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Max Verstappen - 2021 Saudi Arabian GP Qualifying, The Greatest Lap That Never Was

Looking back on the god-tier lap Max Verstappen drove in his attempt to capture pole position at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix...right up until the very last corner

by Jethro Noble

Images courtesy of Red Bull Media

n the last five or so years, Formula One could be accused of selling out to the masses. Whether it’s with Netflix’s incredibly popular ‘Drive to Survive’ programme, the circus of the Miami GP and the downfall of the long-standing Brundle grid walk interviews, now being rejected by celebrity security guards all over, it’s hard to argue that watching it as a dedicated motorsport fan is getting increasingly more difficult. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that watching 2-litre 911s from the sixties is much more entertaining, and much better racing than Formula One, which should be the quintessential motorsport.


However, this section of Rush isn’t about debating the current state of affairs in F1, it’s simply a place to celebrate those moments of brilliance from the finest drivers in the business. Thankfully, there are still moments of absolute gold in modern F1 for the die-hard fans out there. There are occasionally nail-biting battles, eye-widening late braking moments and 11/10 qualifying efforts that just go beyond what anyone could think was possible.


One of the brightest flashes of brilliance of recent years came in 2021, at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. It’s the penultimate race of the season, and the two leaders of the title race, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, are right at the pointy end of a monumental season-long battle. Only 8 points separated the pair, so they were both understandably desperate to drive fast.

n the last five or so years, Formula One could be accused of selling out to the masses. Whether it’s with Netflix’s incredibly popular ‘Drive to Survive’ programme, the circus of the Miami GP and the downfall of the long-standing Brundle grid walk interviews, now being rejected by celebrity security guards all over, it’s hard to argue that watching it as a dedicated motorsport fan is getting increasingly more difficult. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that watching 2-litre 911s from the sixties is much more entertaining, and much better racing than Formula One, which should be the quintessential motorsport.


However, this section of Rush isn’t about debating the current state of affairs in F1, it’s simply a place to celebrate those moments of brilliance from the finest drivers in the business. Thankfully, there are still moments of absolute gold in modern F1 for the die-hard fans out there. There are occasionally nail-biting battles, eye-widening late braking moments and 11/10 qualifying efforts that just go beyond what anyone could think was possible.


One of the brightest flashes of brilliance of recent years came in 2021, at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. It’s the penultimate race of the season, and the two leaders of the title race, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, are right at the pointy end of a monumental season-long battle. Only 8 points separated the pair, so they were both understandably desperate to drive fast.

This desperation culminated in what many have dubbed ‘the greatest lap there never was’. Lewis had a very good lap, with virtually zero errors and enough pace to put his Mercedes W12 on pole.  Max was clearly aware that he potentially had his first title on the line, and he knew that he really needed to leave everything on the Saudi Arabian asphalt if he wanted to start the race at the top of the grid.


If the first corner of his fast lap attempt was some indication of what was to come, you know it’s going to be an 11/10 lap as he twitches on corner exit, so close to the wall that it leads David Croft to question whether or not he actually made contact. Everyone knows that if he manages to make it stick then there’s no question he’s sitting on pole.


What followed was agonisingly close to being the best display of outright pace that F1 has seen for years, a real Senna-esque effort. Every single corner was millimetrically perfect, grazing the walls on exit, every braking zone delayed for another few metres before putting the anchors out and each gear change seemingly timed by the fleshy version of a robot.

This desperation culminated in what many have dubbed ‘the greatest lap there never was’. Lewis had a very good lap, with virtually zero errors and enough pace to put his Mercedes W12 on pole.  Max was clearly aware that he potentially had his first title on the line, and he knew that he really needed to leave everything on the Saudi Arabian asphalt if he wanted to start the race at the top of the grid.


If the first corner of his fast lap attempt was some indication of what was to come, you know it’s going to be an 11/10 lap as he twitches on corner exit, so close to the wall that it leads David Croft to question whether or not he actually made contact. Everyone knows that if he manages to make it stick then there’s no question he’s sitting on pole.


What followed was agonisingly close to being the best display of outright pace that F1 has seen for years, a real Senna-esque effort. Every single corner was millimetrically perfect, grazing the walls on exit, every braking zone delayed for another few metres before putting the anchors out and each gear change seemingly timed by the fleshy version of a robot.

Now we all know the outcome, Martin Brundle saying that “he has been mighty through this section of the race track, and at the moment it’s sticking for him” seems a bit like he’s spelling fate. A few corners later, and it’s obvious that Verstappen is pushing hard: “Verstappen knows this is it, this is the lap of the weekend.”


The coverage of the lap still gives me goosebumps every time I watch it on YouTube, and an immense sense of disappointment as the Pirelli’s don’t stick on the final corner, tapping the wall with just enough force to disable the Redbull car. Lewis Hamilton, with a time of 1:27.511, had secured the advantage. The Brit would win the race that weekend, but Verstappen would go on to secure his maiden World Drivers Title in controversial fashion a few weeks later at Abu Dhabi.


So say what you like about modern F1 and its exploits on and off track, but when the sport’s fastest drivers are let loose on an empty track and baited with a championship victory, they don’t half put on a show.

Now we all know the outcome, Martin Brundle saying that “he has been mighty through this section of the race track, and at the moment it’s sticking for him” seems a bit like he’s spelling fate. A few corners later, and it’s obvious that Verstappen is pushing hard: “Verstappen knows this is it, this is the lap of the weekend.”


The coverage of the lap still gives me goosebumps every time I watch it on YouTube, and an immense sense of disappointment as the Pirelli’s don’t stick on the final corner, tapping the wall with just enough force to disable the Redbull car. Lewis Hamilton, with a time of 1:27.511, had secured the advantage. The Brit would win the race that weekend, but Verstappen would go on to secure his maiden World Drivers Title in controversial fashion a few weeks later at Abu Dhabi.


So say what you like about modern F1 and its exploits on and off track, but when the sport’s fastest drivers are let loose on an empty track and baited with a championship victory, they don’t half put on a show.

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