Hamilton wins thrilling Saudi Arabian GP to set-up Abu Dhabi finale with Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton beat Max Verstappen in a chaotic and controversial Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to set up a winner-takes all championship finale in Abu Dhabi next weekend.
The race was stopped twice, featured three starts and an extraordinary series of events between the title contenders in one of the most dramatic grands prix in years.
Hamilton won despite crashing into the back of Verstappen at one point during a race in which the Dutchman twice had to cede a position to the Mercedes driver he had gained illegally.
And it ended with the two drivers tied on points heading into the last race of the season.
So much happened in the course of the race that it was hard to keep up, as the advantage swung wildly back and forth between Hamilton and Verstappen.
But in the defining moment, Verstappen was ordered to hand the lead to Hamilton because he had held on to it by forcing the seven-time champion off the track at Turn One with 13 laps to go.
But it did not happen immediately. Red Bull were told to hand the lead to Hamilton. Verstappen slowed to do so on the run to the last corner, and Hamilton ran into the back of him and damaged his front wing.
They continued with Verstappen in the lead, until the Dutchman did finally hand over the lead six laps later.
The nature of Verstappen’s conduct will revive debate about whether it is fair for him to drive in the way he does, always refusing to back down in wheel-to-wheel incidents, even when other drivers would recognise that their rival had won the corner.
The chaos began when Mick Schumacher crashed his Haas at the fast Turn 22 on lap 10. Hamilton was leading at the time from Bottas and Verstappen, and Mercedes pitted their drivers for tyres under the ensuing safety car.
Red Bull stayed out, which put Verstappen in the lead followed by Hamilton and Bottas. But then the race was stopped to repair the barriers.
That handed the advantage to Verstappen because the rules allow drivers to change tyres under a red flag period.
At the standing restart, Hamilton made a better start than Verstappen and was ahead into the first corner.
But Verstappen re-passed him by going off the track through the right-hand part of the left-right chicane, forced Hamilton wide, and Esteban Ocon’s Alpine dived between them into second place.
But the race was immediately stopped because of two more crashes, one in which Haas driver Nikita Mazepin rear-ended George Russell’s Williams, and another in which Red Bull’s Sergio Perez crashed after a collision with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
There then followed extraordinary scenes when Red Bull negotiated with race director Michael Masi over which position Verstappen should be in at the re-start, them eventually agreeing that he would be third behind Ocon and Hamilton.
At the final start, Verstappen fitted medium tyres with Hamilton on the hard, and as Hamilton set himself up to pass Ocon into the first corner, Verstappen threw his Red Bull down the inside and took the lead.
Hamilton briefly dropped to third behind Ocon, but passed him at the end of start of the next lap and set off after Verstappen.
It soon became obvious that Hamilton had extra pace and the key part of the race soon unfolded.
Starting lap 37, Hamilton went for the outside of Verstappen into the first corner and was marginally ahead as they turned in.
But Verstappen refused to cede and they both went off the track, in a moment reminiscent of their controversial incident in Brazil two races ago.
Masi then told Red Bull that Verstappen had to hand the position back, but as he tried to do so, Hamilton slowed behind him. Verstappen braked, and Hamilton ran into the back of the Red Bull and damaged his front wing.
Verstappen said he did not understand why Hamilton did not go by, Hamilton said he did not know why Verstappen had hit the brakes.
That incident will be investigated by the stewards after the race.
Verstappen continued in the lead, but finally let Hamilton by into the last corner again six laps later and the race was settled.
Verstappen goes into the final race as the championship leader, on win count back, which means that Hamilton has to beat him to win an eighth world title.
Behind them, Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas took third from Ocon on the run to the final corner. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, another driver to benefit from not stopping under the first safety car was fifth ahead of Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly and the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. (BBC Sport)