JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia —
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen overtook Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari three laps from the end of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix for the defending champion’s first win of the Formula One season and 21st of his career Sunday.
The race under floodlights was held two days after an attack on a nearby oil depot by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Leclerc was aiming for back-to-back victories after winning the season-opener in Bahrain from pole position March 20, but Verstappen overtook him on Lap 47 of 50 after some thrilling wheel-to-wheel racing between them.
“Really happy we finally kick-started the season,” Verstappen said. “It was a really tough race but a good race. We were both battling hard at the front.”
Leclerc even congratulated his old karting rival on the radio and then gave him a thumbs-up afterward.
“We’ve been pushing like I’ve rarely pushed before, we take risks. Of course there’s respect,” Leclerc said. “I really enjoyed that race, it was hard racing but fair. Every race should be like this. It was fun, I wanted to win today.“
Leclerc missed out on a fourth career win, as Verstappen edged him by half a second, but remains top of the standings after two races. Leclerc has 45 points, Carlos Sainz Jr. 33 and Verstappen 25.
Sainz finished in third place to make it another podium double for Ferrari after he was second in Bahrain, where Leclerc had brilliantly repelled three attacks from Verstappen, who retired right near the end of that race with teammate Sergio Perez.
Perez bounced back with a superb pole position Saturday but finished fourth.
However, Sainz and Perez were under investigation for not slowing down enough under double yellow flags after Alex Albon and Lance Stroll collided on Lap 49.
Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton could manage only one point for Mercedes in 10th place after starting 15th.
His teammate George Russell fared better in fifth but Mercedes again looked way off the pace.
After a virtual safety car came out, following apparent power failures on Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren and then Fernando Alonso’s Alpine, Verstappen found himself lurking behind Leclerc with eight laps to go on the sinewy 50-lap street circuit.
Verstappen overtook on the outside at the end of Lap 42. But it was a clever dummy by Leclerc, who dived straight back inside Verstappen on Turn 1 of the next lap.
Verstappen had another go on Lap 44, locking his brakes trying a risky overtake on the DRS line, but overtook on Lap 47 with a clean pass.
Perez started ahead of Leclerc, Sainz and Verstappen on the Jiddah circuit, which is about seven miles from Friday’s attack. F1 agreed to race Saturday after lengthy discussions Friday night.
Hamilton started from a lowly 15th, and would have been 16th if Mick Schumacher had raced. Schumacher sat out after a heavy crash Saturday and watched the race from the Haas garage.
Perez got away cleanly from pole and Verstappen snaked past Sainz on the outside to move into third behind Leclerc.
It was tough for Hamilton to pass it and took him until Lap 14 to move into 10th.
Perez pitted first on Lap 16, just before a safety car came out one lap later after Williams driver Nicholas Latifi slid right into the side of a wall under no pressure.
Leclerc held off Verstappen when the race restarted on Lap 21, and Perez gave his position back to Sainz because he had been ahead at the safety car line when Perez overtook him.
With DRS enabled, Hamilton zoomed past Kevin Magnussen’s Haas to move into sixth. Magnussen reclaimed his position immediately, then Hamilton took it again.
Up ahead, Verstappen was only 1.1 seconds behind Leclerc halfway through the race.
The race was held up a second time when Ricciardo pulled over. Alonso also crawled to a halt and so did Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton pitted again on Lap 41 to ensure his chances of a points finish. He almost collided with the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll fighting just for 10th, a sign of how badly Mercedes is struggling after winning eight straight constructors’ titles.
It was Hamilton’s worst performance in qualifying since 2017, when he failed to make it out of the first round of qualifying — Q1 — at the Brazilian GP. But that was because of a crash. On speed alone it was the first time since the British GP in 2009 when driving for McLaren.
F1 heads to Australia on April 10 and then into Europe.