The new rules work.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was a thriller with close fights across the field. The 2022 cars, which produce less aerodynamic drag than before, were able to follow close behind and there were 33 overtakes – encouraging on a street circuit – including several between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen up front.
The key is that once rivals are overtaken, they can immediately retaliate. DRS has been critical in many cases. Verstappen crossed the checkered flag just half a second ahead of the catching Ferrari driver.
“I don’t think I could do much more,” Leclerc said. He felt he could have done with a little less downforce as it would have cost him top speed on the straights.
It took Max three attempts to stop the train. He had complained several times that Leclerc had illegally crossed the pit lane entry line – something the stewards refused to investigate. For his part, Leclerc congratulated Verstappen on his victory over the team radio. There’s respect, certainly on Charles’s part.
The two know each other’s race car well because they raced each other karting when they were young when there were sometimes allegations in the paddock. Young Charles was a picture of calm and restraint then, and that is the man he is today. We’ll see if he can maintain that commendable composure over the course of an intense F1 title fight as Max’s sniping is only likely to increase.
Red Bull and Ferrari were evenly matched over the weekend and Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez was unlucky not to be on the top step. The Mexican clinched the first pole position of his career and had everything under control until Nicholas Lafiti hit the guard rail on lap 16 and triggered the safety car. Checo had just pitted while the Ferraris and Verstappen stayed outside. Suddenly he was forced into fourth place, where he stayed. “It hurts,” he said.
Perhaps the best fight came from the pink Alpines in the first stint. There was aggression but no touching and the relationship between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon will see another day.
Meanwhile, the relationship between the Mercedes W13 and its drivers is still being tested. Team boss Toto Wolff described the situation as “painful” and “an exercise in humility”. George Russell had a solid weekend. Fifth place was the best he could have hoped for.
Lewis Hamilton struggled and caused a stir as he hobbled out of qualifying in Q1 and started from P16. It was his most demoralizing qualifying session in 13 years. The seven-time champion salvaged a single point on Sunday. “I can’t wait to go and get home,” he said.
F1 driver standings
1 Charles Leclerc, Ferrari – 45 points
2 Carlos Sainz, Ferrari – 33 points
3 Max Verstappen, Red Bull – 25 points
4 George Russell, Mercedes – 22 points
5 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes – 16 points
Of course, that had something to do with the security situation in Saudi Arabia. On Friday, an oil depot ten miles from the Jeddah Corniche Circuit was attacked by drones and rockets, causing a huge fire. The smoke could be seen from the track. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who were also accused of firing a missile near Riyadh during last year’s Formula E race, claimed responsibility.
Drivers and team principals stayed at the track until 2:30am to hear the case from Saudi government officials, the FIA and commercial rights holders. They agreed to go ahead with the event, but the length of the meeting – four and a half hours – suggests not everyone was happy with it.
The BBC has reported that those involved have been warned of the “consequences of not running”, which could result in them being banned from leaving the country in the event of a boycott.
The teams and media are not privy to the information and resources behind the Saudi government’s assurances that the GP was not threatened by terrorists. However, if I were responsible for more than 100,000 viewers and several thousand employees, I think I would have played it safe. Thank goodness nothing happened and a great race on Sunday means Friday is largely forgotten. Still, it did nothing to dispel the long-held perception that Formula 1 only cares about money. The race is worth £50m a year and Saudi sponsors such as Aramco bring in additional revenue. CEO Stefano Domenicali has defended the Saudi Arabian GP, saying he can help shine a spotlight on the country’s human rights record and accelerate change.
Well, we had a race in Russia up until a month ago, and it hardly inspired its leader to embrace western values. Domenicali said last week that we can expect more new races to replace old ones. Going to certain nations carries risks, both reputational and sometimes physical.
The sport’s leaders need to take that into account before they ditch the Canadian, French, Belgian or British GPs in favor of another autocrat’s wallet.
MORE : Red Bull bet on ‘significant time gain’ in battle with Ferrari for F1 title
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/03/29/why-formula-1s-big-2022-changes-are-changing-racing-for-the-better-16361174/ Why the big changes to Formula 1 in 2022 are changing racing for the better