F1 2022: Round 2 – The Saudi Arabian GP

We’ve only had a week and already we’ve had our second race of the 2022 season! Due to covid Sebastian Vettel would yet again miss the race, and once again Nico Hulkenberg would stand in for his fellow German at Aston Martin.

Controversy was in abundance, with questions asked as to how F1 authorities could cancel the Russian Grand Prix, whilst continuing to race in a country with a notorious human rights record. An attack on an oil depot near the Jeddah street circuit during Friday’s practice only heightening concerns about racing in Saudi Arabia, and there was a rumour that Saudi authorities threatened to make life difficult for any drivers or teams that wanted to leave. On top of all of that, a heavy smash in qualifying for Mick Schumacher highlighted the dangerous nature of this fast, walled circuit. Schumacher’s Haas was destroyed, but the driver himself, though taken to hospital as a precaution, was unharmed.

The Jeddah track is awash with curves, and there are only two heavy braking zones. As such, the possibility of a serious accident was never far away, though the race itself would prove to be quite smooth. One of the biggest on-track surprises was how far off the pace Lewis Hamilton was in qualifying. He failed to get out of Q1 for the first time since 2009, and if not for Schumacher’s accident he would have started 16th. As it was, Hamilton would start 15th, which was hardly where he wanted to be.

At the front, Sergio Perez became the first Mexican in F1 history to score a pole position, beating the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, and his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen. Perez had a good start, and Verstappen crucially got by Sainz at the start, though he could not get ahead of Leclerc. The front four pulled away from the pack, and Perez looked quite comfortable in the lead. Behind them the Alpine pair of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso provided great entertainment as they tussled down the start/finish straight. Ocon has a history of getting quite punchy with teammates and he defended quite robustly from his more experienced colleague, and then attacked quite vigorously when he fell behind.

The battle highlighted that under the new regulations, cars can follow more easily, and duel quite hard. This would come to the fore later on, but prior to this, a safety car would have a dramatic and unfortunate affect on Perez’ race. Nicholas Latifi lost control of his Williams on the exit of the final corner and hit the wall, and Perez lost time, having already pitted right before. This allowed Leclerc and Verstappen to jump the Mexican, and Perez was then forced to concede third to Sainz, owing to an infringement of the safety car line when leaving the pits. It was bad luck.

Leclerc and Verstappen were now first and second, at first it seemed as though Leclerc was slightly quicker. Elsewhere we were treated to some wily and clever thinking regarding DRS zones. Hamilton was battling with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, and got past the Haas at the end of the DRS zone leading to the final corner. However he crossed the detection point for the start/finish DRS zone ahead of Magnussen and the Haas came back at him. The next time around Hamilton deliberately held off, and made the move stick.

This brinkmanship with the DRS zones would be repeated later on. Retirements for Alonso and Daniel Riccardo brought out the virtual safety care late on (and because they were at the pit entrance they also stuffed up Hamilton’s stop), and this opened the opportunity for Verstappen and Leclerc to resume battle. Both drivers tried to brake enough to gain DRS along the start/finish line, though at one stage Leclerc bolted from the final corner in a bid to out-fox Verstappen. In the end Verstappen would get the better of the exchange, and claim his first win of 2022. Sainz rounded off the podium, with Perez fourth and Russell fifth. Ocon, Norris, Gasly, Magnussen and Hamilton rounded out the top ten.

From here we go to Australia, for the first time since 2019. It should be fun!

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