Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Star Performers

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Esteban Ocon, Lewis Hamilton and Antonio Giovinazzi were RaceFans’ Star Performers of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Here’s why.


Esteban Ocon

  • Reached Q3, unlike his team mate, and qualified a respectable ninth place, behind the two AlphaTauris
  • Was up to fourth after the first red flag, then surprisingly restarted the race from the lead after a second red flag and controversial manoeuvres between Verstappen and Hamilton
  • Held off Ricciardo admirably, and gave Bottas a hard task to overtake him for the final podium position
  • Was gutted to lose out on a podium finish by just a tenth of a second, but still happy to score 12 points for Alpine

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton kept his cool for points-tying win
  • Fastest in first two practice sessions, and fastest in qualifying – after avoiding grid penalties for alleged impeding and a double waved yellow ‘false alarm’
  • Asserted control in the first ten laps of the race, but lost the lead to Verstappen after the second red flag restart when his rival got away quicker on fresher rubber
  • Held his nerve in one of the most controversial lead battles in recent Formula 1 memory to take the lead for good with eight laps to go
  • Won his eighth race of the season to set up a championship showdown in Abu Dhabi

Antonio Giovinazzi

  • Strong effort in Q3 allowed him one more chance to finish his F1 tenure on a strong note
  • Vaulted from tenth on the grid to seventh after two red flags and a ‘free’ pit stop to take on hard tyres
  • Spending most of the race ahead of both Ferraris and Norris’ McLaren was a great boost of confidence, but he couldn’t fend off Sainz and Leclerc until the end
  • Scored points for the first time in 16 races as he finished a season-best ninth place in his penultimate F1 appearance

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Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Tsunoda was in the wars again

Yuki Tsunoda

  • Another Q3 appearance and eighth on the grid was enough to build confidence
  • After the second red flag, restarted in ninth – on the same tyre strategy as Verstappen
  • Lost another points-scoring opportunity in another needless clash with a rival, this time Verstappen

Sergio Perez

  • Qualified fifth, almost half a second off his team mate, despite Verstappen ruining his last lap with a crash
  • Held position in the first ten laps, but lost three places as he pitted during the first Safety Car period which cost him when the red flag came out
  • Failed to account for Leclerc alongside him at the first restart, triggering a messy crash

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And the rest

Valtteri Bottas

  • Qualified within a tenth of Hamilton to ensure all-Mercedes front row in the race
  • Was passed by Ocon and Ricciardo after the first red flag, dropping from second to fifth
  • Though it took quite a few laps, he was able to eventually dispatch Ricciardo, then pipped Ocon at the line for third, giving Mercedes a strong claim to another constructors’ championship triumph

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Verstappen crossed the line – literally – in his fight with Hamilton
  • What looked like being a majestic lap for pole position ended in the turn 27 barrier
  • Was handed the lead when an early Safety Car period, which the Mercedes drivers pitted under, became a red flag, under which he could change tyres.
  • Dived off the track at the first restart and forced Hamilton aside as he rejoined, which led to him being relegated to third at the restart
  • Took full advantage of another tyre change – to mediums – at the second red flag restart, vaulting into the lead
  • Couldn’t shake off the pursuing Hamilton and repeatedly overstepped the mark while defending his position, collecting penalties for abusing track limits and slowing excessively while trying to hand the lead to Hamilton “strategically”, in a place he was certain to lose it again
  • Medium tyres fell away too much at the end, but even with penalties, finished second

Lando Norris

  • Advanced to Q3 on soft tyres, then qualified seventh
  • Overtook Gasly on the opening lap, but then pitted from sixth for hard tyres, dropping him to 14th once the first red flag was shown
  • Instead of competing for a top-five finish, spent the rest of the race in recovery mode fighting back to finish tenth

Daniel Ricciardo

  • Narrowly missed out on Q3 appearance – by five-hundredths of a second – and qualified 11th
  • Gained two places on the opening lap and another four places after the first red flag courtesy of a ‘free’ pit stop
  • Ran ahead of Bottas for most of the race thereafter, but ultimately conceded the position and finished a solid fifth place

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Vettel’s wounded Aston shed debris around Jeddah
  • His 17th place qualifying result firmly underlined Aston Martin’s struggles
  • After a good first lap, and aided by the red flags, made his way up to eighth place with a chance to salvage points
  • Two collisions with F1’s youngest (Tsunoda) and oldest (Raikkonen) drivers – neither of which were chiefly Vettel’s fault – ruined his race and led to an early retirement

Lance Stroll

  • Took 18th in qualifying behind his team mate on a bad day for Aston Martin
  • Made a decent start from the first lap, but dropped to the rear of the field after pitting on lap nine following first safety car
  • Found himself back in the top 10 after multiple incidents in front of him, but didn’t have the straight-line speed to fend off Norris and finished out of the points

Fernando Alonso

  • Missed Q3 off the back of his return to the podium in Qatar
  • Worked his way into the top 10 before the first safety car; lost track position after pitting for hard tyres on lap 10
  • A spin on lap 25 compromised his chance to score points as he finished off the lead lap in 13th
  • Suffered increasing tyre vibrations so the team called him in for soft tyres towards the end

Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Leclerc was back to his best in qualifying
  • Another superb effort in qualifying saw him qualify ahead of Perez in fourth
  • Dropped to sixth after the first red flag; after the restart, was left with nowhere to go in collision with Perez
  • Suffered from flat spotted tyres after the collision, which hurt his pace – but he escaped significant damage and fought on to a seventh place finish

Carlos Sainz Jnr

  • Was quick in final practice but could not post a representative lap in Q2 after picking up damage, leaving him down in 15th on the grid
  • With a free choice of tyres he started on the hard rubber, and got the benefit of the red flag to jump back into the top 10
  • Ran as high as seventh position in the closing laps, but dropped behind Leclerc to eighth after his used medium tyres fell off at the end

Pierre Gasly

  • Put in another fine qualifying effort, just 0.002s behind Perez in sixth
  • Got the ‘free’ pit stop after the first red flag, undoing the damage of being passed by Norris, Ocon, and Ricciardo in the opening laps
  • Kept out of trouble to bag sixth place ahead of the two Ferraris

Kimi Raikkonen

  • Missed the cut for Q3 by less than three tenths to team mate Giovinazzi, qualified 12th
  • Was hanging around the fringe of points before colliding with Vettel at half-distance
  • Last classified finisher in 15th after pitting for damage in his penultimate Formula 1 grand prix

Mick Schumacher

Mick Schumacher, Haas, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Schumacher was the evening’s first retirement
  • Another comprehensive demolition job on team mate in qualifying
  • Unfortunately performed the wrong kind of demolition job on his car – and the turn 22 barrier – during the race, having passed Latifi at the start

Nikita Mazepin

  • Over a second slower than Schumacher in qualifying, a gap almost as big as the gap between Schumacher and the fastest driver in Q1
  • Gained places after a ‘free’ pit stop
  • Joined his team mate in retirement as he ploughed into the rear of Russell’s car in the chaos which unfolded after the first red flag restart

George Russell

  • Another strong Q2 appearance and 14th on the grid in an emotional weekend
  • Dropped three places on the first lap, then fell behind Mazepin after losing out due to the red flag
  • Hit from behind by Mazepin in a multi-car pileup on lap 15, ending his race

Nicholas Latifi

  • Out-qualified both Aston Martins on pace, managing 16th on the grid
  • Took care of his car as other drivers – including his team mate – found themselves involved in compromising accidents
  • Last lead lap finisher in 12th, around 20 seconds away from another points finish

Over to you

Vote for the driver who impressed you most last weekend and find out whether other RaceFans share your view here:

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Author information

RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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35 comments on “2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Star Performers”

  1. Stars: HAM & OCO
    Strugglers: TSU & PER

  2. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    7th December 2021, 8:33

    I don’t see how Alonso avoided the strugglers list based on what is said about his race, and what literally happened. He was poor in qualifying, may have made a decent start, but spun and as a result and he triggered his last pit stop, which cost him positions.

    Kimi was awful. Giovinazzi showed what was possible in that car. He made a stupid move on Vettel when he really should have known to back off. I also think it is a bit silly to not indicate this as a negative: “under 3 tenths off Giovinazzi. That gap wasn’t tiny given how huge half a second is made out to be.

    Had Mazepin crashed on his own, no matter how gentle his contact was, i bet he would be a struggler. Schumacher has crashed far more tis season than Mazepin. He should also be added to the strugglers list.

    1. Entirely agree with you.

  3. Stars: Ocon
    Strugglers: Everyone else

    1. Ricciardo for one had a good race, car considered.

  4. Had Gio ran convincing races like this one, a seat next year would’ve been guaranteed. Very solid from the start, made a lovely move around Alonso at the beginning and always looked like finishing in the top 10.

    Sad it’s come too late for him. But a superb race!

    1. He’s a bit too erratic I feel, I knew he had some potential but often made mistakes and ended up crashing with others, I don’t think it’s a case of it coming too late, but more to not perform well often enough in races, had he been given another year I’m sure we’d see a similar picture as 2021.

  5. Lost another points-scoring opportunity in another needless clash with a rival, this time Verstappen

    Hadn’t seen that, but if he was fighting Verstappen, then how can Tsunoda be a struggler this time? I know he’s on the strugglers list almost all the time, but this time he actually showed some potential for a change.

    Alonso and Vettel were pretty poor as well. It seems Alonso quickly overcooked his first set of tires. Then he lost out with the safety car and soon after he had a spin as well. I felt the late stop was an attempt to set the fastest lap of the race, but he even failed to do that. Vettel was colliding with about everyone it seems, maybe hoping an Aston Martin would then be leading again. The Tsunoda collision was unnecessary it seems and then he pushed Räikkönen off the track.

    Agree with the stars and I’m happy for Giovinazzi.

    1. @f1infigures @sumedh
      How on earth were those collisions Vettel’s fault. He was having a decent race before Tsunoda made a reckless move on him (which he took full blame for) and Kimi’s attempt to overtake him was overzealous to say the least. Really harsh assessment on your part, I think

      1. @neutronstar Vettel certainly didn’t look good in both incidents. Tsunoda tried to pass him on the outside, ran a little wide and lost the place again. But then Vettel turned in on him. He knew Tsunoda was still there and Tsunoda couldn’t just disappear.
        He almost pushed Räikkönen into the wall while braking and then he completely missed the corner. They made contact on the run-off area, which says enough I think.

        1. @f1infigures Well, Tsunoda apologized to Vettel and got a 5 second penalty as well…

          1. @neutronstar Most of the time the stewards get it right. This time, however, I disagree with their decision. Vettel thought he was fully ahead of Tsunoda and turned in, but he wasn’t. Maybe their decision was influenced by Tsunoda’s reputation of being reckless, because I don’t think he did much wrong here, unlike in Brazil for example, where he needlessly collided with Stroll.

    2. Lost another points-scoring opportunity in another needless clash with a rival, this time Verstappen

      @f1infigures Pretty sure this is a typo – it’s meant to say Vettel. He was having a somewhat decent weekend before that but was still behind his teammate when he crashed and ultimately threw away his chance of points as a result. I agree Alonso had an off weekend and I would have him down as a struggler – probably Kimi too.

      1. He was probably joking as well, seemed to be aware it was vettel on his other comment.

      2. @keithedin I thought the typo was kinda funny. I agree Tsunoda should have scored some good points given his equipment. He has been awful all season in possibly the 3rd-fastest car.

  6. I would say stars: Ocon
    Strugglers : Perez, Bottas, Max.

  7. I was actually thinking that all 3 ex champions – Vettel Alonso and Raikkonen would make the strugglers list. It would have been unprecedented but true. Alonso struggled across the weekend, no doubt. Kimi was comfortably outshone and got himself into a collision. Vettel also had 2 collisions and distributed debris across the track.

  8. I know a lot of people won’t agree with me but as someone who is generally neutral in the championship I can’t see how Verstappen is not a struggler. I know he finished p2 but he was responsible for multiple incidents and also crashed in qualifying. Plus he was held responsible for erratic driving.

    1. Only cos he still finished 2nd in what seemed to be the fastest car this weekend., though I think the penalties should have been stop and go penalties so should have finished around 6th. I guess the stewards promoted him out of the strugglers list.

      1. Lewis had the fastest car you are talking about the soft as the tyre they raced on which they didn’t. Cars (RB and Mercedes) are now so close that a differen ttyre makes all the difference.

    2. @broke1984

      It would be nice if verstappen’s driving made him a struggler.

      But I think one of his exceptional talents is stretching the rules. Somehow he leaves just enough doubt, just enough room, or brakes just soon enough that he gets away with it. I’m not sure who else would have been bold enough to make that move in Brazil, but he did it and got away with it.

      And when there is a collision the penalties aren’t great enough to discourage it.

      I dislike the way they’ve been allowed to race this season. But you have to hand it to Verstappen – he has mastered the current stewarding.

      1. Verstappen deserves zero credit for the stewarding adapting to him instead of penalising him correctly. He would not be able to stretch the rules if they didn’t bend to accommodate him.

  9. To be honest getting around that 2 bob circuit during a race with incident. Should make them a bit of a star.

  10. How is Verstappen not a struggler?

    – Binned the car in overzealous attempt for pole
    – Tried to ram into Lewis in the name of defence, multiple times
    – Brake tested Lewis
    – Got 15 sec worth of penalties

    1. +1 He also got an additional 2 place grid drop for an illegal overtake to add to the above list.

      His attitude of refusing to be overtaken doesn’t make him a great driver, it makes him a danger. I think his wheel to wheel skills have been really exposed this season. Throwing the car at drivers with no intention of making the corner isn’t skill.

      1. +2 well said

      2. Verstappen isn’t lacking in wheel to wheel, he’s not vettel. You try to keep hamilton behind with a car 20 km slower, where does hamilton ever overtake? On the straights…

        1. Verstappen is having to do what I do in some car racing games, when example in a porsche game I’m trying to keep a car that goes at up to 200 kmh behind with an older car that only reaches 170, trying to stop them from overtaking on the left during the straights, then on the right, trying to get hit by the faster car etc., this current mercedes is too fast on the straights.

          1. It’s not tho is it? In their pole runs there was no difference in top speed at all. All this 20-30kph is absolute none sense. The type that Horner spouts and naive people believe.

            Speed trap
            236.6 Hamilton
            235.5 Verstappen

            Finish line
            211.5 Verstappen
            210.5 Hamilton

            So where is this 20-30kph coming from ? Brazil you cry.

            Speed trap
            327 Hamilton
            318.5 Verstappen

            Even Brazil it was only 9kph difference! And in the other zones Max was only 2-3kph
            Sector 1 trap for example it was

            323.9 Hamilton
            321.6 Verstappen

            Moaning about Hamilton being faster on the straight due to a setup choice is crazy. Why not moan that Max is faster through the corners because he has more downforce. You can’t have it both ways. Please do look at actual data before spouting more none sense.

        2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
          7th December 2021, 18:54

          @esploratore1 Max is lacking in wheel to wheel… It’s just that he just plows through the other car whereas Vettel attempts to avoid a collision and spins. When Vettel did the same a few years (go through my posts), he looked just like Verstappen pushing drivers into walls.

          At Silverstone, he could have easily avoided that collision and kept the position but he made a wheel-to-wheel mistake which nearly cost him his life or his racing. At Monza, he nearly killed Lewis by inches…

  11. Hamilton star cos he had to put up with all that dangerous driving by Verstappen and still beat him. Ocon a star too.

  12. Held his nerve in one of the most controversial lead battles in recent Formula 1 memory to take the lead for good with eight laps to go

    not really. His deliberate pushing verstappen of the track and his messy approach when he should have passed, showed a lot of stress he could not handle well.
    I do not think both drivers should not deserve a star .. or it must be a star in the next netflix.

    Only Ocon and Giovinacci deserved a real star here.

    1. Yes, hard to give a star to either verstappen or hamilton, the latter had such a great car he had to win, and the former tried everything to defend, going beyond the limits accepted by the rules, plus a mistake after a great lap in qualifying; with ocon, giovinazzi and even ricciardo (imo) you go safe this race.

  13. Thanks for validating my Ocon vote – when I voted it was quite a low percentage! The guy did a great job all weekend. Was gutted when he missed the podium on the final straight.

  14. Stars:

    Ocon – Was a long way ahead of Alonso throughout and pulled out a big gap over Ricciardo in the best of the rest battle.
    Alos managed to mix it with Verstappen, and Hamilton and ultimately nearly held on to a podium against Bottas.

    Hamilton – Unlucky not to have an easy win instead took a hard fought win

    Giovinazzi – Delivered on potential for once and didn’t waste a good qualifying.


    Perez – Under par qualifying, clumsy first start followed by careless second start

    Russell – Can’t help but feel he overreacted to the Perez crash.

    Tsunoda – Wasted a good grid position with a careless move (especially considering the fragile Alpha Tauri front wing – they need to sort that…)

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