Lewis Hamilton kept his hopes of an eighth world championship title alive with a thrilling victory in a dramatic and at times chaotic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday.
The result left the seven-time champion level with rival Max Verstappen ahead of the final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend.
Both drivers faced astewards inquiry after race over a collision with Verstappen handed a 10 second penalty. It wasn’t enough to see him drop place meaning the pair remain locked on 369.5 points.
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Hamilton was behind Verstappen for much of the 50-lap race which was stopped twice because of crashes and interrupted numerous times by the safety car and virtual safety car.
But Hamilton, nursing a damaged front wing caused by a collision with Verstappen, came through late, to claim his eighth win of the season and the 103rd of his career.
The title will be settled in Abu Dhabi, although if neither finishes in the points it will be Verstappen, who has nine victories, who will take the title.
“I have been racing a long time but that was incredibly tough,” said Hamilton who gained an extra point for the fastest lap.
Verstappen finished second, 11.825secs behind in spite of being given a five-second penalty after colliding with the Mercedes star.
“Just trying to race and this sport is more about penalties than racing,” said Verstappen.
“For me this is not Formula 1, but at least the fans enjoyed it and I gave it all today, but clearly not quick enough.”
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas pipped Alpine’s Esteban Ocon on the line for third place to give Mercedes a 28-point lead in the constructors’ championship.
It was the first time that Jeddah had hosted a Grand Prix and the problems that the drivers, including Verstappen, had had in practice and qualifying were apparent again.
It was also the first Grand Prix since the death last month of Frank Williams and was played out against a backdrop of concerns about Saudi Arabia ‘sportswashing’ their human rights record.
For once Mercedes made the perfect start. Having locked out the front row, they succeeded in holding Verstappen at bay.
The safety car made its first appearance on lap 10 when Mick Schumacher spun on Turn 22 and slammed his Haas into the wall.
Hamilton pitted immediately to switch tyres with Bottas following a lap later while Verstappen stayed out to take the race lead.
Red Bull’s gamble looked to have paid off when the race was red-flagged shortly after in order for repairs to be done on the crash-barriers.
That handed Verstappen a ‘free’ pitstop and allowed him to begin from the front when the race restarted, ahead of Hamilton and Bottas When the race resumed, Hamilton slipped past Verstappen who then barged his way around the outside, going off the track, to regain the advantage.
Behind them Sergio Perez was clipped by Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, causing the Red Bull to spin off.
That in turn triggered a domino effect with George Russell (Williams) and Nikita Mazepin (Haas) also going off.
The stewards decided that Verstappen’s manouevre was illegal and promoted Alpine’s Ocon to pole for the third start of the race, with Hamilton in second and Verstappen in third.
It was the Dutchman who was quickest out of the blocks, blasting past the other two on the opening corner and setting the world championship title in his sights.
Hamilton soon breezed past Ocon and was breathing down Verstappen’s neck. On lap 36 he attempted to overtake but in a move evocative of their tussle in Brazil, Verstappen cut across Hamilton to keep the lead.
Verstappen was ordered to give the place back but as he braked Hamilton ran into the back of him damaging his front wing.
When the Dutchman was again instructed to make way, he pulled over to let Hamilton pass and then immediately retook the lead.
A lap later Hamilton slipped past again to move back in front and this time, with Verstappen also hit by the five-second penalty, he was able to lead all the way to the chequered flag.
Speaking after the race, Mercedes principal Toto Wolff said the driving of Verstappen needed to be assessed.
“It’s hard, very hard, maybe over the line hard … we just want to have a clean championship, may the best man win, and if Max wins at the end I have peace with that, but it needs to be fair,” he said.
Hamilton, meanwhile, took a swipe at his rival.
“For me, I had to try and keep my cool out there which was really difficult to do, and, like, I’ve raced a lot of drivers through my life, in the 28 years [of racing] I’ve come across a lot of different characters, and there’s a few like at the top which are kind of, yeah, over the limit … yeah … rules don’t apply, or don’t think the rules apply,” he said.
“He’s [Verstappen] over the limit, for sure. I mean I’ve avoided collision on so many occasions with the guy and I don’t always mind being the one that does that, you live to fight another day, which I obviously did.”
Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko was left fuming after the race.
“Our engineers are preparing that we can prove Max was constant with his braking, he didn’t brake test like Hamilton said,” Marko told Motorsport.com.
“Then he crashed into our car, he unfortunately put two cuts in the rear tyre. That was so severe that we couldn’t attack anymore. We had to take speed out.
“That was the one thing. The next thing was at the second start, Hamilton was more than 10 [car] lengths behind. [Sebastian] Vettel got penalised in Budapest when he did it. But with this manoeuvre he [Hamilton] was preparing his tyre better for the start.
“Then he pushed Max off, no reaction. So we feel we are not treated the same.”
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix results:
1. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 2hr 06min 0:15.118
2. Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Honda) at 11.825
3. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes) 27.531
4. Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault) 27.633
5. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes) 40.121
6. Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Honda) 41.613
7. Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 44.475
8. Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari) 46.606
9. Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari) 58.505
10. Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:01.358
11. Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:17.212
12. Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1:23.249
13. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault) at one lap
14. Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Honda) one lap
15. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari) one lap
Fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:30.734 on 47th lap
Retirements: Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari), George Russell (GBR/Williams-Mercedes), Nikita Mazepin (RUS/Haas-Ferrari), Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull-Honda), Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes)
World championship standings (after 21 of 22 races):
1. Max Verstappen (NED) 369.5 pts (9 wins)
2. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) 369.5 (8 wins)
3. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) 218
4. Sergio Pérez (MEX) 190
5. Charles Leclerc (MON) 158
6. Lando Norris (GBR) 154
7. Carlos Sainz (ESP) 149.5
8. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) 115
9. Pierre Gasly (FRA) 100
10. Fernando Alonso (ESP) 77
11. Esteban Ocon (FRA) 72
12. Sebastian Vettel (GER) 43
13. Lance Stroll (CAN) 34
14. Yuki Tsunoda (JPN) 20
15. George Russell (GBR) 16
16. Kimi Räikkönen (FIN) 10
17. Nicholas Latifi (CAN) 7
18. Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA) 3
19. Mick Schumacher (GER) 0
20. Robert Kubica (POL) 0
21. Nikita Mazepin (RUS) 0
1. Mercedes 587.5 pts
2. Red Bull-Honda 559.5
3. Ferrari 307.5
4. McLaren-Mercedes 269
5. Alpine-Renault 149
6. AlphaTauri-Honda 120
7. Aston Martin-Mercedes 77
8. Williams-Mercedes 23
9. Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari 13
Re-live the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix below!