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Verstappen secures first F1 win of 2022 season in Saudi Arabia

A first win of the year for Max Verstappen arrived in Saudi Arabia, getting the Red Bull star up and running for the 2022 season.

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 27: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 27, 2022 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by
Lars BaronGetty Images

Max Verstappen put the frustrations of Bahrain behind him with a superb drive to edge Charles Leclerc for victory at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah on Sunday.

The Red Bull driver and reigning world champion picked up his first points of the F1 season after coming out on top in a pulsating battle with his Ferrari rival.

It marked a return to the podium for the Dutchman after a late mechanical failure denied him a top-three finish at last week's season opener in Sakhir.

Leclerc seized the lead early on from Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez amid a safety car procession, following a crash by Williams' Nicholas Latifi, and looked poised for back-to-back wins after victory in Bahrain.

But amid a thrilling final stretch at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Leclerc was caught on the main straight heading into lap 47 by Verstappen.

Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz came home in third, to leave pole-sitter Sergio Perez fourth, while Lewis Hamilton, who started 15th following a dreadful qualifying session on Saturday, fought through the grid for a points finish in 10th.

After a tumultuous build-up to race day on and off the track, an uncharacteristically sedate start saw the grid mostly hold position in the opening moments.

Verstappen made one of the few jumps, getting the edge on Sainz down to Turn 1, but he was otherwise unable to gain early ground on Perez and Leclerc until Latifi's crash facilitated a reshuffle at the top.

Having maintained a one-second-plus advantage over Verstappen after taking the lead, Leclerc was forced to fight tooth and nail to keep himself ahead of the Red Bull man.

But with just four laps to go, he could not hold on to his slender lead and the Dutchman passed to notch up those first points of his title defence.

01 VERSTAPPEN Max (nld), Red Bull Racing RB18, 16 LECLERC Charles (mco), Scuderia Ferrari F1-75, action during the Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2022
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01 VERSTAPPEN Max (nld), Red Bull Racing RB18, 16 LECLERC Charles (mco), Scuderia Ferrari F1-75, action during the Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2022AFP7 vía Europa Press

Red Bull put Bahrain nightmare behind them

Having seen what looked like a perfect start to the season crumble in the final minutes last time out, it will have been with no small relief that Red Bull team boss Christian Horner saw both his drivers cross the finish line here.

Verstappen showcased exactly why he will be among the hot favourites to defend his world title with a scintillating drive that paid maximum dividends late on, while Perez will surely be able to take positives too, despite slipping down to fourth after a pit stop miscalculation cost him dearly.

Ferrari cement contender status as Mercedes struggle

Having come away with a first one-two since 2019 in Bahrain, the Italian team again outlined why they could pose a serious threat to Red Bull's title hopes this year, with Leclerc and Sainz coming home second and third, with the fastest-lap bonus point for the former to boot.

But alarm bells will surely continue to ring at Mercedes following a difficult weekend for the Silver Arrows. While Hamilton drove superbly to get up to sixth at one point, a late pit stop meant he had to make do with 10th in the end, while George Russell drove a particularly anonymous race to come home fifth.