Formula 1 has its grand finale. Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton travel to Abu Dhabi with the same number of points. The first race in Jeddah was a battle of World Championship opponents - a partly dirty one. Race management and sports commissioners were always in focus.
Max Verstappen shows no mercy. Nevertheless, he lost the race in Jeddah because Mercedes was a bit faster than Red Bull in race trim. Because the risky tactic with a long stint on medium tires didn't work out after the second interruption. And because he got in his own way a little with his maneuvers. Lewis Hamilton crashed into him. Both cars were damaged. The world champion won his eighth race of the season.
Why did Hamilton Verstappen hit the back?
The mood was charged. Max Verstappen had beaten Lewis Hamilton twice before. The first restart on lap 15 and the second two laps later. On lap 37, the world champion attacked on the outside before the first corner. With the hard tire, he had the more durable rubber on it than the Red Bull equipped with the mediums. Verstappen defended as tough as usual and took Hamilton through the run-off zone.
He didn't get away with this maneuver. Race control contacted Red Bull's command post. The reaction: His driver was ordered to give up at turn 21 to avoid a possible five-second penalty. A bit like in Bahrain at the start of the season, when Verstappen overtook the Mercedes next to the track and was called back directly by his team. The Dutchman obeyed. He slowed down and gradually downshifted from eighth gear to third. But his pursuer didn't play along. "I slowed down. In turns 23 and 24 I started to slow down. I downshifted but Lewis just stayed super close and made no attempt to pass me."
There was a rear-end collision in turn 26. Hamilton tried to avoid it, but hit the Red Bull with the right side of the vehicle in the rear. Mercedes apologized to its driver. No information was passed on to him because you were only informed of Red Bull's will a second before the crash. "I was a bit confused because I didn't know what was going on. I'm happy that we didn't both get thrown out because of that. It's important for me to finish the last two races and become world champion," emphasized the defending champion.
The question of guilt was only clarified after the race. Red Bull asserted that Verstappen did not fiddle with the brakes to allow the Mercedes to ground. Head of sport Helmut Marko: "He didn't do anything wrong. I know it looks unfavorable from the looks of it. And Max is definitely not a child of sadness. Of course he doesn't play the gentleman. But I think Hamilton miscalculated."
The stewards listened to both drivers, checked videos and studied the telemetry. There they found that Verstappen had suddenly decelerated with a brake pressure of 69 bar. The deceleration was 2.4g. Verstappen is mainly to blame, which is why he ten seconds added to the race time. Nevertheless, he holds second place. They also noted that both drivers did not want to be in front before the measuring point for the DRS before turn 27. Otherwise the opponent would have benefited from the folding wing on the home stretch. At Verstappen Is that true because Red Bull had instructed him to "cede his position strategically". But Hamilton didn't even know why the man in front was slowing down. There could also have been a technical problem. Kind of funny, the referee's reasoning.
Does Verstappen drive dirty?
The 24-year-old definitely drives regardless of losses. You've seen that several times this season. He s doesn't back down. Pulls along on the outside. Punctures the inside mercilessly. Device next to the track limits. Defends himself with such late braking maneuvers that he has to go into the run-off zone, and Hamilton follows him - like on lap 37.
The stewards grumbled five seconds at him during the race because Verstappen gave up his seat too late. "It was a bit like in Brazil. He came with momentum from behind. We brake late. I have a tricky moment when my rear end breaks out. We both miss the corner. I don't think the penalty is justified. I'm going with him anyway I don't agree with many decisions. It's a trend I don't like. I didn't grow up like that."
Hamilton counters. "It's clear to me that races take place between the white lines. Everyone else understands that too. Only one doesn't." It was the world champion who pulled back. Verstappen often drives the knife between the counts, like in a kart, as if he owns every corner. Like an Ayrton Senna used to be. One always hopes for the best outcome for oneself.
Toto Wolff can partly understand the tough pace. "Max is fighting for his first world championship. It was very tough. Definitely on the red line." Red Bull, on the other hand, points the finger at Hamilton. "He pushed Max off on lap 43." In fact, the challenger got off the track during Hamilton's maneuver. The world champion wanted to make sure Verstappen didn't overtake him on the home straight. He wanted to nip a counterattack in the bud like in the round before.
What happened in the second break?
You've rarely heard a conversation like this. FIA race director Michael Masi spoke to Red Bull sport director Jonathan Wheatley and offered him a deal. It was about the first restart. Verstappen had cheated past Hamilton next to the track. Alpine rider Esteban Ocon also slipped through.Masi's offer: Verstappen should voluntarily return to second place. He later corrected himself. Third place was meant because Ocon was still ahead of Hamilton. In any case, Verstappen should be behind his rivals.
Red Bull agreed to the deal because Masi would otherwise have referred the case to the sports commissioners. "Then there would have been a penalty," Horner believes. Third place on the grid was the better deal. Red Bull took the risk again, fitted the only remaining RB16B with the medium tires. The advantage over the hard tires in combination with the tough maneuver helped Verstappen to regain the top spot straight away. He was able to brake much later on the yellow-marked Pirelli.
Many wondered why there were negotiations between the race directors and the FIA at all. But that's nothing unusual. "I can't give the teams instructions on what to do, but I can make them an offer and give them my perspective. That was done in consultation with the stewards, which gave Red Bull a chance to react before it went any further. It was a normal discussion that didn't happen for the first time," said Masi.
How was Hamilton able to set the fastest lap?
The finale is tied on points because Hamilton bagged the extra point for the fastest lap on lap 47 - despite a damaged front wing. "That cost him three tenths," calculate the engineers. "Like so often, Hamilton was lucky. First the front wing held after contact with Ocon, then after the rear-end collision with Max he wasn't badly affected," complained Red Bull team boss Horner.
Verstappen was not an opponent with the injured car. His diffuser was destroyed after the Mercedes pushed. Also, his medium tires were too worn out. "Hamilton's hit also made two deep cuts in the left rear tire," explained Marko. Red Bull could not stop to change tires on softs because otherwise Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon would have slipped through. Red Bull wanted to bring the 18 points home. No other driver in the top 10 was able to make a "free stop" without losing a place.
The pursuers fought for third place. With the better end for the Finn, who caught Ocon with DRS and despite a completely worn right front tire before the finish line. The Frenchman had defended himself on the inside of the target curve. This put him in a worse position for the following straight to the finish line. Bottas picked up more momentum and sped past on the right side of the vehicle. Just like he once did with Lance Stroll in Baku. "It's hard to swallow. I was third until just before the end. But we're not fighting in the same league as Mercedes. We can leave the track with our heads held high.We will become a threat to the top teams as soon as our car is at the top level," said the fourth-placed man.