F1 2023 News, Analysis, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah, Red Bull Racing, Max Verstappen, Ferrari, Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Alpine, Results, Lap Times

It’s in the Middle East and it’s lit up, but Formula One teams face a very different challenge in Saudi Arabia this weekend after opening the season in Bahrain two weeks ago.

The track is super fast and the walls are super close. The risk is correspondingly high.

But after two practice sessions the competitive order looks pretty much the same, at least up front where Red Bull Racing still has its own destiny in its hands – and that of all potential title contenders.

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There is perhaps a single asterisk on the results, and that is that this is the first high-speed, low-downforce track of the year. As it is only the second round, the teams will have used practice as testing sessions as much as they prepared for the race. There could be even more than usual on Saturday – at least some teams are hoping for it.


Max Verstappen’s stomach upset could prove to be the factor on which the entire Saudi Arabian Grand Prix rests.

Had he been too ill to compete, someone else might have had a chance. But after recovering in time to take part in FP1, it looks like the Dutchman will once again dominate the competition.

No one seriously considered the prospect of Red Bull Racing losing top spot at the entirely different Jeddah circuit, with its high-speed sweeps and low tire degradation, but there was hope that the rest of the field could catch up enough to take a to have crack.

That’s true – to a certain extent. The RB19 enjoyed a lead of more than 0.6 seconds per lap in Bahrain. This weekend the gap looks closer to 0.3s – more than enough for another comfortable result.

In other words, the RB19 is basically as commanding as it was two weeks ago, dampening hope that all teams can turn this season into a genuine championship fight.

The reigning Constructors Champion looks comfortable even over a single lap.

Verstappen won both the non-representative afternoon session and the more important evening session on Friday, the latter by a margin of 0.208s over Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin, which separated the Dutchman from teammate Sergio Perez.

But Aston Martin tends to run on less fuel and in a higher engine mode on Fridays. It did in Bahrain and it seems it did the same this weekend.

With Mercedes struggling to get plenty of love from its battered car and Ferrari nurturing motor gremlins, no obvious challenger to the status quo emerged from Friday practice.

Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP
Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFPSource: AFP


The story of the days before Saudi Arabia was confirmation that Charles Leclerc would serve his first engine penalty of the year this weekend, just the second lap of 23.

He blew two electronic control units in his powerplant in Bahrain, the maximum allowed for a single season, and was forced to adopt a third in Jeddah. Even if the team gets to the bottom of the problem – and they have yet to show confidence – the Monegasque will almost certainly need another ECU later in the season, guaranteeing him further penalties down the line.

He’s also already unsealed both batteries for the year, although he hasn’t needed a third yet.

Also of concern is that both Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz also took on new internal combustion engines this weekend, their second of three approved for the year.

Perhaps as a result of the trauma of early unreliability – and there was a brief scare for Leclerc during a start in practice, which must have raised his heart rate – the team ran their units very conservatively throughout practice and skewed performance against it.

This makes the red car more competitive in qualifying. If the gap between Red Bull Racing and Aston Martin widens on Saturday night, Ferrari is likely to slip in between, but telemetry data doesn’t suggest the car will outperform the RB19 in the corners as is. It is therefore difficult to imagine that the SF-23 can suddenly become a contender for the front row.

And despite the low level of tire degradation at this circuit, long-term data still suggests Ferrari is the worst hit by tire wear among the front-runners this weekend, which bodes ill ahead of what is shaping up to be a nailed-on one-stop race nonetheless its high probability of wear and tear in the race.

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images


Aston Martin was impressive by finishing second in the practice pecking order, although on paper this track didn’t suit the AMR23 as well as Bahrain, but telemetry shows it’s still struggling with more drag than the leader Automobile.

All of Alonso’s 0.2 second deficit came in the second half of the lap, which is a long full-throttle blast divided only by two corners. The green car ran out of steam as it hit 300km/h and slowed 12km/h before hitting the brakes for the final corner.

It will be interesting to see if the team decides or is able to trim the wings a bit to be more competitive in qualifying.

But it was that cornering performance that seemed to keep Aston Martin ahead of both Mercedes and Alpine in a thrilling battle for third place.

Both Mercedes drivers, but notably Lewis Hamilton, were disappointed with the car’s lack of improvement this weekend despite the different track configuration.

READ MORE: Hamilton dismisses contract rumors but Merc moves ‘too late’ for title

While George Russell at least put on a brave face after a day of setup experimentation, Hamilton was significantly more uncomfortable in the car and struggled to make the most of it in the twisty first half of the lap. He didn’t run a long-term simulation of more than a few laps, which made reading his pace difficult.

Even more alarming will be that Alpine, having had such a poor weekend in Bahrain, looks set to make good on its threat to move up the pecking order.

In fact, the French team looked more than a match for Aston Martin in the race sims, possibly relegating Mercedes to the bottom of the points-paying positions on Sunday.

Both Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon looked comfortable in the car on the soft and medium tyres, which could also prove to be an advantage given Hamilton’s struggles and Lance Stroll’s ongoing wrist rehabilitation, which means more cars in the fight.

Photo by Lars Baron/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images


McLaren has had a much smoother weekend in Saudi Arabia so far, although it doesn’t look any quicker afterwards.

Woking finished FP2 in 12th with Lando Norris and 19th with Oscar Piastri, the pair separating by just around 0.25s but more than a second behind Verstappen’s benchmark time.

Not only are the top four teams – maybe five now, including Alpine – comfortably ahead, but both Haas and Williams showed strong single lap pace, putting McLaren in a late-qualifying battle with AlphaTauri and likely Alfa Romeo.

McLaren and AlphaTauri in particular are paralyzed by too much drag, which costs buckets of time on the straights. AlphaTauri sees some of that coming back through slow cornering performance, but McLaren doesn’t see any real advantage anywhere on the track.

This lack of efficiency will be due to the fact that development on the current car was halted late last year when the team realized it needed to change development direction. It’ll bite a little less aggressively in Australia before the long-awaited package of upgrades is due to arrive in Baku, where it’s badly needed given Azerbaijan’s high top speed.

Only a superb Norris lap in FP2 saved the team from some blushing – perhaps having a new powerplant fitted this weekend after his pneumatic leak in Bahrain helped a little – and without another one-lap wonder, the two orange cars looked destined to do so to be struggling to escape again this weekend Q1.

Alfa Romeo remains a bit of a mystery after a strong showing in Bahrain. The car was the slowest in FP2 and looked similarly boring in the long-term simulations. Neither rider gave much away after the session, just saying they’ve been experimenting with the setup and expect to make some progress on Saturday, but given the closeness of midfield at this stage of the season it will be more than just a regular Last Friday -night progress to be anywhere near the point this weekend.


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