Saudi Arabia kicks off a four-race spell of street circuit action for Formula One as the sport's 2023 season continues for Round 2 this weekend.
Saudi Arabia kicks off a four-race spell of street circuit action for Formula One as the sport's 2023 season continues for Round 2 this weekend. The high-speed Jeddah Corniche Circuit has held two memorable Grands Prix in its brief history, and F1 fans will hope its third instalment will see a closer fight for the lead than the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen led a Red Bull 1-2 over the line after the Milton Keynes-based constructor ruthlessly demonstrated their mastery of the current technical regulations. Will it be more of the same for the second Middle Eastern race in a fortnight?
We're only one round into the 2023 season, yet the alarm bells are tolling at Mercedes and Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton has publicly criticised his team's development choices, stating his team didn't listen to his input when designing their latest car. At Ferrari, there's further pain on top of Charles Leclerc's Bahrain retirement — their star driver will take an engine penalty in Saudi Arabia, demoting the Monegasque 10 places from his qualifying result.
All of the above may suggest that Red Bull will have another dominant weekend, but there are indications that Ferrari's 2023 car is far more potent at high speeds than its predecessor. Although the Saudi circuit is a snaking 27-turn run around Jeddah, much of its 3.8 miles are straights or long corners where the Ferrari should excel.
Keep an eye on Aston Martin, too, with the green team needing to establish their incredibly impressive opening performance, where Fernando Alonso took to the podium, is not limited to the Bahrain International Circuit.
The C2, C3, and C4 tyre compounds are available for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, as Pirelli opts to bring the same rubber choices as 2022. The circuit isn't as abrasive as Bahrain, but the tyres spend much of the lap under high lateral loads with almost non-stop cornering.
Although a one-stop strategy is viable for Saudi Arabia thanks to the relatively low degradation, some teams might gamble on safety car appearances. 2021 had six periods where the safety car, virtual safety car, or a red flag slowed proceedings down.
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All signs point to Max Verstappen winning in Saudi Arabia, just as he did in last year's visit. The two-time world champion looks as comfortable as any driver could hope for in his 2023 car, winning easily in Bahrain even when managing his pace.
That suggests Verstappen's only other competitor will be Sergio Perez. A new season is always the time of hope for a number two driver, where they believe they might get closer to their teammate's performance. However, Perez looked to have as many answers to Verstappen's pace in Round 1 as he did in 2022 — in other words, he doesn't have any.
Therefore, Spaniards Alonso and Carlos Sainz might be the only ones capable of stopping Red Bull's momentum. Alonso will hope that Aston Martin's encouraging pace continues, while Sainz is Ferrari's best hope of victory thanks to Leclerc's 10-place grid drop.
The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and George Russell will need to dig deep if they hope to battle for the win. A plucky strategy for Toto Wolff's team should any reg flags or safety cars appear might be all the British pair need to jump to the front.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix starts at 5 PM, a couple of hours later than usual, so you have a little extra time to make the most of your Sunday afternoon before settling in for the race.
Qualifying – On air: 4 PM, Session start: 5 PM Saturday 18th March
Race – On air: 3:30 PM, Session start: 5 PM Sunday 19th March
Qualifying – 8:50 PM Saturday 18th March
Race – 10:15 PM Sunday 19th March
Qualifying & Race – Hot, hot, and hot are the best words to describe F1's weekend in Saudi Arabia. Highs of 32°C are possible for Saturday and Sunday, but with qualifying and the race set for after the Saudi sunset, a 'cooler' temperature in the high 20°Cs is most likely.
There's no rest for the Formula One teams and drivers — the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix is already upon them after a wet trip to Monte Carlo last week. The trip down the Mediterranean coast will see a rather different challenge for the cars at a classic race track following the recent run of street circuits.
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