Max Verstappen snatches victory in dramatic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Dutch world champion holds off Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in Jeddah

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World champion Max Verstappen won a thrilling Saudi Arabian Grand Prix for Red Bull on Sunday and scored his first points of the season.

Forty-eight hours after a nearby missile strike threatened to cancel the second round of the new Formula One season, Verstappen claimed the first victory of his title defence following a thrilling battle with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc which went to the wire.

Verstappen crossed the line only half-a-second ahead of Leclerc, with Carlos Sainz third and pole-sitter Sergio Perez fourth.

George Russell finished fifth for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton only 10th on an evening to forget for the seven-time world champion.

Hamilton, who started only 15th following one of the worst qualifying performances of his career, made good progress through the field to move up to 10th by the start of lap 14, and then seventh when Mercedes kept him out on old rubber following Nicholas Latifi’s lap-17 crash and the first safety car. That became sixth when he made his way ahead of Kevin Magnussen.

Mercedes were banking on further drama to afford Hamilton a free pit stop.

But, when the virtual safety car arrived with 14 laps to run, Hamilton was denied a stop for fresh tyres, with Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo stuttering to a halt on the entry to the pit lane.

When the virtual safety car period ended on lap 41 and the pit lane reopened, Hamilton was allowed to stop, but he fell back six places to 12th before passing Alexander Albon and then Lance Stroll to take the final point.

Up front, Leclerc and Verstappen were involved in a tantalising battle for victory for the second time in a week.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc on the podium after his second place. Reuters

On lap 42, Verstappen fought his way past Leclerc at the final corner, only for the Monegasque to move back ahead of the world champion on the main straight.

At the end of lap 46, Verstappen learnt his lesson and fixed his Red Bull on to the back of Leclerc’s Ferrari gearbox through the final bend before using the tow and DRS to roar past his rival on the main straight.

Leclerc hustled Verstappen to the line, but the Dutch driver kept his composure to win.

Leclerc now leads Ferrari team-mate Sainz in the championship, with Verstappen 20 points adrift following his late retirement in Bahrain a week ago.

Verstappen said: “It was a really tough race but good race. We battled hard and we had to play the long game.

"The tyres were wearing out quite quick. You could see by the end we had a little bit more pace. I tried to get by, it wasn't easy, they were playing smart tricks in the last corner, but eventually I managed to get ahead.

“We are happy that we finally kick-started the season."

"Wow, that was close, wow, unbelievable!" Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Verstappen over the radio.

"Well done, Max great, great job," he added.

Leclerc, who won the opening round in Bahrain, added: “It wasn’t enough today, but I really enjoyed that race.

“It is hard racing but fair. And every race should be like this. I wanted to win today. Max did a great job.

“I was pushing like I have rarely pushed before, to the absolute limit, but of course there is respect. However, I am disappointed.”

Third-placed Sainz said: "The Red Bulls were super quick in the last 10 laps after the tyres cooled down, they were flying and putting pressure on us.

"For me this race was a bit of progress from Bahrain. I managed to find a bit more rhythm with the car. There are still some tenth to find but I think I will end up getting there."

Updated: March 27, 2022, 7:07 PM