Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023: Max Verstappen can lead home Red Bull one-two
15 March 2023
Formula 1’s 2023 season will continue in Saudi Arabia as the second race of the year is set to take place around the high-speed Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
Victorious Verstappen the favourite
Max Verstappen’s quest for a three-peat began in perfect fashion as he followed up his pole position with an emphatic victory in the opening race in Bahrain.
The reigning World Champion was never troubled throughout and he laid down a marker in commanding fashion. It was effectively a continuation of the 2022 season, in which Verstappen romped to a record-breaking 15 race victories from 22 starts.
Teammate Sergio Perez followed Verstappen home in Bahrain to make it the ideal start for Red Bull - its first season-opening win since 2011. The RB19 demonstrated imperious performance despite not being tested to the extreme.
It means Verstappen is the firm favourite to replicate his 2022 success at Jeddah, with the biggest challenge likely to come from Perez, who captured his maiden pole position at Jeddah 12 months ago. He controlled the early stages of that race until an ill-timed Safety Car period skewered his strategy.
Can anyone challenge Red Bull?
Formula 1’s field of 2023 have only one data set – with pre-season testing and Round 1 taking place at the same venue – but Red Bull Racing’s advantage was colossal.
Red Bull locked out the front row of the grid in qualifying (Verstappen ahead of Perez), before the reigning champion comfortably lapped faster than his rivals and won by over 10 seconds.
The highest-placed non-Red Bull car was Fernando Alonso for Aston Martin, who was 38 seconds behind after 57 laps of racing. That equates to an average of two-thirds of a second per lap, an enormous advantage for a single team to possess, with the margin potentially higher had Verstappen needed to push his machinery. Such advantages are highly unlikely to be whittled away any time soon.
On the evidence of Bahrain, a group of teams are fighting for second position. Aston Martin, Ferrari and to a lesser extent Mercedes can all stake their claim to be Red Bull’s nearest, albeit distant, challenger.
Ferrari was second-best in qualifying and looked on course for a podium finish until an engine failure halted Charles Leclerc’s car, while Carlos Sainz was hampered by tyre degradation en route to fourth.
There were long faces at Mercedes amid the acceptance that its current design concept is flawed, meaning it is likely to be a long season for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
The most recent of Hamilton’s 103 wins came in Saudi Arabia in 2021, during the height of his intense title fight with Verstappen, but even finishing on the podium this weekend would be a superb achievement given Mercedes’ situation.
A race of attrition?
Formula 1 viewers have become accustomed to a high finishing rate in recent years, but Jeddah has been an event that has bucked the trend.
Only 15 drivers completed its inaugural race in 2021, while that figure was lowered to just 13 last season from a grid of just 18 due to Yuki Tsunoda’s reconnaissance lap failure and Mick Schumacher’s massive qualifying accident.
The proximity of the walls, allied with the difficulty of removing stricken cars, has led to multiple Safety Car periods, or Virtual Safety Car phases, at both Jeddah races. 2021’s event was stopped twice due to accidents.
It could therefore be a marathon, rather than a sprint, with team strategists having to be on their toes to grasp any last-second opportunity that may fall their way. It could be a day for a midfield team to bide their time, stay out of trouble, and pick up the pieces.
Saudi Arabian 2023 Grand Prix Predictions
Red Bull both cars podium finish @ 1.8
Charles Leclerc podium finish @ 2
15 March 2023