3 Stories You Missed During The Chaos of the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix

This year, there was no shortage of chaos, drama, and controversy at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix. Once again, Formula 1 race officials seem to be making up the rules as they go, and a clash between title rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton kept the focus firmly on the front of the field. 

While the two central protagonists of the season duked it out for the win, there was a lot of great racing happening behind them. Here are three other stories from the race that got lost amid the action.

Daniel Ricciardo has his best result since the U.S. Grand Prix

McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo has had one of the most frustrating, challenging, and rollercoaster seasons in Formula 1. He left Renault, now Alpine, to join a resurgent McLaren squad at the beginning of the year. That didn’t quite go to plan, and the Australian driver has struggled to match the pace of his teammate.

After an Italian Grand Prix that saw the leaders take themselves out of contention, Ricciardo picked up a spectacular win for McLaren. Many believed that the success meant Ricciardo was back to his old form and ready to challenge for regular podium finishes. However, bad luck, a few mechanical failures, and struggles driving the McLaren F1 car prevented a run of good results. But now Ricciardo appears to be getting a handle on how to make the McLaren go fast. 

Finishing fifth in the Grand Prix, Ricciardo picked up 10 points. That is his best result since October, when he finished fifth at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Ricciardo and McLaren have hinted that the car is now starting to suit his driving style.

A competitive Ricciardo makes for great racing, and hopefully, he can carry this momentum into 2022, when the cars will be completely different. 

Esteban Ocon nearly finishes on the podium

Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Alpine A521 Renault during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia on December 05, 2021 | Lars Baron/Getty Images

Esteban Ocon is a driver who tends to fly under the radar. He races for the Alpine F1 team, and while the team has been making progress this year, the results have been mostly mediocre. A shock victory in Hungary was the season’s high point, with Ocon taking the win and his teammate, Fernando Alonso, dazzling the fans with a display of defensive driving that held Lewis Hamilton at bay for 12 laps. 

Ocon has been outscored by Alonso this season and has spent the better part of 2021 making little to no impact on the races. That changed in Saudi Arabia, where a charging Ocon found himself in contention for a podium finish. While the leaders exchanged blows and the stewards rearranged the running order, he got into the mix of a hectic Grand Prix that almost netted him another podium finish. 

Ocon is a talented driver, but the inconsistent performance of his Alpine F1 car has meant that he is usually racing against himself during a Grand Prix. He’s not a particularly exciting driver to watch, but when the stars align, he can run at the front and win.

Ferrari has third place in the constructors’ championship locked-up

Ferrari’s Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc (R) and Ferrari’s Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr (L) compete in the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on December 5, 2021 | GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images

2020 was a disastrous season for Ferrari. Formula 1 and the FIA found that their engine was not legal for racing, and the resulting changes made them one of the slower teams on the grid. This is not where Ferrari expected to be, and their position did not look promising again at the start of the 2021 racing season. 

Ferrari is the most successful team in Formula 1 for a reason and quickly set about making updates and changes to the car and engine. Those changes and the addition of Carlos Sainz Jr. to the team have transformed their fortunes and have overtaken McLaren for third place in the constructors’ championship.

At the start of 2021, McLaren was far and away the better team. Lando Norris led the charge and scored multiple podium finishes to pull out a sizable points lead. But the consistency of Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz Jr., combined with steady improvements to the car, has reversed the standings and now has Ferrari locked in as best of the rest in Formula 1. The Italian superteam lead McLaren by 38.5 points with one race left.

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Mercedes, and Red Bull have been the focus of most race weekends, but behind their titanic battle for the world championship is a field of racers and teams making big moves. From epic battles to shock performances, some of the best parts of Formula 1 are not always at the front of the race.

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