Saudi Arabia GP history: The home of titanic battles
Heading into the second race of the 2023 season, it will be Jeddah that will be hosting the Formula 1 paddock for the third time in its history. Here's the story of the track and its craziest moments.
Where it all started
This venue entered the Formula 1 calendar only two years ago when it hosted the penultimate race of the 2021 season. As the name suggests, it was built in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah by Hermann Tilke. The track is very long (6.174 km or 3.836 miles), and only Spa-Francorchamps is longer with a 7 km layout.
Its position is interesting, as it stretches along the coast, almost running into the sea. Moreover, despite being a street circuit, it is one of the fastest tracks on the calendar, with the average lap speed being around 250 km/h. What makes this statistic intriguing is that the drivers have to go through 27 corners, highlighting the difficulty and bravery needed to be fast around Jeddah.
The first winner here was Lewis Hamilton, who beat Max Verstappen to the line after a titanic battle in 2021. The following season, the Dutchman took his revenge and grabbed the victory ahead of Charles Leclerc after another fascinating on-track fight. We'll go deeper into what happened later on.
A striking scandal
Despite being a brand-new track, Jeddah already had its moment of scandal after only two years. During the 2022 free practice session, drivers reported on the radio that they smelled something burning. However, this had nothing to do with their power units.
The images showed that a local oil facility close to the track was hit by an air strike by rebels. Right after what was shown on the televisions of millions of fans, it wasn't clear whether the FIA and Formula 1 would keep going with the Grand Prix. Then, after reassuring everyone that the situation was safe, the race weekend continued as scheduled.
A titanic battle
It was the year 2021, and the first Saudi Arabia GP was about to start. Positioned one ahead of the other, Hamilton and Verstappen were separated by only seven points in the driver's championship. With two rounds to go, it was all or nothing for both of them, and they knew they would fight until the last breath to get the better of each other. That is exactly what they did in Jeddah that year.
After an easy start for Hamilton, who managed to keep the lead from Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen, things went completely wrong for the seven-time world champion. Mick Schumacher crashed, bringing out the safety car. The Brit decided to pit for new tires as well as Bottas, while Verstappen stayed out. After this, the red flag was displayed, and the Dutchman not only gained two free positions, but also a free pit stop.
After two chaotic restarts where the two title contenders almost crashed both times, Verstappen managed to keep the lead in the race. Despite that, Hamilton was faster, and he attacked him into Turn 1. The Red Bull driver cut the corner and kept the position, but was later told to give it back to the Brit.
As Verstappen tried to give the position back cleverly (slowing down on the straight on purpose), Hamilton hit the back of his car, damaging the front wing. Luckily for him, he managed to continue the race, and the fight for P1 also kept going, with the two exchanging positions multiple times. In the end, Verstappen, who also received a 5-second time penalty, couldn't keep up with the Mercedes driver, who won one of the most chaotic races ever.
It's a matter of DRS
Another crazy Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia was the 2022 one. Once again, Verstappen was one of the protagonists together with Leclerc. The Ferrari driver led almost the whole race, but in the final stages, the Dutchman was considerably faster.
Therefore, Leclerc tried to play it clever, letting his rival get past him before the DRS detection zone. By doing this, he managed to fight back, and re-take the position for a bit longer. The Monégasque did the same thing one lap later, but Verstappen knew his trick and slowed down, too. Both cars locked up on the straight, something you don't see often in Formula 1, and accelerated immediately after, almost losing control and spinning.
In the end, after what seemed a Hollywood movie battle, Leclerc had to give up the position, and Verstappen won the race by just 0.5 seconds.