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 pink flags earlier than their notorious collision.
Then, final yr, after the very credible risk 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 monitor file is brief. However the propensity for Jeddah to breed crashes, security automobiles and compelling racing does initially bode nicely.
Nonetheless, that promising precedent in fact supplies nothing in the way in which of a assure. Fortunately, although, there are different indicators that Saudi might be a closer-fought contest on the sharp finish of the grid. As an example, the way in which through which Purple Bull excelled in Bahrain with is perhaps exactly why Ferrari can present a way more credible problem solely a fortnight later.
Purple 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 prime velocity. Ferrari had the sting underneath preliminary acceleration, however the RB18 was king of the velocity traps. Because of this, the flowing Jeddah avenue monitor 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 operating 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, Purple Bull now has extra fireplace energy out of the slower corners however is relatively out of puff north of 180mph because the Ferrari finally drags itself in entrance.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Purple Bull Racing RB19
Photograph by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
To assist the Ferrari trigger, the Saudi lap options three factors the place speeds exceed this determine. That’s in line with knowledge from 2022, the primary yr of the brand new ground-effects laws. In reality, at its peak, the speedometer will carry on climbing to 196mph. If Ferrari can due to this fact make the straight-line effectivity of its automobile pay – both in qualifying or by tucking into DRS vary of the RB19s – then Verstappen and Sergio Perez won’t waltz their approach to an unchallenged 1-2 for a second time in fast succession.
What’s extra, Leclerc breaking down in Bahrain set to 1 facet, 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 moderately than having a essentially worse automobile idea in comparison with Purple Bull. Though, that imperfect set-up notably got here regardless of all groups coming into the race contemporary 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 staff principal Fred Vasseur stated: “I by no means noticed a automobile to match the tempo of one other one in quali and to not capable of race. [So] then it is a matter of set-up and a few selections on the automobile. It is not 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.
When it comes to refining its set-up to fight Purple Bull, Ferrari ought to be additional helped by the Saudi asphalt. Or, extra precisely, leaving the Sakhir floor far behind. The comparability typically made in Bahrain was that the Tarmac was about as variety to the tyres as operating over a cheese grater. The holed floor chewed up the Pirellis.
Max Verstappen, Purple Bull Racing RB19, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Purple Bull Racing RB19, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23
Photograph by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Purple Bull and Aston Martin excelled as a result of they managed this the perfect to protect the rubber, whereas Ferrari was partly 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 related, too. The 2-time defending champion says: “Saudi is kind of a unique monitor. You’ve much more like straights, quick corners, and loads much less degradation. And I feel [in Bahrain] we have been significantly good on the deg. So, I do anticipate when it comes to race tempo, that everybody is nearer in Jeddah.”
He added: “Jeddah goes to be fairly totally different once more. Our automobile appears fairly sturdy in excessive velocity [corners], however I feel Ferrari is kind of fast on the straight, which in Jeddah, in fact, may be very good to have.”
On paper, it does appear to be largely as much as Ferrari to take the battle to Purple 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 automobile excels at low velocity and underneath braking however is relatively draggy in a straight line. Though some set-up tweaks can scale back this, Jeddah shouldn’t be a monitor 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 shouldn’t be anticipated to repeat his dismal 2022 qualifying results of 15th.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W14
Photograph by: Erik Junius