MAX VERSTAPPEN traded blows with Charles Leclerc at the head of an epic fight in Saudi Arabia – when Lewis Hamilton was left for dust.
While the new golden boys of Formula 1 let off steam in exciting final laps, the seven-time world champion fought with Lance Stroll for 10th place.
There was a threat from the drivers to boycott this race afterwards Missile attack just six miles down the road on Friday – and Hamilton must have wished it had been scrapped.
The Mercedes man is in for some rough times, particularly after new teammate George Russell finished fifth.
But for the rest of us, we’re lapping this battle between Ferrari and Red Bull at the top.
There was already a thrilling early battle between the two Alpine riders that made for some nervous moments on the pit wall as Esteban Ocon battled Fernando Alonso.
They both ended up in the barriers on lap five when the Frenchman went around the braking zone twice and nearly hit the Spaniard.
Alonso squeezed past on lap seven but Ocon was ahead again on the following lap as the two pink cars smashed it out.
The battle between the teams formed a cork in the bottle as Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen entered the fight.
While the midfield fought for position, Hamilton quietly made his way through the field after his miserable qualifying session.
Ahead of this race he was asked if he was confident of progressing, which he wasn’t particularly confident about.
It should have been him. Starting from 15th place, he was already 12th by lap 10.
By lap 14 he was in the top 10 before the race was interrupted by a safety car.
This man, Nicholas Latifi, who did it such a HUGE say in the championship decision in 2021He stuck the wall in his Williams.
The Canadian did the same at the Abu Dhabi GP and led to the ensuing fiasco thanks to the wrong decisions of former race director Michael Masi.
Fortunately, the mismanagement was not repeated here, although the timing of Latifi’s crash changed the race leader.
Sergio Perez, who started from pole and was comfortable up front, had just stopped to get tires when Latifi’s crash resulted in the safety car being deployed.
By the time he returned to the circuit he had dropped to fourth place as his competitors all stopped for fresh tires. It was terrible bad luck for the Mexican, who had clinched his first ever pole the day before.
When the green light was given for racing to resume, Hamilton sped past Kevin Magnussen for sixth place halfway through the race.
But any hopes he had of an unlikely podium were completely dashed in a few crazy moments.
Daniel Ricciardo initially broke down in his McLaren when he complained about a loss of performance.
Then Alfa’s Valtteri Bottas crawled into the pits and retired from the race.
And finally the one that marked the end of Hamilton’s valiant battle for a solid points tally as Alonso brought his car to a halt at the end of pit lane after failing to crawl all the way back.
Hamilton could see the danger and radioed his team with the words “cars are slowing down”.
However, the pit order came too late as he passed the entrance before the pit lane was closed to recover Alonso’s car.
When Hamilton was finally allowed to make his mandatory pit stop, he was in 12th place.
And while the seven-time world champion was thrown into the field with Aston Martin and Haas and Alfa Romeo, the battle at the top erupted.
It was a repeat of the excitement we saw at this season’s opening race in Bahrain, when Verstappen and Leclerc swapped positions at the front.
Verstappen initially took the lead on lap 43 before Leclerc regained P1 a few corners later.
There was a repeat on the following lap as both swapped positions. It was fair, respectful and had everyone in their seats.
There was even more drama as both fought for victory. After a week of a missile attack down the street and a driver rebellion, why not add that?
This time it was those meddling stewards who decided to investigate the final two laps of the race when double yellow flags were waved as Alex Albon crashed into the wall.
As they debated their verdict late into the night, Verstappen thought about his first win of the year.
He said: “It was really tough. It was a good race. We fought hard at the top and I started playing the long game.
“They’re quick in the corners and we’re quick on the straights, but I felt like we had a little more pace.
“I was just trying to get by. It wasn’t easy to play smart tricks in the last corner, but eventually I made progress. After that he was constantly in the DRS. We are happy that we can boost the season.
“It looks like you’re pretty close because with the cars you can get out pretty well even with half a second. That makes it a lot trickier and more difficult to plan your pass.”
Leclerc, who won in Bahrain and set the fastest lap to earn a bonus point, added: “Oh my god I really enjoyed this race.
“It’s a tough race, but fair. Every race should be like this. Of course I’m disappointed that I didn’t win.
“We were pretty quick in the corners but slow on the straights because we got more downforce.
“It was extremely difficult for me to overtake Max on the straights, but he did a great job and deservedly won the race.
“The respect was always there, especially when you finish a race like this.
“Honestly, we’re on a street circuit and we’ve pushed to the absolute limit like we’ve never done before and we end up taking risks.
“Of course there is respect, but I’m a little disappointed.”
https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/18083400/max-verstappen-saudi-arabian-gp-charles-leclerc-lewis-hamilton/ Max Verstappen snatches dramatic late win at Saudi Arabian GP after Charles Leclerc fight as Lewis Hamilton takes 10th place