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Formula 1: The Chequered Flag race review - Saudi Arabia

28 March 2022 07:02:37 EST
Sergio Perez was unable to capitalise on qualifying on pole in Saudi Arabia

World champion Max Verstappen bounced back from his disappointing exit from the Formula 1 season-opener in Bahrain to cliam victory in Saudi Arabia.

And, on the early evidence, we are set for another season to remember in F1, with Red Bull and Ferrari evenly matched at the head of the field and Verstappen 1.083 to retain his drivers' title and Charles Leclerc available at 8.50.

Red Bull rebound

It was a nightmare start for Red Bull in Bahrain as both cars retired with late mechanical trouble while in prominent positions, but they showed their true form in Saudi Arabia.

The words "Never Give Up" are painted on Sergio Perez's helmet and the Mexican veteran showed the benefit of that mindset by taking his first career pole position at the 215th attempt.

It was a stunning lap right at the end of qualifying to deny Ferrari's Leclerc a second pole in a row to start the season.

It wasn't to be for Checo in the race, though, as a badly-timed safety car saw Perez shuffled from the lead back to fourth place and left championship leader Leclerc at the head of affairs.

Meanwhile Verstappen, who had started fourth after struggling in the qualifying top-ten shootout, emerged as the main challenger.

As in Bahrain, the champion and Leclerc enjoyed a protracted duel on the track, but this time it was Verstappen who came out on top in a battle that went right down to the wire.

A new rivalry in its infancy

Verstappen and Leclerc have been battling each other on track since they were children in karts and so far their exchanges this year have been very clean and friendly.

But don't expect that to last for long if things carry on as they are. Nothing strains relationships like a championship battle.

At this stage there appears virtually nothing to choose between the performances of the Ferrari and Red Bull cars, and the new-for-2022 regulations are doing exactly what they were intended to and allowing them to fight nose-to-tail, wheel-to-wheel all through the lap.

The relative performance of the two machines is sure to ebb and flow throughout a long season as upgrades are introduced, but Leclerc came agonisingly close to another pole position/race-win double and it could take a while for Verstappen to erase the 20-point deficit to his Monegasque rival.

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Mercedes hoping to make gains

There are two weeks before the cars are back in action for the Australian Grand Prix and no-one will be more thankful for the chance to regroup than Mercedes.

It has been a dreadful start to the season for the eight-time consecutive constructors' champions. Somehow they sit second in the teams standings, but they won't stay there for long if they can't get more competitive soon.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton posted his worst qualifying performance in 13 years in Jeddah, starting 15th, and he picked up just one point in the race after finishing a frustrated tenth.

New team-mate George Russell posted another solid effort to finish fifth, the top non-Red Bull or Ferrari car.

The King's Lynn racer was also frustrated but struck a hopeful note, pointing out that if the team can be so close to the front with the problems they know they have, once they solve the issue they should be able to challenge for wins.

Mercedes believe their problems lie in their aerodynamic package, however, the fact that the other Mercedes-powered teams, Aston Martin, McLaren and Williams, have also clearly regressed since last year suggests that there could be more to it than that.

At least Lando Norris gave some encouragement with a solid drive to seventh place for McLaren.

Next up

Melbourne's Albert Park circuit makes a welcome return as host to the first Australian Grand Prix since 2019.

Four of the corners have been re-profiled since Formula 1's last visit with a view to providing more overtaking opportunities.

Valtteri Bottas headed home a Mercedes 1-2 in 2019, with Verstappen - 2.50 to win this time around - back in third.

Ferrari duo Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr are 1.90 and 21.00 respectively.

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