Lap 3/50: Hamilton leads Bottas by 1.5secs. At the start of the race, Sergio Pérez of Ferrari locked up his wheels when he nearly went into the back of his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc.
Lap 2/50: The circuit is noticeably narrow and super-fast. As George Russell said, the drivers need to be millimetre-perfect in everything they do. I’m waiting for some on-screen timings, but Hamilton leads from Bottas, with Verstappen third.
Lap 1/50: Everyone gets away cleanly. Hamilton, Bottas and then Verstappen stay in first, second and third. An ideal start for Mercedes as they look to crank up the heat on Red Bull …
Lights out! The Saudi Arabia grand prix has begun!
Hamilton gets away well and leads into the first corner!
Hamilton has been flawless in recent races. He’s been playing catch-up for much of the season so perhaps the pressure is on Verstappen not to throw it away …
Anyway, the formation lap has begun, and we are just a couple of minutes away from showtime on this narrow, fast circuit in Saudi Arabia, which is looking stunning at night, positioned on the edge of the Red Sea.
Will yesterday’s mishap affect Verstappen? He would dearly love to have been on pole, and in more control … and how much will he attack at the start, will he go all out to try to get past Bottas in second?
There’s plenty of pressure on the start, which will take place in under 10 minutes. Verstappen currently leads Hamilton by eight points in the drivers’ standings. If he leads by 26 points or more by the end of the race, he is champion. In other words, he needs to out-score Hamilton by 18 points or more today to seal the championship with a race still to go. But as things stand that looks unlikely: for instance, he’d need to win the race, take the fastest lap point, and for Hamilton to finish sixth or lower. We shall see.
Toto Wolff of Mercedes speaks: “One and two is really good for us, I hope we can stay there. If it stays like this – knock on wood – then it’s all wide open for Abu Dhabi.
“I work up this morning and it’s so exciting, this is why we are racing, the butterflies in the stomach … we are so privileged to be involved in a title fight like this.”
George Russell of Williams, who starts 14th on the grid, speaks: “Hopefully a lot of action … you’ll be punished if you got a millimetre too much, or too little … I hope it won’t be too difficult to overtake … you’ve got to be inch-perfect everywhere you go.”
Sir Frank Williams died just a few days ago, of course, and Giles Richards remembers him here:
We’re 15 minutes away from lights out.
You’ve got time to read Giles Richards’s report from qualifying:
Carlos Sainz of Ferrari, who starts 15th on the grid, has a quick chat: “I should be in the points today with a good race … it’s a balance to find.”
Brundle asks Christian Horner of Red Bull if they should have changed Verstappen’s gearbox after that accident: “It’s passed all the tests we’d normally do … there was no pressure to take additional risks … we’ve got to go for it, Max has been driving beautifully this weekend … it was a great shame yesterday not to convert that lap but there is a lot of racing to be done.”
Martin Brundle is doing his famous gridwalk now. He has spoken to Mika Hakkinen, who thinks Mercedes’s recent speed gives Lewis Hamilton the edge in the drivers’ title race, despite the fact they are playing catch-up.
Adrian Newey of Red Bull, their chief technical officer, tells Brundle that no significant damage was caused to Verstappen’s car by that shunt in qualifying.
Half an hour until lights out. Pre-race reading on a controversial sponsorship deal for Mercedes, with Kingspan, an insulation company linked to the Grenfell Tower disaster:
Mathematically speaking, Max Verstappen of Red Bull could win the drivers’ title in Saudi Arabia today, in the penultimate grand prix of the Formula One 2021 season. But with his championship rival Lewis Hamilton on pole position for Mercedes after a dramatic qualifying session, the Dutchman (who starts third on the grid) will not be taking anything for granted.
Hamilton’s fighting spirit has come to the fore in recent weeks and if this season is anything to go by – including that latest instalment in qualifying, when Verstappen looked to be heading for pole before hitting a trackside wall on his final flying lap – we should be in for another generous dose of excitement. There is no shortage of needle between the protagonists either, Hamilton and Verstappen in the drivers’ cockpits along with Toto Wolff of Mercedes and Christian Horner of Red Bull, with the drivers’ and constructors’ championships still up for grabs.
The season finale next week in Abu Dhabi beckons, but could someone strike a decisive blow in Saudi Arabia today? It’s not out of the question. We’ll find out from 5.30pm when the lights go out. Pre-race reading and more coming up.