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After an incredible start to the new Formula 1 season last week, we now head to Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Nicky Haldenby looks ahead to what to expect on just the second visit to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

You can read his season preview here.

Expect the unexpected

The 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be only F1’s second visit to Jeddah Corniche Circuit. The 27-turn circuit is the fastest street track that F1 has ever raced on, with average lap speeds exceeding 155mph. Those speeds on such a tight circuit may sound like a recipe for chaos – and that proved to be the case last year.

Last year’s race had to be stopped twice. The first red flag was shown following a hefty crash for Mick Schumacher, while racing barely got underway again before the race was halted for a second time, this time the result of a crash involving multiple cars.

The 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was the penultimate race of the year, where title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen went wheel-to-wheel as they fought for the championship advantage heading into the final race. Famously, the result of the race left the pair level on points ahead of the title showdown. Hamilton and Verstappen’s battle last year proved that overtaking is very much possible at this track.

Hamilton is the only previous Jeddah winner

Lewis Hamilton won last year on F1’s first visit to Jeddah Corniche Circuit. The race remains Hamilton’s most recent victory. Given the pace of Mercedes’ W13 last weekend in Bahrain, it seems unlikely that he will be in the running for victory on merit in Jeddah.

That being said, Hamilton has a knack of being in the right place at the right time. He was able to salvage a podium finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix, benefiting from the retirements of both Red Bull drivers. Mercedes’ unique car concept for 2022 is certainly interesting and could have real potential to be the class of the field when the team’s teething issues have been ironed out.

Mercedes are the eight-time reigning Constructors’ Champions – surely it’s only a waiting game before they’re challenging for wins once more.

Ferrari on form

It was the perfect start to the season for Ferrari at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ending the second-longest win drought in their history, the Scuderia won for the first time since the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix. Charles Leclerc was victorious from pole position, while team-mate Carlos Sainz finished in second place – meaning the team took the maximum possible score from the weekend.

The omens are good for Ferrari: on the four previous occasions that a Ferrari driver has won the season-opener from pole position, that driver has gone on to win the Drivers’ Championship – and the team has gone to on to win the Constructors’ Championship.

Red Bull were Ferrari’s closest challengers in Bahrain, but both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez faced late race reliability issues. It means Red Bull’s total score after the first race stands at zero. One of Red Bull’s core strengths with the RB18 is its speed in fast corners – and the good news for them is that there are plenty of fast corners in Jeddah. If their reliability holds up, Red Bull could find themselves as the team to beat this weekend.

Can Haas stay in the points?

The feel-good story of last weekend was at Haas, where Kevin Magnussen recorded the team’s best result in almost four years. On his last-minute F1 return, the Danish driver finished a remarkable fifth for the team who finished plum last in the 2021 standings. There’s every reason to believe that Haas will remain strong contenders for points in the opening rounds of the year, even if they get left behind in the development race as the season progresses.

Haas use Ferrari engines in their cars, as do Alfa Romeo – another team who had a great result last weekend. Moving from Mercedes to the Swiss outfit, Valtteri Bottas finished sixth on his first outing with the team, while Chinese rookie Zhou Guanyu scored a point on his Formula 1 debut. They’re another team who could be in for a decent haul of points again in Saudi Arabia.

Will McLaren improve?

While Ferrari-powered teams appear to have taken a step forward, Mercedes-powered teams have taken one step, if not two, back. Aston Martin, McLaren and Williams all failed to score in the Bahrain Grand Prix, marking the first time any of Mercedes’ customer teams failed to score in almost two years.

The biggest surprise was at McLaren. The Woking-based team took a victory last year and were regular podium contenders. At the first round of 2022, McLaren were at the rear of the field. Daniel Ricciardo was only 0.087 seconds away from qualifying on the back row of the grid, while both Ricciardo and team-mate Lando Norris finished well outside the points. With some serious downforce issues on the MCL36, you can expect another tricky weekend for McLaren on Jeddah’s
fast street circuit.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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