The 2021 F1 season is one for the ages while the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be remembered as one of the most chaotic races of all time.
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are racing wheel-to-wheel at every circuit and as the season approaches its climax their battles are becoming more ferocious with every passing event.
The Mercedes driver came out on top in Jeddah after an incredible battle in which he and Verstappen were involved in a number of incidents which saw the Dutchman suffer two time penalties.
They will now head into the final race in Abu Dhabi level on 369.5 points with Hamilton needing to finish ahead of Verstappen to win his record eighth championship.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at eight things we learned from a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that will live long in the memory.
Lewis Hamilton secured an incredible victory at the maiden Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Hamilton got the better of his title rival to go level on points heading into the final race
LEWIS HAMILTON’S EXPERIENCE IS PAYING OFF WHEN IT MATTERS MOST
There were several times during the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton could have lost his head in the heat of his tense and messy battle with Max Verstappen.
On two separate occasions he passed Verstappen only for the Dutchman to re-take the position of track. The first led to some bizarre negotiations between Red Bull and the FIA to place Verstappen behind Hamilton on the restart after the second red flag. Verstappen was then handed a five-second penalty the next time it happened.
Then there was the collision on lap 37 which both drivers were lucky to continue through when Hamilton hit the back of Verstappen who was trying to let him past.
Hamilton’s decision to slow down and not pass Verstappen straight away was strange but it was the Red Bull driver who was found guilty for the collision after applying his brakes with the Brit directly behind.
Victory for Verstappen would have given the Dutchman a huge advantage for the final race
In all this, victory was essential for the seven-time world champion. A win for Verstappen would have meant the Red Bull driver could have claimed the title in Abu Dhabi even if he finished third.
Hamilton was eventually let through and roared on to take victory with the fastest lap, meaning he is now level on points with his title adversary.
Much like Brazil when he was forced off by Verstappen, he kept his composure to come through and take the victory in what could prove to be the pivotal race of the entire season.
He has faced many challenges in his 15 seasons in the sport and his experience is paying off when it matters the most. It’s for this reason he heads into Abu Dhabi as the favourite to win the title.
Hamilton kept his cool in the midst of a ferocious battle to take one of his biggest wins
MAX VERSTAPPEN WILL WIN AT ALL COSTS
It will be a bitter pill to swallow for Verstappen if he fails to take the crown in 2021.
Verstappen lost a deserved win in Baku with a puncture, was caught up in the pin-ball incident caused by Valtteri Bottas in Budapest and was unfortunate to be taken out at the British Grand Prix in his collision with Lewis Hamilton, who somehow was able to continue and take victory.
But as the season reaches its climax with Mercedes now overtaking Red Bull as the quickest car and Hamilton finding his groove, Verstappen is driving like a man that is feeling the pressure.
It showed in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix when he was on one of the laps of his life only to crash at the final corner when he looked certain to get pole position.
His driving when going wheel-to-wheel with the Brit has appeared desperate in recent races and he was handed a 10-second time penalty for essentially brake-checking Hamilton in Saudi Arabia.
Verstappen was found to be the guilty party for his collision with Hamilton on lap 37
The stewards said Verstappen ‘slowed significantly at Turn 26’ but that it was ‘obvious’ that neither driver wanted to take the lead ‘prior’ to the DRS line so they would get the speed benefit down the main straight.
Verstappen told the stewards he was unsure why Hamilton had not overtaken him, while Hamilton said he was not aware that Verstappen was handing him the place back.
But the decisive point for the stewards was that Verstappen’s sudden braking move resulted in 2.4g deceleration, which they deemed to be ‘erratic and hence the predominant cause of the collision’.
The 24-year-old has driven beautifully for the majority of the season but it’s clear that he needs to keep his cool in Abu Dhabi if he stands any chance of winning the title.
Recent messy races, however, suggest Verstappen will win at all costs in his effort to accomplish his dream.
Verstappen’s inexperience in title fights is showing against the seven-time champion
NEW SAUDI CIRCUIT NEEDS REFINING
There was concern over the readiness of the new Saudi Arabian F1 track after images showed just how much construction work was still ongoing at the circuit just a week ago.
In terms of on-track action the race certainly delivered but there is room for improvement ahead of next year’s race.
Crashes, safety cars, virtual safety cars and possibly a red flag were expected with the nature of the circuit, but the stop-start feel was a little bit too much and detracted from the spectacle.
Ahead of the race Sergio Perez described the circuit as ‘unnecessarily dangerous’ due to its flat-out swooping characteristics, with barriers close to the circuit and a number of blind apexes.
George Russell retired from the race after Nikita Mazepin’s Haas smashed into the back of him
George Russell retired from the race after taking evasive action following a collision between Sergio Perez and Charles LeClerc, only to catch out the Haas of Nikita Mazepin, who smashed into the back of the Williams.
After the race, Russell said: ‘You can’t blame anyone for trying to make an incredible racetrack and ultimately, that’s what they achieved.
‘But I think nobody foresaw what was about to happen with all of these blind corners.
‘In my opinion, track changes are needed. You’ve got so many of these small kinks that are totally unnecessary.’
Those comments will give race organisers something to think about as the F1 circus returns to Saudi Arabia in just three months time.
Mazepin’s team-mate Mick Schumacher also crashed out, which brought out the first red flag
MERCEDES ARE IN THE DRIVING SEAT
Red Bull’s dreams of winning their first constructors’ championship since 2013 were all but crushed in Saudi Arabia.
Sergio Perez was unlucky to get caught up in a collision with Charles LeClerc and his retirement means Red Bull now have a 28-point deficit to make up on Sunday.
Mercedes need just 17 points in Abu Dhabi to guarantee themselves their eighth consecutive championship.
Momentum is clearly on their side with Hamilton taking three consecutive wins for the first time this season.
Sergio Perez’s retirement looks to have all but handed Mercedes the constructors’ title
He needs to simply finish ahead of Verstappen to surpass the record he currently shares with Michael Schumacher in terms of championships.
Yet this season, with Verstappen having won more races, Mercedes were considered to have the inferior car until a recent series of engine changes.
Mercedes now have the power advantage over Red Bull, who are struggling to keep up on long straights.
That’s good news for Hamilton and Mercedes going into the final race, with the Yas Marina circuit having a number of long straights for them to make use of their powerful engines.
Red Bull have a lot to think about as they look to salvage the drivers’ championship
UNLUCKY ALPINE ARE FINISHING STRONGLY
Esteban Ocon told Sky Sports that he was ‘going to cry’ after he was cruelly denied of a podium finish at Jeddah.
The Alpine driver drove a stunning race and could see a podium finish in sight, only for Bottas to drive past him on the run-up to the finish line and take third by a mere 0.102 seconds.
It’s been a mixed year for Ocon and the team, but the Frenchman has finished in the top five in his last two races and is finishing the season strongly.
Alpine have been off the pace at times this season and it’s still crazy to believe that Ocon won the Hungarian Grand Prix in a race where most of the main contenders were taken out of contention at the first corner.
A podium in Saudi Arabia would have been the second in succession for the team, after Fernando Alonso took to the rostrum for the first time in seven years in Qatar.
Recent strong performances from both drivers mean Alpine have pulled away from Alpha Tauri for fifth in the constructors’ championship – giving them some confidence going into the new set of regulations in 2022.
Valtteri Bottas snuck past Esteban Ocon on the run-up to the line to take a last-gasp podium
LANDO NORRIS IS IN A SLUMP
Halfway into the season Lando Norris was running third in the championship after a sensational start to his campaign.
He finished second behind Daniel Ricciardo in a McLaren 1-2 in Italy before he cruelly lost victory in the changing conditions late on in the Russian Grand Prix.
Since Sochi, Norris and McLaren have struggled to find their groove with the Brit now falling to sixth in the championship behind Charles LeClerc in Saudi Arabia.
Norris was unfortunate in the race as he pitted just before the red flag, meaning he lost places to other drivers who could cheaply change their tyres without losing time during the stoppage.
He battled hard for the rest of the race but took just a solitary point.
In fact though he has only scored five points in his last four races, finishing no higher than ninth, when in his first 14 races he finished in the top five on 10 occasions.
Midway through the season there were good arguments for Norris to be the driver of the season.
Norris still has a chance of taking back fifth in the championship, but he could also drop down to seventh as he is only 4.5 points clear of Carlos Sainz, which would be cruel on the Brit after some of his performances this season.
Lando Norris was unfortunate in Saudi Arabia but has taken just five points in his last four races
2021 IS THE CLOSEST CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE EVER
The 2021 season marks the first time that the top two in the championship are level on points going into the final weekend since 1974.
There have been some mega championship battles in the past when you think of James Hunt v Niki Lauda, Alain Prost v Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher v Mika Hakkinen.
But rarely ever have we seen the top two contenders been in direct head-to-head, wheel-to-wheel competition as frequent as this season.
It seems like every race the pair are scrapping at the front and no-one, even their team-mates in equal machinery, can match their brilliance.
It leads up to a thrilling finale where the pair just need to simply beat the other to be crowned champion.
Hamilton has been involved in some close title fights in the past but he has never been pushed to the wire as hard as this in his 15 year career.
While it will be surprising if the 24-year-old Verstappen ever has to contend a title fight as tough as this.
Hamilton and Verstappen have been driving wheel to wheel all year in a thrilling season
DRAMA IS GUARANTEED IN ABU DHABI
Since their first collision at Silverstone, any time Hamilton and Verstappen battle for position something seems to happen.
And with every passing weekend, the racing is becoming more desperate and frenetic, their respective team principals are increasingly at loggerheads and the stewards have not got much rest.
With the way the season is going it appears inevitable that there will be some sort of drama at the Yas Marina circuit whether it’s on-track, off-track or even both.
Mercedes principal Toto Wolff in an interview with Sportsmail back in October suggested that there could be a collision between them if the fight was to go down to the wire.
Hamilton and Verstappen have been involved in a number of incidents this season
They will hope that’s not the case as a collision in which both men failed to finish would mean Verstappen would be crowned champion.
By no means will the Dutchman want to win the championship in that way but in the case of a 50/50 collision he has nothing to lose.
Verstappen can’t win the championship though if he gets a penalty or does anything over the top.
He will need to keep his composure, even if Hamilton is ahead of him, to stand any chance of winning the championship and ending Mercedes’ domination.
Toto Wolff (right) earlier this year suggested they could collide if the fight went to the wire