GPR Awards – 2021 Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

“A strange game – the only winning move is not to play” – The computer from WarGames

“Just what is going on in Jeddah tonight?” – David Croft, Sky Sports F1 Commentator

While a Formula 1 season hasn’t been this tight going into the closing round in a long time, it is also true that the on-track performances and the off-track decisions have been so shockingly, publicly dreadful. As the title duo of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battled it out – literaly – to take yet another 1-2 (in another HAM-VER-BOT podium), the real story of the first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is far different from normal, and dripping at every point with pure grim rejectdom. Without further ado, let’s go:

The 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix itself wins Reject of the Race award for a shocking state of affairs all weekend

Indeed, it was shockingly awful, not just from the time of the grand prix, but in everything leading up to it. From the very announcement of the circuit onto the Formula 1 calendar, heads were turned and collars were tugged. Saudi Arabia, a country more know for its brutal treatment of women, non-believers of the state-enforced religion, and indeed anyone publicly defying the enforced cultural dogma, than motorsport, were accepted to host their own grand prix for the 2021 season and beyond. Indeed, the stands were, for all intents and purposes, empty at Jeddah.

A racetrack and Grand Prix written in the history books for all the wrong reasons.

A racetrack and Grand Prix written in the history books for all the wrong reasons.

People questioned, rightly, not only the wisdom of hosting an international motorsport event in the petrostate, but also the wisdom of the organisers, who left it so late in finishing the race track that it makes a mockery of the FIA’s circuit grading system. The track was announced as a street circuit, despite being entirely built from scratch. The whole thing was a rush-job, being accepted only through obvious backdoor payments. Press agents, upon arriving on Thursday, showed on social media that, despite the unconvincing lies, even the floorboards of the paddock complex were breaking underfoot, and questions were rightly raised as to the suitability of it all.

And this is not to speak of the layout of the circuit and its safety therein. Consisting of an endless string of fast blind corners taken flat-out by the drivers, accidents were inevitable. It is a grim fact that the racing community were lucky when Enzo Fittipaldi’s stomach-clenching crash with Théo Pourchaire, which fractured his right heel, was the worst of the accidents seen over the course of the weekend. Any and every crash brought a grimace, and for that reason alone the end of the race could not have come soon enough.

However, blame for the disaster that was the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix lies not just at the foot of bigoted demagogues and FIA pigs at the trough, but also at the participants in The Show of what, this author will remind the reader, was a Formula 1 race. The driving standards from the top two were atrocious, and really brought into question (if it wasn’t already under question) the concept of F1 being at the highest echelon of motorsport.

Max Verstappen seems intent on ruining any and all favour bestowed upon him by the F1 community by continuously acting in heinous disregard for the rules. Twice he cut the first corner in battles with his title rival Lewis Hamilton, and both quite clearly purposefully. Having been set free by the precedent set at Interlagos, he has had free rein to jettison every remaining rule of driver etiquette, and along with Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, to burn every bridge open to them. Hamilton, who has hardly been the protagonist of the story given his antics at Silverstone, now seems ironically a mature, composed, and clear personality in comparison come the end of the year. Almost every fan expects a collision at the finale, and one wonders whether the season itself won’t be decided in the FIA’s Parisian palace on the Place de la Concorde.

Verstappen's driving was under scrutiny of the stewards during the Saudi Grand Prix. Photo: LAT Images

Verstappen’s driving was under scrutiny of the stewards during the race. Photo: LAT Images

There were crashes up and down the field, with Pérez, Russell and Schumacher all being involved in heavy crashes, to say nothing of Mazepin getting caught in the restart ruckus. Race control seemed to have no ability to decide (a common feature this season) between the level of seriousness they should apply, and safety cars became red flags, which only incited further incident up and down the field.

When the going really got tough, and particularly when dealing with the championship rivals, it seemed that Masi and the stewards were totally (and it remains scary to imagine that it was purposefully) ineffectual. Firstly, Masi attempted bargaining with the Red Bull camp, which appeared to work when Verstappen overtook by cutting the corner. Then in the closing stages of the race, Max kept his position by cutting the corner yet again and almost driving himself and Lewis straight into the wall.

Then the two did collide. In a monumental cock-up of communication, Red Bull were informed to give the place up, and proceeded to do it immediately in a “strategic location”. Hamilton, not having been informed, drove straight into the back of Verstappen and shed debris all over track. Verstappen then did what Hamilton did at Spa in 2008 by blatantly “not really” giving the place back. For all these things, as well as attempting to run Hamilton off the road a third time, awarded Max a five-second penalty, which for every single demeanour combined seems like nothing at all. Further penalties were ratcheted up long after the drivers had stood around moping post-race, and none had any effect on the result.

What else was missed? The unexplained delay times, perhaps, whereby many of the feeder series events and races were withheld without a legitimate given reason. Perhaps one could mention the inability of marshals to remove cars, either through the nature of the circuit or their own lack of training. Or perhaps even the continuing misadventures of Yuki Tsunoda, who wasted (another) chance at points by clumsily destroying Sebastian Vettel’s race after the latter had already passed him.

Other on-track action almost feels irrelevant when compared with what has already been said. After all, it is again difficult to calculate what was rejectful, when the audience were not treated to seeing anything at all bar the top two positions. The entire duel between Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon was missed until Bottas took the position on the line. Much of the action was left for replays, such as when outgoing old man Kimi Raikkonen decided to emulate Tsunoda by also trying to take out Vettel, in what was a very bizarre ride over the kerbs.

To sum up, calling the entire weekend a farce is a cruel and crucial understatement. When Spa came along – a race whereby the organisers deliberately held a fake two-lap race just so they wouldn’t have to refund the loyal fanbase who had turned up to watch – people said it was the worst F1 race ever. We should not be having this discussion more than once a decade, never mind twice in the same year. It made Formula 1 look like “a pack of arseholes” and any semblance of sportsmanship or integrity at the front left a long time ago, and that is where this award ends. The entire weekend, nay the Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia and everything associated with it, is the reject of its very own race.

Esteban Ocon, cruelly robbed of a podium, takes Infinite Improbability Drive  of the Race

Although it might be a footnote in the end, it is still worthwhile to take any positives we can out of an awful event. Esteban Ocon, who as noted above got pipped at the post by Bottas for third, had a clean race all weekend. His performance could have got him on the rostrum, and it would have given a second consecutive podium after he and the whole team seem to have worked something out by season-end. Taking chances on the restart, he did very well and proved why he could be the star driver Alpine think he is.

Esteban Ocon might have lost out on the podium in the final moments of the race, but his drive was still worthy of praise. Photo: Moy / XPB Images

Esteban Ocon might have lost out on the podium in the final moments of the race, but his drive was still worthy of praise. Photo: Moy / XPB Images

Antonio Giovinazzi, so used to embarrassing himself and ending up on ROTR nomination posts, did comparatively well in Jeddah to gain a 9th place. He got through to Q3 and spent a portion of the race as high as 7th. It was a reasonable performance ordinarily, and a great one considering the chances Alfa have had. One wonders whether the Italian would retain his seat if he had drove at this performance before now. One also can’t help but wonder what the Alfa officials think of George Russell’s fake Spa podium and how that has scuppered their chances for 8th in the constructors’ championship.

Full Results

REJECT OF THE RACE INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE
The Entire Weekend 16 (64%) Esteban Ocon 18 (75%)
Max Verstappen 5 (20%) Antonio Giovinazzi 6 (25%)
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit 2 (8%)
Michael Masi and Race Control 2 (8%)
Number of votes: 25 Number of votes: 24

Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.

The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.

The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.

2021 Grand Prix Rejects Awards
2021 Bahrain Grand Prix
2021 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix
2021 Portuguese Grand Prix

2021 Spanish Grand Prix
2021 Monaco Grand Prix
2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
2021 French Grand Prix
2021 Styrian Grand Prix
2021 Austrian Grand Prix
2021 British Grand Prix
2021 Hungarian Grand Prix
2021 Belgian Grand Prix
2021 Dutch Grand Prix
2021 Italian Grand Prix
2021 Russian Grand Prix
2021 Turkish Grand Prix
2021 United States Grand Prix
2021 Mexico City Grand Prix
2021 São Paulo Grand Prix
2021 Qatar Grand Prix