Red Bull and Verstappen began the 2023 F1 season in dominant fashion. Can anyone beat them in Jeddah? Here’s what to watch out for – and who to back – at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
For the second round of the 2023 season, Formula 1 is in Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The Jeddah Corniche Circuit is the fastest street track on which F1 has ever raced and has produced two action-packed races since joining the calendar in 2021.
With its high speeds and close walls, it’s no surprise that yellow flags and Safety Cars are common in Saudi Arabia. There have been eight caution periods so far in the two races at the circuit; almost all of them being the result of crashes or debris. High winds – which are expected this weekend – can also increase the jeopardy, with the cars being thrown off line through the track’s already challenging corners.
Races in Saudi Arabia can be unpredictable, with the driver who has led the most laps of the Grand Prix having failed to win in either race at the track. Max Verstappen led the most laps in the inaugural race but was beaten to the line by title rival Lewis Hamilton, while Charles Leclerc commanded the field for the majority of last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix only to lose the lead in the closing stages to Verstappen.
Two out of two for Verstappen?
Max Verstappen and Red Bull were in peerless form at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. Pre-season, it was expected that Red Bull would enjoy an easy run to championship success in 2023 and the race did little to counter those expectations. Verstappen won the race by 12 seconds from his team-mate Sergio Perez.
Another 1-2 result seems likely at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – though it should be noted that successive 1-2 results is a feat which Red Bull have achieved only once previously in their entire history, back in 2009. It’s an eye-catching statistic, given Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber’s successful partnership from 2009 to 2013.
Having won last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Verstappen knows what it takes to win at Jeddah Corniche Circuit. The Dutchman is yet to take pole here, however. He crashed out in the final stage of qualifying in 2021 and Perez beat him to pole position last season, where he ultimately lined up only fourth on the grid.
Red Bull are the obvious choice for victory this weekend – but choosing which of their two drivers will take the win may be trickier than it first appears. Perez was in great form here last year but was unlucky not to convert his maiden pole position into a win, being the victim of a poorly timed Safety Car which impacted his race strategy and saw him finish only fourth. Perez will bring you a greater return if he’s successful over his team-mate in Saudi.
Max Verstappen to win the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix1/2
Red Bull Winning Car1/6
Will fragile Ferrari be faster in Jeddah?
In 2022, Ferrari’s season began with a 1-2 finish. That’s in stark contrast to how their 2023 season began, with Carlos Sainz bringing home fourth place, while Charles Leclerc retired with mechanical woes. There’s further bad news for Ferrari fans, with the team having confirmed that Leclerc will take a 10-place grid penalty this weekend. Taking engine-related penalties in the second race of a 23-race season does not bode well for the year ahead…
Nevertheless, there were some signs of hope for the Scuderia at the season-opener. In qualifying, the team were second fastest, with Leclerc’s fastest time three tenths away from Verstappen’s pole lap. Leclerc powered ahead of Perez at the start of the race and was able to stay there until Lap 25.
Ferrari clearly have some good speed in the SF-23 and Saudi’s long straights could be a good opportunity for their car to come alive. Had Leclerc not been set back by a 10-place penalty, it seems highly likely he would be a podium contender this weekend. Instead, it may make more sense to back Sainz for a top three finish. That is, of course, if their fragile machinery can avoid mechanical troubles this weekend.
More Alonso magic on the way?
As I predicted before the Bahrain Grand Prix, the podium at the season-opener consisted of two Red Bulls and Fernando Alonso. One of the highlights of the race was seeing Alonso – after a series of impressive overtakes – return to the F1 podium on his maiden appearance with Aston Martin. The Silverstone-based team clearly have a promising package for this season and surely more big results are on the way for the Spaniard.
Another podium finish would make Alonso only the sixth driver in F1 history to record 100 top three results and that could well be in reach this weekend. Whether or not 2023 will present him with the opportunity to go one better and take his first victory in a decade remains to be seen.
If Aston Martin cannot outpace Red Bull, it may take unusual circumstances for Alonso to be presented with a chance at victory. Jeddah Corniche Circuit seems the type of track where such circumstances could arise.
Aston Martin have never previously scored a point at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, with their mediocre 2021 and 2022 machinery being unable to make its way into the top ten in Jeddah. That will surely change this weekend.
Fernando Alonso Podium Finish8/11
Mercedes’ woes can’t be as bad as last year
It was a disappointing start to the year for Mercedes, who could finish no higher than fifth and seventh at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Still, on the whole, things are not as bad as last year. At the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton recorded a rare Q1 elimination, unable to progress higher than 16th on the grid.
According to qualifying in Bahrain, Mercedes have the fourth fastest car in the early part of the season. A podium finish for either Hamilton or George Russell seems a long shot at this stage; but points are likely.
Lewis Hamilton Points Finish2/9
George Russell Points Finish1/4
Can Williams pick up a point?
While a few teams left Bahrain disappointed with how their weekends turned out, one team who took some confidence from the season-opener is Williams.
Alex Albon remains convinced that he could have reached Q3 at the Bahrain Grand Prix, if not for sustaining front wing damage. Meanwhile, rookie Logan Sargeant impressed on his debut, coming home 12th.
Along with Aston Martin, Williams are one of two teams yet to pick up points at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Three of their four entries have resulted in crash-related retirements, while their only finish so far in Jeddah is a 12th place result for Nicholas Latifi in 2021.
Williams’ 2023 car seems more capable of sticking with the midfield than its recent predecessors and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Albon and Sargeant battling for points as the season progresses.