Formula One’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix returns to the coastal jewel of Jeddah

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Two-time champion Max Verstappen has welcomed changes to improve visibility for drivers on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. (Supplied)
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Red Bull's Sergio Perez, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, Aston Martin's Lance Stroll, Haas' Kevin Magnussen and Alpine's Esteban Ocon during the press conference on March 16, 2023, ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. (REUTERS)
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Two-time champion Max Verstappen has welcomed changes to improve visibility for drivers on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. (Supplied)
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Haas' Nico Hulkenberg during practice at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023. (REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri)
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Haas' Kevin Magnussen in action during practice at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023. (REUTERS)Haas' Nico Hulkenberg during practice at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023. (REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri)
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Updated 18 March 2023

Formula One’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix returns to the coastal jewel of Jeddah

  • The Kingdom’s third race event, now a fixture in the Formula One calendar, gets underway on March 19
  • Having hosted the Dakar Rally, Diriyah E-Prix, and Extreme E, Saudi Arabia is fast becoming a motorsports hotspot 

JEDDAH: When, in the late hours of Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, then-reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton took the checkered flag to win the first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, he set up what would turn out to be, a week later in Abu Dhabi, the greatest-ever finale in the sport’s history.

The seven-time champion’s win under the Jeddah floodlights meant that he had drawn level with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings going into the last race of the season in the UAE capital.

What happened at Yas Marina Circuit would go down in legend, Verstappen winning a scarcely believable, and infinitely controversial, race in the final few seconds to claim his first title. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that that “sliding doors” moment has altered the course of F1 history since.

The first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix had delivered drama, crashes, safety cars aplenty and the Hamilton win that set up that denouement in Abu Dhabi.

The second Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2022 had its work cut out to provide such drama. Now the second, instead of the second-last race of the season, it arrived only months after the inaugural race, taking place on March 27.

Champion Verstappen strolled to victory in what would become a procession for the Dutch driver, Ferrari’s early challenge fading to leave Red Bull as the undisputed champions of the drivers’ and constructors’ title.

And so to Sunday, March 19, 2023, and the third Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, now a fixture in the F1 calendar.

Gone is the novelty of the Kingdom hosting one of sport’s showpiece events, now replaced by an undeniable, and deserved, sense of permanence for the fastest street circuit in F1 history, with its track length of 6.174 km and 27 turns. F1 is in Saudi Arabia to stay.

Track changes this year, to improve visibility for the drivers, have been welcomed by the two-time champion Verstappen.

He said: “It’s a really cool street circuit, with quite a lot of grip, so I always enjoy going back there to race.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. (Supplied) 

The 25-year-old will be a strong favorite to repeat last year’s success, while the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will be hoping for better luck, and decision making, if they are to mount a challenge.

Lurking behind will be Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in their Mercedes, no longer the dominant car that strolled to seven drivers’ titles, and eight constructors’, in a row.

And keep an eye out for Aston Martin, with the grinning, grizzled figure of Fernando Alonso and the rapidly maturing Lance Stroll hoping to make a major leap from mid-field to title challengers.

That Saudi Arabia has become a hub for some of the world’s most high-profile races is no longer news.

Already in 2023, as in recent years, we have seen several global competitions take place in the Kingdom.

The Dakar Rally has successfully been transported to the desert of Saudi Arabia since 2020, while Riyadh first hosted Formula E’s Diriyah E-Prix in 2018, and since 2021 as a nighttime double-header.

Jeddah Corniche Circuit. (Supplied)

Extreme E, another all-electric racing series, has just concluded its season-opening race in AlUla for the third year running.

And then there was Rally Jameel, the first global race dedicated to female drivers only in the Middle East; a reminder that such previously unimagined events are not taking place in a cultural vacuum, but in a fast-evolving society.

But F1 remains the undisputed king of the road, a happening that transcends mere sporting competition.

“Formula 1 has put motorsport on the map in Saudi,” said Reema Juffali, Saudi’s first female racing driver and founder of Theeba Motorsport. “Four years ago, I remember having to explain the difference between F1 and rallying, so it’s great to be sharing the sport I love with everyone at home.”

The middle of the last decade might have seen a waning of interest in the sport as Mercedes and Hamilton won race after race, championship after championship.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton before practice at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023. (REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed)

But in recent years, F1 has seen an unprecedented resurgence in popularity thanks in huge part to the emergence of a crop of exciting young drivers like Verstappen, Leclerc, Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

But perhaps the biggest, and most unexpected, factor in this new lease of life came from the Netflix series “Formula One: Drive to Survive,” now five seasons in, which has been nothing short of revolutionary in taking the sport to a new audience, especially the previously unconquered US demographic.

Hamilton, speaking to Arab News ahead of the first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in December 2021, said the show had “changed the sport for good.”

No longer are casual fans focusing on the one or two drivers that dominate each season. Today even viewers with the most cursory interest know the highs and lows of Yuki Tsunoda’s season, the sad departure of Daniel Ricciardo from McLaren and the return of Nico Hulkenburg to F1.

Behind the scenes, Netflix has introduced its viewers to the bitter rivalry between Mercedes and Red Bull team principals Toto Wolff and Christian Horner; the colorful figure of Haas boss Guenther Steiner; and the almost unbearable pressures on Mattia Binotto as he tried to lead an iconic name like Ferrari back to glory.

Alpine's French driver Pierre Gasly (foregound) drives ahead of Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso during the first practice session at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023, ahead of the 2023 Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix. (AFP)

And Saudi fans can now even have a team to nail their colors to: Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team.

The green of Aston Martin will this season carry the names of two Saudi juggernauts: Aramco and, as of last week, its new official flying partner Saudia.

It is not the first time that Saudia has lent its name to an F1 team.

The Kingdom had been the first Middle East country to be involved in Formula One when its national carrier sponsored Williams Racing from the late 1970s.

“Our association with Williams Racing began in 1978 and ran for almost two decades, during which time we enjoyed many successes,” Khaled Tash, chief marketing officer of Saudia, told Arab News.

Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso sits in his car in the garage during the first practice session at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023. (AFP)

“Formula One fans will remember that the Williams Racing team dominated the competition and won nine Constructors' Championships thanks to worldwide talent like Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.

“Saudia played a vital role in Williams Racing’s victories and our partnership was one of the most successful sponsor-team collaborations in F1 history, paving the way for future partnerships within the motorsports industry.

“We believe that our partnership with Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team provides a further opportunity for us to expand the reach of the sport and bring unforgettable experiences to fans everywhere.”

Such a partnership will inevitably lead to questions of bigger Saudi involvement in F1.

“Our Kingdom’s love story with F1 has even led us to hosting a race, the Jeddah Grand Prix, and who knows, we may one day have our own Saudi F1 team,” Tash added.

It might be early days yet, but it is an intriguing prospect that could materialize in the medium or long term.



“Today, after successfully hosting two races in the previous two years, we have some genuine F1 fans and many who are interested in breaking into the sport,” said Juffali, who herself has competed in F4 and now races in the International GT Open. “One of the most common questions I get asked is: ‘How can I be an F1 driver?’”

There is already talk of a new, permanent racing circuit at Qiddiya, one that would host the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix among other races, and, reportedly, provide unprecedented views for spectators.

With motorsport’s popularity on the rise, the next big target will be to nurture local talent, be it male or female, and produce drivers that can take to the track alongside the world’s best.

“I believe it’s only the beginning for us and, with all the level of investment going into motorsport, it’s only a matter of time before we see a Saudi driver climbing the junior formula ranks,” said Juffali.

Saudi fans of F1, too, will hope it is a matter of when, not if.



Verstappen shrugs off bug to top practice in Saudi Arabia

Updated 18 March 2023

Verstappen shrugs off bug to top practice in Saudi Arabia

  • The defending double world champion clocked a best lap in one minute 29.603 seconds to outpace two-time champion Alonso's Aston Martin by 0.208 seconds
  • Sergio Perez was third in the second Red Bull ahead of Esteban Ocon of Alpine, George Russell of Mercedes and Pierre Gasly in the second Alpine

JEDDAH: Max Verstappen showed no ill effects from a stomach bug on Friday as he topped the times for Red Bull ahead of Fernando Alonso in Friday’s second free practice at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The defending double world champion, shaking off the stomach upset that had delayed his arrival in Jeddah by 24 hours, clocked a best lap in one minute 29.603 seconds to outpace two-time champion Alonso’s Aston Martin by 0.208 seconds.
Sergio Perez was third in the second Red Bull ahead of Esteban Ocon of Alpine, George Russell of Mercedes and Pierre Gasly in the second Alpine.
“I think we had a positive day, but I think there’s still quite a few things we can improve,” reported Verstappen.
“It’s just fine-tuning, with the downshifts. Things we do all the time,” he added.
Perez revealed he had suffered mechanical issues.
“Hopefully, we can sort it out for tomorrow,” he said.
“And it will bring us more pace so I can have a better idea of where this car is. Today it was inconsistent, difficult to get a proper read.
“We seem to be strong, but the competition is there as expected.”
Alonso’s Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll was seventh ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Haas and the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, both of whom were equipped with new power units.
Leclerc already has a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race for taking a third electronic control unit of the season.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was 11th for Mercedes, with a best lap of 1:30.599, a second slower than Verstappen, on the day he announced he was no longer working with his long-serving performance coach Angela Cullen.
Alonso’s performance confirmed his speed this year after a strong showing to finish third in the season-opening race in Bahrain, but it was Verstappen who set the pace with some ease.
After Verstappen’s early supremacy in a Red Bull one-two in opening practice the second session began in cooler conditions, the air temperature descending to 25 degrees and the track from 44 to 31.
Stroll was the first man out, Sainz the early pace-setter, but only for five minutes before the world champion once again went top only for Alonso to reply, two-tenths faster.
Stirred again, both medium-clad Red Bulls responded. Verstappen with 1:29.952 ahead of Perez until Alonso, on softs, split them again. His Aston Martin appeared to be the only car capable of fighting with them.
And then Perez clocked a 1:29.902 as last year’s pole sitter Leclerc emerged unscathed from a close brush with Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas.
The close dicing at the front continued with the Red Bulls narrowly ahead of Alonso and then a gap of two-tenths to the pack led, after half an hour, by Hulkenberg and Gasly.
The top three were separated by 0.012 before Verstappen, again, lifted the bar in 1:29.603 after switching to softs for a brief simulation of what may lie ahead in Saturday’s qualifying session.
At this time, Russell climbed to fourth for Mercedes, but Hamilton was 11th.
“We need to make some big changes,” said Russell in a stern voice. “Yes, copy,” retorted his pit wall, seemingly sensitive to the team’s need for a changed approach as they seek to reverse their slump.

F1: Austrian Grand Prix contract extended to 2027

Updated 17 March 2023

F1: Austrian Grand Prix contract extended to 2027

  • The existing contract was due to run out after this year's race at the Red Bull Ring in the mountainous setting of Spielberg on July 2

LONDON: Formula One announced Wednesday it has signed a four-year contract extension to keep the Austrian Grand Prix on the calendar until 2027.
The existing contract was due to run out after this year’s race at the Red Bull Ring in the mountainous setting of Spielberg on July 2.
“The Austrian Grand Prix brings together the perfect mix of a challenging track, high-speed racing, and a beautiful venue for our fans, so I am delighted that we will be coming back to the Red Bull Ring until at least 2027 under this new agreement,” F1 President and Chief Executive Officer Stefano Domenicali said in a statement.
Austria has hosted an F1 championship race on and off since 1964 and the Red Bull Ring has been on the calendar each year since 2014. The venue also held a second race in each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons under the Styrian Grand Prix name as F1 made up for races canceled during the coronavirus pandemic.

Veloce Racing claims maiden victory at Desert X Prix Round 1 in NEOM

Updated 11 March 2023

Veloce Racing claims maiden victory at Desert X Prix Round 1 in NEOM

  • Nico Rosberg’s RXR were on course winners, but after receiving a penalty for speeding under a yellow flag dropped to third

NEOM: Veloce Racing secured their first-ever victory in Extreme E following a penalty for on course winners Rosberg X Racing (RXR) in the Grand Final of the opening round in NEOM.

Kevin Hansen and Molly Taylor put in a consistent drive for the Desert X Prix Round 1 Grand Final, and while it looked like an outright win was within their grasp, they ended the race in second behind Nico Rosberg’s outfit.

After crossing the finish line in first place, RXR received a penalty for speeding under a yellow flag, dropping the team from first to third and ensuring Veloce Racing took the top step on the podium for the first time. The Acciona Sainz XE Team finished third on course, but jumped up to second after RXR received their time penalty.

Winners of the series’ first Redemption Race were the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team having seen off championship debutants Carl Cox Motorsport. Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour came out as best of the rest in a race of two halves, as the session was red flagged following racing incidents for Andretti Altawkilat Extreme E and ABT Cupra XE.

A victorious Hansen said: “It feels great. To come back to Saudi Arabia and get my first Extreme E win with this new team, with Molly, and in the country that I had such a career changing accident, this is such a highlight.

“Both of us believe so much in what the engineers and mechanics are doing, so we feel so safe when we get in the car. We believe in what we are going to drive and I think that is also giving some results.”

Meanwhile, team-mate Taylor said: “I think all of us in the team clicking right from the beginning and developing and improving. We were able to start at a really good level in Uruguay form there they've been really good at bringing the best out of every aspect that we look into.

“Our team principal Luc (Alphand) knows what it takes to win. Having that faith in someone like that, who's got the scores on the board, who knows what you're feeling, and knows how to translate that into results, I think that's a real advantage for us.”

The remaining five teams fought it out in the Redemption Race to determine sixth to 10th place in the Desert X Prix Round 1 standings.


Grand Final:

1. Veloce Racing 11:56.291

2. ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team +16.709

3. Rosberg X Racing +2:08.041 (PENALISED)

4. X44 Vida Carbon Racing DNF

5. No.99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing DNF

Redemption Race:

1. NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team 28:55.292

2. Carl Cox Motorsport +5.552



5. Andretti ALTAWKILAT Extreme E DNF

Championship Standings:

1. Veloce Racing: 26 points

2. ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team: 21 points

3. Rosberg X Racing: 15 points

4. X44 Vida Carbon Racing: 13 points

5. No.99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing: 11 points

6. NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team: 8 points

7. Carl Cox Motorsport: 6 points

8. JBXE: 4 points

9. ABT CUPRA XE: 2 points

10. Andretti Altawkilat Extreme E: 1 point


Marcus Ericsson wins rough IndyCar season-opening race

Updated 06 March 2023

Marcus Ericsson wins rough IndyCar season-opening race

  • Ericsson outlasted the carnage on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg for a surprise victory for Chip Ganassi Racing

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida: Jack Harvey was taken to a hospital for observation and Helio Castroneves needed an ice pack and X-rays. A pair of cars went airborne, the leaders crashed each other and the entire Andretti Autosport fleet was eliminated.

Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, meanwhile, won the IndyCar season-opening race.

Ericsson outlasted the carnage on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg for a surprise victory for Chip Ganassi Racing on a swampy Sunday in Florida. It was the fourth career IndyCar victory for the Swedish former Formula One driver.

“I think people forget us in some conversations when they talk about the championship,” Ericsson said. “We’re here to win. We won the 500. We were leading the championship for a long time. We’re here to win.”

It was supposed to be an Andretti car in victory lane, at least based on the speed the team showed all weekend. Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta started on the front row, but things began to unravel right at the start.

A seven-car accident on the very first lap knocked five cars out of the race, including Andretti driver Devlin DeFrancesco, who was sent airborne when rookie Ben Pedersen slammed directly into his stopped car. Castroneves, a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, limped away from the accident while his Meyer Shank Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud clutched his hand.

Castroneves left IndyCar’s new mobile medical care center with an ice pack on his right hand, and a clean X-ray taken on his right knee. Pagenaud said his finger was bruised but he was fine.

Harvey wasn’t so lucky and was transported to a hospital — IndyCar said it was for an evaluation out of “an abundance of caution” — after Kyle Kirkwood became the second Andretti driver to go airborne and sailed directly over Harvey’s head. Rinus VeeKay had slid into a tire barrier, Harvey ran into the back of VeeKay and Kirkwood launched over both cars.

Michael Andretti slammed his hand on the pit stand in disgust.

But there was more to come.

Herta was sent into a tire barrier by contact from reigning IndyCar champion Will Power, who received an avoidable contact penalty, to leave Grosjean as the last remaining chance for Andretti.

But as Grosjean and defending race winner Scott McLaughlin raced side by side for position, the two cars touched in what appeared to be a game of chicken headed into a corner. Neither driver lifted and both cars slam into a tire barrier.

Grosjean was furious, first throwing his arms up in disgust and then pounding his first on the stack of tires as he screamed. McLaughlin received an avoidable contact penalty. Andretti muttered an expletive and buried his head in his hands.

McLaughlin and Power both said they’d seek out Grosjean and Herta, respectively, to apologize, and McLaughlin did go to Grosjean’s team truck and hugged him. Scott Dixon, meanwhile, apologized repeatedly for contact with Felix Rosenqvist on the opening lap that set in motion the bigger crash behind them.

Ericsson, meanwhile, passed Pato O’Ward for the win with three laps remaining when O’Ward suffered a brief loss of power. O’Ward pounded his fist in disgust as Ericsson sailed past for the win for Honda.

O’Ward was second in a Chevrolet for McLaren and could barely find any words to speak in his initial disappointment.

“Just very annoying to give it away like that,” O’Ward said with a sigh. “The team can’t have this happen. We just got 10 points thrown away. We’ll have a look at all the data and make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Ericsson had no problem winning that way.

“That’s racing,” he said.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon of Ganassi was third for his 193rd top-five finish, tying him with Mario Andretti for most all-time. Dixon’s top-five percentage is 52 percent.

Alexander Rossi was fourth in his debut race with new team McLaren.

Callum Ilott finished a career-best fifth for Juncos Hollinger Racing and was followed by Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and then Power of Team Penske. Alex Palou of Ganassi was eighth while RLL driver Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas rounded out the top 10.

Marcus Armstrong, a rookie who moved from F2 in Europe to race for Ganassi in IndyCar this season, finished 11th in his series debut to make Chip Ganassi, and not Andretti, the team of the day.

UP NEXT: IndyCar next races April 2 at Texas Motor Speedway, where Josef Newgarden is the defending race winner.

Verstappen wins season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix as Alonso shines

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen reacts as he exits his car after winning the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
Updated 05 March 2023

Verstappen wins season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix as Alonso shines

  • The defending double world champion led from start to finish, bar the pit stops, to establish himself as a strong favorite for a third consecutive drivers’ crown this year

SAKHIR: World champion Max Verstappen claimed his maiden season-opening victory and first at the Sakhir circuit on Sunday when he led Sergio Perez home in a dominant Red Bull one-two at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The defending double world champion led from start to finish, bar the pit stops, to establish himself as a strong favorite for a third consecutive drivers’ crown this year.
It was his first win in the Gulf state at the 10th attempt.
Behind the two Red Bulls, two-time champion Fernando Alonso continued to make light of his 41 years by storming his way to a rousing third place for Aston Martin in his first appearance with the team since succeeding the retired four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.
It was his record-increasing 356th race in Formula One in a career that started 22 years earlier, to the weekend, in Melbourne at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.
Fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who he passed in a late scrap for a podium finish, finished fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Lance Stroll, racing in the second Aston Martin just weeks after cracking both wrists and breaking a toe in a pre-season cycling accident.
George Russell took seventh for Mercedes ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo, Pierre Gasly of Alpine, who had started last, and Alex Albon who claimed a point for Williams finishing 10th.
Charles Leclerc, who won the race in 2022, failed to finish after engine failure on his Ferrari on the 41st lap.
“Thank you, guys,” said 25-year-old Verstappen. “It’s exactly the start we needed. I had a good start and first stint and then had a gap and just looked after the tires.”
Verstappen made a clean, quick start to pull clear as Leclerc passed Perez for second while, behind them, Stroll hit his Aston Martin team-mate Alonso, under braking at Turn Four.
Both Mercedes had good starts and passed Alonso, Hamilton climbing to fifth ahead of Russell in pursuit of Sainz as Verstappen opened up a commanding lead.
By lap five, he was four seconds clear as Leclerc kept Perez at bay.
Gasly began the pit stops on lap 10, switching his Alpine from softs to hards, followed quickly by Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda with tire degradation taking early effect.
Hamilton pitted from fifth on lap 13, prompting a classic scrap as Alonso battled past Russell to regain his original grid slot and climb to third when both Ferraris pitted. Russell followed.
Verstappen came in a lap later, switching to more softs and handing the lead to Perez, while luckless Australian rookie Oscar Piastri’s McLaren debut ended early with electrical problems.
The champion re-joined in second place and regained his lead on lap 18 when Perez pitted, elevating Leclerc to second until the Mexican passed him into Turn One on lap 26.
Hamilton pitted again on lap 31, for more hards, followed by Sainz and Russell, as the leaders prepared for their final stint while, at the back, a beleaguered Esteban Ocon of Alpine, hit with three time penalties for minor infringements, stopped again.
Perez and Verstappen then completed their second stops, the Dutchman re-joining with a 12-second lead.
Leclerc’s Ferrari lost power on the straight. He parked it safely, prompting a brief virtual safety car intervention, with 15 laps remaining, handing Red Bull the prospect of a cosy one-two, 23 seconds clear of third-placed Sainz in the second Ferrari.
“No, no, no,” wailed Leclerc. “Come on! What happened, guys? No power.”
All this left the two Spaniards scrapping for third, the old master squeezing through on lap 45 after the pair appeared to touch in a frantic and dramatic tussle ahead of the watching fifth man Hamilton.