Students Weigh In on F1’s Saudi Arabian GP Controversy


The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will go down in history as perhaps the most controversial race of the past decade. Mercedes’ reigning 7-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and  Red Bull’s rising hotshot Max Verstappen have been at each other’s throats all season, and it came to a head around the debuting track of Jeddah. 

Lewis Hamilton celebrates a dominant Brazilian Grand Prix where he passed every car at least once on the way to his first of three consecutive victories.

Going into the race, Hamilton sat eight points off Verstappen’s lead. Since first place earns seven more points than second place and fastest lap earns another point, the Mercedes driver would need to both win the race and claim fastest lap to go into the season finale in a dead tie. Hamilton was coming off back-to-back wins in Brazil and Qatar, and the margin from Red Bull’s utter domination early in the season was getting chipped away with every checkered flag.

​Jedda Corniche Circut, the track where the race was held, was almost as peculiar as the title fight. The layout was only finalized earlier in the week, and the qualities of the track were seemingly so odd as to hope to distract from Saudi Arabia’s terrible human rights record. Of the twenty-two venues to host a race this season, the circuit was the second-longest, the second-fastest, and one of the least-wide, leading to little room for a car to slowdown or adjust before hitting a surrounding wall. It was a strange amalgam of what a casual fan would want from an F1 track, as the drivers are at full throttle for 80% of the 27-turn, 3.84 mile circuit, but serious crashes in early sessions and the F2 races led to widespread anxiety about the dangerous combination.

Charles Leclerc jumps out of what remains of his Ferrari after a crash in FP2.

During qualifying—where the starting order is decided by a single timed lap around circuit—Verstappen put himself into the position to take pole (meaning he would start in front of the other drivers) early in his drive but hit the wall on the final turn and gave the best position to Hamilton. There was some concern than Verstappen would need to repair certain parts of his car because of the crash and start behind even more drivers, but fortunately for the young phenom, that was not the case.

The race itself saw 25% of the drivers retire (meaning not finish the race by giving up or crashing) and many more endure serious collisions while jockeying for position. Hamilton maintained a healthy lead from the Red Bull in the first fifteen laps but lost out to Verstappen during the first safety car due to a quirk in the rules. On the restart, Hamilton made a move to pass Verstappen but got forced wide and had to concede first place to his rival. The stewards—the effective referees of Formula One—decided to penalize Verstappen for forcing Hamilton off the race track but gave him the choice of accepting a penalty or trying his luck with a review, a choose-your-own-adventure liberty completely unheard of from the governing body. 

Verstappen then ran Hamilton off the track again when he tried to pass, and the team at Red Bull told the young Dutchman to slow down so that Hamilton could get the place he would have earned earlier. However, the message was not relayed to Hamilton, who collided with the back of the Red Bull when it unexpectedly slowed down in front of him. After getting hit, Verstappen elected to not give the place up to Hamilton and sped off while everyone else tried to process what had just occurred. This infamous “Lap 37” incident will go down as one of the strangest clashes between two rivals in what was already an absurd race.

Verstappen slams on the brakes and both sustain damage on lap 37 of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The stewards again told Verstappen to slow down, and the Red Bull did so for a moment before again accelerating and retaking the lead from a perplexed Hamilton. Vertsappen would later give Hamilton first place when no one told him he needed to. 

Needless to say, fans of the sport are divided into two camps: Verstappen’s Orange Army and “#Blessed” Hamilton fans. Voices polled students who watched Formula One to see how they felt about Sunday’s proceedings. Half of the surveyed were team Verstappen, while the other half were biased towards Lewis Hamilton.