Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: Breakdown of the Jeddah Corniche, F1’s fast-paced urban circuit

For the third time, Formula 1 is taking to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The sport was on a week’s hiatus after the season opener in Bahrain, where Max Verstappen rode to an easy win, Fernando Alonso grabbed a podium finish and three drivers – McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon – did not finish.

Last year’s GP featured a thrilling battle between Verstappen and Leclerc as the Ferrari driver used the street circuit’s DRS zones as part of his defense against the speedy Red Bull. Whether the Prancing Horse can bounce back in Jeddah after slipping in Bahrain – and considering Leclerc started with a penalty – is just one of the many questions we’re asking ourselves this weekend .

But before we dive into round two of the 23-race schedule, here’s what you need to know about the Jeddah Corniche Circuit – and what to expect this weekend.

key specifications

  • Track length: 3.8 miles
  • Number of rounds: 50
  • Race length: 191.66 miles
  • Lap record: 1:30.734 by Lewis Hamilton (2021)
  • DRS zones: 3
  • First GP: 2021

A about 2022

During the first practice session of last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, a missile fired by Yemeni Houthi rebels hit an oil refinery several miles from the circuit. While smoke was visible in the air, the drivers raised safety concerns about continuing the race and met with team bosses and F1 officials well into the early hours of Saturday morning.

The race went as planned and Red Bull recovered from a shaky start in Bahrain where neither driver finished. Sergio Pérez led both Ferraris in qualifying to take his maiden F1 pole and Verstappen won on Sunday.

A new kind of street circuit

The road course is nestled on the Corniche, a seaside resort in Jeddah on the Red Sea. Tilke, a name well known in Formula 1 for his track designs, was behind the creation of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. Using Google Earth to brainstorm possible track layouts, the company and the F1 Motorsport team not only delivered one of F1’s fastest circuits, but also one of the fastest built.

“We don’t want Mickey Mouse circuits,” said Ross Brawn, former F1 managing director for motor sport, in 2021. “We don’t want those old classic street circuits with 90-degree turns. We want fast, sweeping tracks, tracks that challenge the riders – and they’re going to love it.”

Working to avoid the start-and-stop nature of a routine street circuit, they ended up on an exhilarating 27-turn layout, one of F1’s longest street circuits. A corner is practically a U-turn. And while street circuits like Monaco tend to limit overtaking opportunities, Jeddah allows wheel-to-wheel racing like that seen between Leclerc and Verstappen in 2022.

“It’s a really fun track,” said Lando Norris on Thursday. “Exciting, fast.”

Curvaceous, fast and hopefully safer

If you’re looking to satisfy your need for speed this weekend, look no further. The circuit of Saudi Arabia is known for its speed with cars with an average speed of around 250 km/h and a maximum speed of around 205 km/h. That doesn’t quite match the 263km/h average speeds you’ll see at Monza (aka the Temple of Speed), but it’s staggering compared to Monaco’s famous street circuit, where cars average just over 150km/h are.

Driving so fast through the twisting track along Jeddah’s waterfront requires precision from the 20 drivers and mistakes are the order of the day. The fledgling track already has a reputation for causing accidents, such as Mick Schumacher’s severe crash with the wall in qualifying last season which took him to hospital “for a precautionary check”. He was released soon after, but did not take part in the race.

Following discussions between the drivers, F1 and the FIA, several safety-related changes will be made to the track layout this season, including:

  • Walls have been moved to improve visibility in turns 8, 10, 14 and 20.
  • Rumble lines have been added to Turns 3, 14, 19, 20 and 21 to keep drivers within track boundaries. These are similar to the ridges on the side of the freeway that give you a buzz when you stray on the shoulder.
  • The chicane at Turns 22 and 23 has been tightened, which is expected to reduce speed on this section.
  • The track’s particularly high and steep curbs have been lowered to limit the risk of a driver going too far losing control of his car (as Mick Schumacher did last year, which resulted in him beating against the concrete wall bounced).

some stories

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was controversial given the country’s human rights record and safety concerns raised during last year’s race.

Ahead of the inaugural race in 2021, drivers posed questions on human rights issues as F1 continued its expansion into the Middle East. Bahrain has been on the calendar since 2004, Qatar joined Saudi Arabia in 2021 and the season finale is in Abu Dhabi, where the Yas Marina Circuit held its inaugural Grand Prix in 2009. Qatar and Saudi Arabia in particular are accused of “sports laundry”, the most recent example being the 2022 World Cup. The Houthi rebels’ rocket attack in Yemen in 2022 came two weeks after Saudi Arabia carried out a mass execution of 81 people over been convicted of a number of crimes.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said the day after the missile attack that he felt F1 could “turn the spotlight on what’s happening in the Middle East” by racing there. “I’d rather come here and put the spotlight on the region so it has to be a better place than say I don’t go there and I don’t want to hear about it,” he said.

Despite the circumstances, the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was an exciting race, with Verstappen passing Leclerc with just a few laps to go and finishing half a second clear.

What the drivers are watching

  • Follow development: All tracks get faster as the race weekend progresses as the cars steadily sweep away dirt or sand and apply rubber, both of which improve traction and allow everyone to corner faster. With Jeddah being a night race, drivers will also need to be aware of how the temperature changes from daytime practice sessions through to evening qualifying and how race conditions change. “The track development is enormous,” said rookie Nyck de Vries. “You still have your first practice session in relatively hot temperatures and the track is getting better and better.”
  • No room for mistakes: The fast, winding course leaves little room for error, but taking it slow isn’t enough. “You have to tackle every lap, especially the last attempt in Q1 and also the last one in Q2,” said Zhou Guanyu. “Especially here at the high speed, it could be a bit tricky in the wind.”
  • Track Limits: “Last year the curbs were pretty tricky and dangerous,” Alex Albon said Thursday. But now that it’s safer to drive wide, drivers are more likely to leave the track boundaries (marked by the wide white line) in search of a faster route. “There are ways to take advantage of that,” said Valtteri Bottas, “but they’re pretty well monitored.” Just ask Nico Hulkenberg, who served two time penalties in Bahrain for leaving the track five times.


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