Max Verstappen snatches dramatic late win in Saudi Arabian GP after Charles Leclerc battle as Lewis Hamilton ends 10th

MAX VERSTAPPEN traded blows with Charles Leclerc at the front of an epic fight in Saudi Arabia – as Lewis Hamilton was left for dust.

While F1’s new golden boys slugged it out in a thrilling final few laps, the seven-time world champion was battling it out with Lance Stroll for 10th place.

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc racing offCredit: Getty

Max Verstappen celebrates his win

Max Verstappen celebrates his winCredit: Reuters

There was a threat from the drivers to boycott this race in the wake of a missile attack just six miles down the road on Friday – and Hamilton must have been left wishing it had been scrapped.

There are some tough times ahead for the Mercedes man, especially after seeing new teammate George Russell finish fifth.

But for the rest of us, we are lapping up this battle between Ferrari and Red Bull at the front.

There was already a thrilling early scrap between the two Alpine drivers which created some nervous moments on the pitwall as Esteban Ocon battled with Fernando Alonso.

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They also both ended up in the barriers on lap five as the Frenchman moved twice in the braking zone, almost hitting the Spaniard.
Alsono squeezed past on lap seven, but on the following lap Ocon was back in front as the two pink cars slugged it out.

The inter-team battle formed a cork in the bottle as Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen entered the fight.

As the midfield squabble for position, Hamilton was quietly slicing his way through the field after his wretched qualifying.

Before this race he was quizzed if he was confident of moving forward, to which he was not particularly confident.

He should have been. After starting in 15th, by lap 10 he was already up to 12th.

By lap 14, he was into the top 10 before the race was punctured by a safety car.

That man, Nicholas Latifi, who had such a HUGE say in the championship decider in 2021, stuck the wall in his Williams.

The Canadian did the same in the Abu Dhabi GP and resulted in the fiasco that followed thanks to the incorrect decisions from former race director, Michael Masi.

Thankfully, there was no repeat of the mismanagement here, although the timing of Latifi’s crash did change the race leader.

Sergio Perez, who had started on pole and looked comfortable in front, had just stopped for tyres as Latifi’s crash resulted in the safety car being deployed.

When he returned to the race track, he had dropped to fourth place as his rivals all stopped for fresh tyres. It was terrible cruel luck for the Mexican, who had taken his first ever pole the previous day.

Once the green light was given to resume racing, Hamilton powered past Kevin Magnussen into sixth place with the race at the half-way stage.

But any hopes he had of an unlikely podium were dashed altogether amid a mad few moments.

First, Daniel Ricciardo conked out in his McLaren as he complained about a loss of power.

Then Alfa’s Valtteri Bottas crawled into the pits and retired from the race.

And finally, the one that sparked the end of Hamilton’s brave fight for a solid haul of points as Alonso brought his car to a halt at the end of the pitlane having failed to crawl the whole way back.

Hamilton could see the danger and radioed his team saying “cars slowing down”.

However, the order to pit came too late as he passed the entry before the pit lane was closed to recover Alonso’s car.

When Hamilton was eventually allowed to make his mandatory pitstop, he was down in 12th place.

And while the seven time world champion was dumped into the field with Aston Martin and Haas and Alfa Romeo, the battle in front ignited.

It was a repeat of the excitement we saw in this season’s opening race in Bahrain as Verstappen and Leclerc traded positions at the front.

First Verstappen took the lead on lap 43 before Leclerc snatched back P1 a few corners later.

There was a repeat on the following lap as they both exchanged positions. It was fair, respectful and had everyone on their seats.

As both battled for the win, there was still more drama. After a week involving a missile attack down the road and a driver rebellion, why would there not be?

This time, it was those meddling stewards, who decided to investigate the final two laps of the race when there were waved double-yellow flags when Alex Albon hit the wall.

As they deliberated their verdict into the night, Verstappen was left reflecting on his first win of the year.

He said: “It was really tough. It was a good race. We were battling hard at the front and I started to play the long game.

“They are quick in the corners and we are quick on straights but I felt we had a little more pace.

“I just tried to get by. It wasn’t easy playing smart tricks in the last corner but eventually got ahead. After that he was constantly in the DRS. We are happy we can kickstart the season.

“It seems like once you get quite close because with the cars even when you got half a second you can get quite a good exit. It makes it a lot more tricky and harder to plan your pass.”

Leclerc, who won in Bahrain and set the fastest lap to earn a bonus point, added: “Oh my god, I really enjoyed this race.

“It’s hard racing but fair. Every race should be like this. Of course I am disappointed not to get the win.

“We were quite quick in the corners but slow on the straight because we got more downforce.

“It was extremely difficult for me to cover Max in the straights but he did a great job and deserved to win the race.

“The respect has always been there especially when you finish a race like this.

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“Honestly we are on a street track and have been pushing like I rarely have before to the absolute limit and we take risks at the end.

“So of course there is respect but I am a little bit disappointed.”


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