Lewis Hamilton won a crazy, twice-halted Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday to send the Formula One world championship into a winner-takes-all final showdown with the Mercedes driver and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen level on points.
On a chaotic night of soaring emotions in Jeddah, the inaugural race in the Gulf kingdom took almost as many twists and turns as an already astonishing and enthralling rollercoaster season.
There were crashes, safety cars, red flags, claims of dirty driving after Hamilton hit the back of Verstappen’s suddenly slowing car, penalties, collisions and extraordinary exchanges between race director Michael Masi and the top two teams.
Seven-times world champion Hamilton took the bonus point for fastest lap to level with Verstappen on 369.5 points after 21 races.
The final round of the season is at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina next weekend.
Verstappen, who finished second with Valtteri Bottas third for Mercedes, leads 9-8 on wins, however — meaning that the Dutch 24-year-old will be champion if neither score another point.
“I tried to be as tough as I could be out there but also sensible and with all my race experience over the years, just keeping the car on track and staying clean,” said Hamilton after his 103rd career win.
The Briton started on pole but twice lost out to Verstappen at standing re-starts.
The Dutch driver was eventually ordered to hand back the lead, after going wide as Hamilton tried to pass, but when he slowed Hamilton ran into the back of him — accusing his rival of ‘brake-testing’ him.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner defended his driver: “I don’t know why he ran into the back of you like that, it made no sense,” he said over the radio.
Stewards handed Verstappen a five second time penalty but Hamilton rendered that irrelevant by overtaking seven laps from the end.
Mercedes were angry with Masi, saying it had not been given time to inform Hamilton that Verstappen had been told to give the place back, and Verstappen was also furious.
“What happened today is unbelievable and this sport is more about penalties than racing. For me, this is not Formula One,” said the Dutchman, who was awarded Driver of the Day in a fan vote.
“That was spectacular but not a good race,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.