Hamilton braced for 'intense' Saudi GP as F1 champs bids to keep title defence alive

By Sports Desk December 04, 2021

Lewis Hamilton is braced for an "intense" Saudi Arabia Grand Prix after claiming pole position for Sunday's showdown as the reigning world champion fights to keep his title defence alive.

Hamilton will start from the front of the grid in Jeddah, where Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen crashed into the wall on his final flying lap.

Verstappen went fastest in the first two sectors but hit the barriers on the last corner and had to stop, meaning he will start the main race from third behind Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton has won the past two races to close the gap to Verstappen in the drivers' standings to eight points and evaded a serious punishment for impeding Nikita Mazepin and failing to comply with yellow flags during FP3 earlier on Saturday.

If the Saudi Arabia GP finished in the order started among the top three – Hamilton-Bottas-Verstappen – it would see seven-time world champion Hamilton regain the lead heading into next week's Abu Dhabi decider.

"This place is one of the hardest tracks to get right, I was on the limit the whole way round and the car was on a knife-edge," said Hamilton. "Trying to pull out the maximum with the tyres was so tough.

"It's difficult to understand why - it's so warm here but we were having trouble getting temperature in the front and rears at the same time to have grip at the start of the lap.

"I'm very proud and thankful that we were able to put it on the front row for tomorrow, it's going to be an intense race. It's always important to have Valtteri beside me, particularly in this part of the year, he's been driving exceptionally well and hopefully tomorrow we can do a good job together."

Mercedes team principle Toto Wolff added: "What a crazy session! We expected to be stronger today, we have a quick car and it looked like those quick corners would suit us, but like so many times this season, you're constantly surprised.

"Austin should have been our track and wasn't, and then suddenly in Brazil we were performing really well, so you just never know. It was important today that we kept attacking and attacking, and we've ended up with a front row lockout which is a big advantage for tomorrow.

"There is a brutal energy running through the whole Team. We just look forward and keep pushing, and pushing, and when you go in the debrief room or in the garage, you don't need to talk because you can feel the energy and how buzzed everyone is."

Despite the painful ending to qualifying, Red Bull's Dutchman Verstappen remains upbeat.

"I was on a really good lap until I lost it on the final corner, I thought I had approached it in the same way I had been doing all session, but I lost the rear," he said.

"I'm upset with myself and it is of course disappointing but there are two races to go and anything can happen. We had a good car in qualifying and everything was coming together which gives me hope going into the race tomorrow, also knowing that the pace was there today.

"I hope we can follow well tomorrow and if that’s the case, there should be some good opportunities and we should have a good shot."

Related items

  • Leclerc profits with home pole after chaotic finish at 'typical Monaco' Leclerc profits with home pole after chaotic finish at 'typical Monaco'

    Charles Leclerc was "incredibly happy" to claim pole position in Monaco Grand Prix qualifying, leading a Ferrari one-two – although Carlos Sainz felt he could have pipped his team-mate if not for a dramatic crash.

    Monegasque driver Leclerc qualified fastest at his home race after the final session was cut short due to a red flag.

    Sergio Perez hit the barrier, prompting a yellow flag that Sainz saw only in time to brake as he careered into the Red Bull.

    That brought a premature end to proceedings but ensured a fine result for Ferrari and, in particular, Leclerc, who secured a precious pole; while he has converted only four of his 13 previous poles into wins, some 15 of the past 17 winners in Monaco have started from the front row, including 12 from first place.

    For Leclerc to add his name to the list of winners, he will have to overcome an awful record which has seen him never manage to finish the Monaco race. Despite taking pole last year, his car also crashed heavily in qualifying, and it meant Leclerc could not take an active part on race day.

    This time it could be a different story.

    "It is very special. I'm so incredibly happy," Leclerc said. "It's been a very smooth weekend until now – I knew the pace was in the car; I just had to do the job, and it went perfectly.

    "That last lap, before the red flag, was really, really good, but it didn't change anything for us."

    That may be true for Leclerc, but Sainz felt he was on course to top the timesheets prior to the collision with Perez.

    "It's a shame – another year that a red flag cost us the end of a session, and we could not go for pole position," he said, "but it's typical Monaco."

    Sainz added: "I think we are in a great position to score a great result for the team. The car has been amazing all weekend, so we'll go for it."

    Perez still qualified in third, ahead of an out-of-sorts Max Verstappen, while Lewis Hamilton's practice woes shifted only enough for him to make eighth before his final flying lap was halted.

    PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

    1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:11.376
    2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.225s
    3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.253s
    4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.290s
    5. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.473s
    6. George Russell (Mercedes) +0.736s
    7. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +0.871s
    8. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +1.184s
    9. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +1.356s
    10. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1.671s

  • Hamilton 'fighting the car' around 'bumpiest track I've ever driven' in Monaco Hamilton 'fighting the car' around 'bumpiest track I've ever driven' in Monaco

    Lewis Hamilton suggested the problems with his Mercedes W13 were being exacerbated in Monaco on "the bumpiest track I've ever driven".

    Seven-time Formula One champion Hamilton has endured a difficult season, complaining right from the outset about his "bouncing" 2022 car.

    There had been some signs of progress in recent weeks, however, with Hamilton finishing fifth in Barcelona despite a first-lap puncture.

    But things have taken another turn for the worse for the Silver Arrows in Monaco, where Hamilton finished in P10 in Friday's first practice session and P12 in the second.

    The circuit itself has contributed, the Briton says, as he said: "Firstly, it's the bumpiest the track [has] ever been. It's probably the bumpiest track I've ever driven.

    "So, one, that makes it difficult, and two, just generally our car bounces a lot.

    "It's different bouncing to what we've experienced in the past; it's in the low speed also, but it's not aero[-related]. I think the bumps on the track just make it worse.

    "I'm not really having to learn the track differently, just fighting the car. To put a lap together is... wow, holy c**p! I don't remember experiencing it like that before."

    Team-mate George Russell was only a little better in P8 and P6, beaten in both sessions by McLaren's Lando Norris (P5 twice).

    "I'm a little bit surprised to say we're ahead of Mercedes," Norris said. "I expected them to maybe be ahead of us at the minute.

    "But the plan is to be ahead of them, and if we can be, I'll be very happy with that."

    Yet McLaren colleague Daniel Ricciardo has work to do after hitting the barrier in FP2.

    "We pushed a little too far probably in a couple areas with the set-up," Ricciardo said. "We had a good morning, and obviously you try a few things for FP2 to try to maximise a bit more performance, but let's say we overstepped it – you don't know until you try it.

    "It was my first lap, so I couldn't really get much of a read on it; it happened straight away.

    "I tried my best to save it, but I couldn't. We missed all of the session, but I'm okay. We'll be ready to go tomorrow."

  • Espargaro and Vinales sign new two-year Aprilia deals Espargaro and Vinales sign new two-year Aprilia deals

    Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales have signed new two-year deals with Aprilia.

    The Spanish duo will continue to ride for the MotoGP team until at least the end of the 2024 season.

    Espargaro will go into the Italian Grand Prix this weekend third in the battle for the title, having secured one win and three podium finishes this season.

    Vinales continues to adapt to the RS-GP, but is 10th in the standings.

    "This confirmation [of the new contracts] was just what the doctor ordered," Espargaro said. "We've worked hard together and grown together.

    "We were a hope, now we are reality. In 2021, we had already seen clear signs of our steps forward and now we are able to battle consistently with the best in the world.

    "Continuing to do so with Aprilia is a source of pride for me. We can grow even more and we want to demonstrate that on the track."

    Vinales stated: "I'm extremely happy to continue my work with Aprilia Racing. Now our horizons are expanding and we'll be able to work with continuity to achieve ambitious goals.

    "I believe in this project and I'm happy to be part of it. I've found a fantastic environment in Aprilia and this confirmation gives me the peace of mind to grow the way this team and I deserve to."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.