Definitely, the primary two contests on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit haven’t been in need of speaking factors. See Verstappen clipping the wall in 2021 to scupper his hitherto sensational Q3 lap earlier than the title battle with Lewis Hamilton took one other heated flip, because the protagonists repeatedly went wheel-to-wheel between crimson flags earlier than their notorious collision.
Then, final 12 months, after the very credible menace of a driver boycott in response to the close by missile strike was prevented, Verstappen and Charles Leclerc entertained with a second DRS duel scorching on the heels of their spar in Bahrain. That observe document is brief. However the propensity for Jeddah to breed crashes, security automobiles and compelling racing does initially bode properly.
Nonetheless, that promising precedent after all offers nothing in the best way of a assure. Fortunately, although, there are different indicators that Saudi shall be a closer-fought contest on the sharp finish of the grid. As an example, the best way during which Crimson Bull excelled in Bahrain with is likely to be exactly why Ferrari can present a way more credible problem solely a fortnight later.
Crimson Bull was the favorite heading into final season’s Saudi GP. Testing and the opening spherical in Bahrain had revealed that the rebadged Honda engine was working wonders at high pace. Ferrari had the sting below preliminary acceleration, however the RB18 was king of the pace traps. In consequence, the flowing Jeddah avenue observe suited this trait all the way down to the bottom.
However the two groups seem to have swapped locations for 2023. GPS traces from pre-season working and the race at Sakhir reveal that the brand new SF-23 now has the legs over its rival machine in a straight line. In flip, Crimson Bull now has extra fireplace energy out of the slower corners however is relatively out of puff north of 180mph because the Ferrari ultimately drags itself in entrance.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Crimson Bull Racing RB19
Picture by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
To assist the Ferrari trigger, the Saudi lap options three factors the place speeds exceed this determine. That’s based on information from 2022, the primary 12 months of the brand new ground-effects laws. In reality, at its peak, the speedometer will carry on climbing to 196mph. If Ferrari can subsequently make the straight-line effectivity of its automotive pay – both in qualifying or by tucking into DRS vary of the RB19s – then Verstappen and Sergio Perez won’t waltz their solution to an unchallenged 1-2 for a second time in fast succession.
What’s extra, Leclerc breaking down in Bahrain set to at least one aspect, Ferrari was eager to emphasize that it hadn’t totally optimised its SF-23 for the curtain-raiser. That, so the highest brass stated, defined its lack of tempo reasonably than having a essentially worse automotive idea in comparison with Crimson Bull. Though, that imperfect set-up notably got here regardless of all groups coming into the race recent off the again of three days and no fewer than 417 laps of testing on the circuit…
After Leclerc certified zero.292s behind polesitter Verstappen solely to by no means mount a problem for victory earlier than retiring, new Ferrari workforce principal Fred Vasseur stated: “I by no means noticed a automotive to match the tempo of one other one in quali and to not in a position to race. [So] then it is a matter of set-up and a few selections on the automotive. It isn’t a matter of idea in any respect.” He believes the SF-23 already has what it must problem the RB19, and it’s not essentially an inferior design.
By way of refining its set-up to fight Crimson Bull, Ferrari ought to be additional helped by the Saudi asphalt. Or, extra precisely, leaving the Sakhir floor far behind. The comparability usually made in Bahrain was that the Tarmac was about as form to the tyres as working over a cheese grater. The holed floor chewed up the Pirellis.
Max Verstappen, Crimson Bull Racing RB19, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Crimson Bull Racing RB19, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23
Picture by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Crimson Bull and Aston Martin excelled as a result of they managed this the perfect to protect the rubber, whereas Ferrari was partially sunk by its excessive tyre degradation. Granted, this additionally was a weak spot of the F1-75 in 2022, however the Scuderia nonetheless reckons it’ll fare much better this weekend.
Verstappen concedes one thing comparable, too. The 2-time defending champion says: “Saudi is sort of a distinct observe. You’ve much more like straights, quick corners, and quite a bit much less degradation. And I believe [in Bahrain] we had been notably good on the deg. So, I do count on when it comes to race tempo, that everybody is nearer in Jeddah.”
He added: “Jeddah goes to be fairly completely different once more. Our automotive appears fairly robust in excessive pace [corners], however I believe Ferrari is sort of fast on the straight, which in Jeddah, after all, may be very good to have.”
On paper, it does appear to be largely as much as Ferrari to take the combat to Crimson Bull. Whereas Alonso ran early in Q3 in Bahrain to qualify fifth when extra was maybe anticipated of the fast-out-of-the-blocks AMR23, the automotive excels at low pace and below braking however is relatively draggy in a straight line. Though some set-up tweaks can scale back this, Jeddah is just not a observe the place the inexperienced machine is essentially anticipated to excel.
As for Mercedes, over the weekend it wrote a letter to fans to ask for patience with its protracted quest to arrest its ground-effects dip in form. This act was prompted by an uninspiring 5-7 end in Bahrain and suggests the Three-Pointed Star isn’t banking on difficult with its W14 this weekend both, albeit Hamilton is just not anticipated to repeat his dismal 2022 qualifying results of 15th.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W14
Picture by: Erik Junius