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Hamilton wins amidst chaos, carnage, red flags and investigations to send title race to wire

Hamilton wins amidst chaos, carnage, red flags and investigations to send title race to wire

F1 News

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Hamilton wins amidst chaos, carnage, red flags and investigations to send title race to wire

Hamilton wins amidst chaos, carnage, red flags and investigations to send title race to wire

Lewis Hamilton won a chaos-strewn Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to send the F1 title race to the wire in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

It is now three successive victories for Hamilton, with the Mercedes driver and Red Bull's Max Verstappen going into a winner-takes-all showdown level on points.

But that only tells part of the story as there were two red flags, four VSCs, anger from the pitwall, dirty tactics, and with an investigation still pending over both drivers.

From the 103rd pole position of his F1 career, Hamilton could not have wished for a more ideal start, particularly as Bottas was able to keep pace into turn one.

While the run down to the first corner was considerably shorter than that in Mexico where Mercedes relinquished its previous front-row lockout as Verstappen braked later than the pair into turn one, on this occasion, they filed through line astern.

Instead, the threat for Verstappen came from behind in the form of team-mate Perez who locked up into turn one as he fended off Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to his right and just avoided running into the back of the Dutch driver.

For the opening nine laps, the race was in Mercedes' hands, with Bottas asking over the radio for "a bit more of a gap" to Hamilton to at least offer him a cushion over the chasing Verstappen, to which the Briton responded with a fastest lap.

But then the complexion of the race changed when Mick Schumacher lost his Haas into the turn 21-22 complex, hitting the Tecpro barriers side on, immediately resulting in the deployment of the safety car.

Mercedes took the logical strategic step of pitting Hamilton and Bottas, while Leclerc, Perez and McLaren's Lando Norris also took the opportunity to take on fresh tyres, among others.

Red Bull, though, took a gamble by keeping Verstappen on track, so inheriting the lead, and it reaped the ultimate reward because as soon as Schumacher's shattered VF-21 was removed, FIA race director Michael Masi red-flagged the race.

On a rare occasion for Tecpro, Schumacher's car punctured a barrier, requiring a replacement to be installed, leading to an 18-minute delay.

The red flag was crucial as it allowed Red Bull to change the tyres on Verstappen's car, leading to frustration from Hamilton via a series of radio messages.

Shortly before the restart, Hamilton asked chief strategist James Vowles what was required, to which he was informed that with everyone on the hard tyres they would last to the race.

But he was also told he had pace, and there were options should a VSC or another safety car be called.

From a standing start, the top 10 was Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Alpine's Esteban Ocon, Daniel Ricciardo in his McLaren, Leclerc, AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and Antonio Giovinazzi in his Alfa Romeo.

When the five red lights disappeared for the second time, Hamilton managed to get a flier and was a car length ahead of Verstappen as they turned into the first corner, but with the latter cutting the turn and retaking the lead.

With Hamilton forced to slow, Ocon scythed his way through to take second place.

Behind them, Bottas locked up and was also forced to cut the first corner, but further back Leclerc and Perez ran into one another, leading to the Mexican hitting a wall.

As the cars filed past, with Williams' George Russell naturally taking avoiding action, the Briton was rammed from behind by Nikita Mazepin.

The race was immediately red-flagged for a second time, leading to the cars filing into the pit lane again, after which a bizarre series of negotiations unfolded involving Masi and Red Bull and Mercedes sporting directors Jonathan Wheatley and Ron Meadows.

The latter duo both tried to sort out the grid given what had unfolded at turn one, with Masi eventually deciding on an 'offer' of Ocon on pole, followed by Hamilton and Verstappen, which was taken by both parties.

After another 20-minute hiatus, for the third time of asking the race started with 35 laps remaining, with Ocon ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Giovinazzi, Sainz and Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel, with 16 cars involved.

Having switched to the medium tyres in the interlude, Verstappen managed to get a fine launch to pass Ocon and a sandwiched Hamilton into the first corner.

With Ocon and Hamilton making slight contact, the Frenchman was forced to cut the turn and although he passed Verstappen, he quickly gave the place back.

Hamilton then made short work of Ocon at the start of the following lap before on lap 22 AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda tagged Vettel, the former losing his front wing and the latter damaging his rear after reversing into a wall, leading to a VSC and earning the Japanese driver a five-second time penalty.

The race resumed again on lap 25 soon after which Vettel was involved in a second collision, this time with Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen, causing damage to both cars and forcing the Finn to pit for a new front wing.

Another VSC followed to remove debris on various parts of the track before it went green again on lap 33.

As Hamilton hounded Verstappen, occasionally getting into DRS range, occasionally falling just outside, it became a question of whether the latter's medium tyres would hold to the end of the race.

After a fourth and short VSC was called on lap 36 to remove more debris, Hamilton attacked at the start of lap 37, with the duo narrowly avoiding a collision, leading to the seven-time champion proclaiming "This guy is f****** crazy man!"

On lap 38, Hamilton closed in again only to hit Verstappen from behind, leading to the former claiming he was "brake tested", with damage caused to the right front-wing endplate on the Mercedes.

Wolff reacted with fury in the Mercedes garage, removing his headset.

It is understood Verstappen was instructed to hand the place back and had slowed, only for Hamilton to hit him.

Further chaos ensued as Verstappen appeared to let Hamilton by again soon after, only to retake the lead immediately using DRS.

It was at that stage Verstappen was handed a five-second time penalty for forcing Hamilton off the track on lap 37, followed soon after by announcing an investigation into the 'brake testing incident.

Hamilton went on to take the chequered flag, finishing 11.8secs ahead of Verstappen who limped home as he nursed his tyres, with Bottas claiming third with a pass on the line on Ocon on the final lap to put Mercedes 28 points ahead of Red Bull.

Ricciardo finished fifth ahead of Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Giovinazzi and Norris, with 15 finishing at the conclusion of a race that will long be remembered.

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