Saudi Arabian GP | Pérez victorious from pole position, Alonso keeps P3 eventually

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Photo credit: Oracle Red Bull Racing

After a turbulent Saturday, which saw Pérez taking pole position when team mate Max Verstappen suffered a broken drive shaft, all eyes were on the Spanish speaking front row. Fernando Alonso started second by virtue of Charles Leclerc having to take a 10 place grid penalty. When the lights went out the Spaniard got away best, taking over first place from Pérez. Team mate Stroll was also quick off the line, taking over fourth from Carlos Sainz. Alonso led the first lap for the first time since 2012, but his joy was short lived as he received a five second time penalty for being in the wrong position at the start.

Behind them it was Oscar Piastri who suffered a broken front wing after contact with Pierre Gasly. The end plate broke off and was hit by team mate Lando Norris, prompting both drivers to stop in subsequent laps, leaving McLaren dead last with both drivers. In the meantime both Leclerc and Verstappen made small progress, being careful not to get tangled up in the first few laps and ruining their race in the early stages.

As soon as DRS became available, Pérez took a shot at Alonso and with some smoke from a lock-up he managed to get by. Verstappen passed both Haas drivers, while Lewis Hamilton wasn’t to enthusiastic about his hard tyres, complaining about understeer. A few laps later he gets a black-and-white flag for weaving in his attempts to keep Leclerc and others behind him.

The first regular pit stop was for Kevin Magnussen in lap 9, followed by Bottas a little while later. In lap 12 Verstappen passes Hamilton, but the gap to Pérez has increased to 20 seconds. Stroll was the first one of the front runners to make a scheduled stop, followed by Sainz to cover the undercut by the Canadian. He managed to emerge in front of the Aston Martin, and so did team mate Leclerc. Stroll had to halt his car a few moments later however, triggering a safety car despite being mostly behind the wall.

Both Red Bull Racing drivers were just past pit entry when the safety car came out, but sister team AlphaTauri did pit immediately, promoting Tsunoda into the top 10. It also gives Alonso the opportunity to serve his penalty with minimal time loss. At the restart Pérez bolts away while Verstappen climbs into the gearbox of George Russell. Fellow Englishman Hamilton attacks Sainz and with a great switchback (and the superior traction of his medium tyres) the seven time champion slots into fifth place. Albon is the next to retire with a failing brake-pedal, but since he can bring his car into the pits it doesn’t harm the other drivers.

Verstappen speeds past Russell in turn 27 and the Mercedes clearly lacks the top speed to try and retake the position, even with DRS and a slipstream the gap barely closes. And while Pérez drives the fastest lap, Verstappen also takes P2 from Fernando Alonso. What follows is a trade-off of fastest laps, a second quicker than the rest of the field, but Verstappen gains only marginally on Pérez.

Magnussen in the meantime closes in on Tsunoda to try and get the final point, but the Dane outbrakes himself, so he has to redo all his hard work. Verstappen then starts to hear something which he thinks is the driveshaft (again), but his engineer assures him there is nothing to worry about. Pérez is the next one to complain, saying that his brake-pedal goes long. His engineer says this is just regular wear and he can keep going.

Nyck De Vries passes Sargeant in the backfield, with a move the American didn’t see coming, promoting the Dutchman to 14th place. Just behind them it is Piastri on the same tyres he had fitted in lap 2, and he’s having a scrap with team mate Norris, and eventually beats him and Sargeant as well, earning a hard earned 15th place. In lap 46 Magnussen finally finds a way past Tsunoda, with both drivers locking-up massively, but the first points for Haas are a fact.

At the front of the race Verstappen seems to have thrown the towel, with the gap to Pérez increasing quite significantly, but the battle for the final podium spot is still on. Mercedes thinks Alonso will get another penalty, thus telling Russell to hurry up and get within 5 seconds. He failed to do that, but after all festivities Alonso got a 10 second penalty for incorrectly serving the first one. This initially gave Russell third place instead of what would have been Alonso’s 100th podium, but after an appeal by Aston Martin and video evidence that there have been at least 7 instances of teams serving the penalty in a similar way, Alonso’s third place was reinstated.

Up front Verstappen pips Pérez for the fastest lap, keeping him on top of the standings, but it is the Mexican who wins, followed by Verstappen and Alonso. Russell manages P4, just in front of team mate Hamilton and both Ferrari’s. Ocon beats team mate Gasly for P8, with Magnussen picking up the final point. Verstappen still leads the championship, just in front of Pérez and Alonso.

Photo credit: FIA