line up on the next start, whether he should be behind Lewis and Esteban or just Lewis or just Esteban. It's decided that Ocon gets pole at the third start, followed by Hamilton and Verstappen.
Yuki Tsunoda Spins Off Causing Virtual Safety Car
On any other day, a spin causing a virtual safety car would be an incident of note. But we almost forgot about Yuki Tsunoda's mishap on Lap 23, which caused a Yellow Flag and slowed down the intensity of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix if only for a few moments. There's a few more virtual safety cars the next few laps because of all the debris.
Lewis Hamilton Rear Ends Max Verstappen, Claims He Was Brake-Checked
Despite Esteban Ocon getting pole for the second restart, he was easily overtaken by Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton and the two rivals raced away. After some intense racing on the starting straight that Verstappen pulled away from, the stewards told the Red Bull that he had to give the Mercedes the position back. On lap 37, Verstappen slowed down and moved to the right of the track and then drifted to the center before the DRS zone where he could easily retake the position. Hamilton apparently didn't get the memo that he was free to take the lead and instead crashed into the Red Bull's rear, damaging his front wing. The 7-time champion was upset, thinking his rival brake-checked him.
Lewis Hamilton Takes The Lead For Good, Tying The Drivers Championship
After some more controversial racing, Max Verstappen was given a five-second penalty by the stewards. On Turn 27 of Lap 43, Hamilton finally took the lead. Verstappen raced along with his Red Bull team debating whether to pit him for fresh tires and an attempt to snag the fastest lap point. There wasn't a large enough gap between him and Esteban Ocon in third, so Verstappen hobbled along to finish second. The Drivers Championship is now all tied up leading into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas Snatches Podium From Esteban Ocon
As if the drama at the front wasn't enough, Valtteri Bottas crushed Esteban Ocon's day when he snatched third place from the French racer at the final straight before the checkered flag. Ocon won the Hungarian Grand Prix and was hopeful for his second podium of the season. Instead, Bottas had extra reason to celebrate his 100th race with Mercedes before he joins Alfa Romeo next year.