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Formula 1 Preview: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina

Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

We’ve barely had a chance to breathe since the season opener in Bahrain, and yet here we are again in Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. It was a fairly slow start to proceedings on track at least, but the interwoven storylines off track are keeping F1 fans absolutely hooked. With team dynamics shaken up and down the grid, let’s see what mayhem will unfold in Saturday’s race.

Circuit Guide

Credit: Formula 1

The Jeddah Corniche Circuit turned heads when it hosted its inaugural F1 race in 2021, as the fastest street circuit ever built. Cars fly around the circuit with average speeds of around 250 km/h (roughly 155 mph), which would make it the fastest track on the calendar if it weren’t for Monza, ‘The Temple of Speed’ itself.

The drivers have to lock in for the whole race with no lapses of concentration at all to navigate each of the 27 corners, the most of any track on the calendar. Lastly, three DRS (Drag Reduction System) zones make overtaking an ever-present possibility, and leading to tactical timing of overtakes to gain the biggest advantage over your rival.

Weekend Format

This Sunday marks the beginning of Ramadan, so as with last weekend, the schedule is shifted back by a day to compensate for this.

Schedule (in BST)

Practice 1 - Thursday, 13:30 pm

Practice 2 - Thursday, 17:00 pm

Practice 3 - Friday, 13:30 pm

Qualifying - Friday, 17:00 pm

Race - Saturday, 17:00 pm

Weather Forecast

Much the same as in Bahrain, rain is not going to be an issue for the teams to contend with, while sweltering temperatures are forecast.

Major Talking Points

  • Tension at Red Bull - Chaos reigns among the Red Bull higher-ups at the moment, as Jos Verstappen has called for team principal Christian Horner’s sacking following allegations against him from a female Red Bull employee, while Max Verstappen has even been touted with a move to Mercedes. Can the team get their heads down and perform even under this internal pressure?

  • McLaren vs Mercedes - We were treated to a first taste in Bahrain of what could be a season-long battle between these two teams, and with their cars seeming pretty similarly ranked, will we see more thrilling racing action between them on Saturday?

  • Alpine Horror Show - An absolutely catastrophic start to the season for Alpine saw Technical Director Matt Harman and head of Aerodynamics Dirk de Beer resign from their positions, so can anything be rescued from this season, perhaps starting with a step forward in Saudi Arabia?

The Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Years Gone By

Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

2021 saw the first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Formula One, and what an introduction it had. With the championship hanging on a knife edge between fierce rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, a controversy-filled race eventually saw Hamilton outdo his foe, and leave the pair on equal points heading into a nail-biting finale in Abu Dhabi.

The following year, we got to sit back and watch a thrilling clash between Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, as they fought strategically with the DRS until finally Verstappen managed to edge past the Monegasque driver and take victory by 0.5s.

Most recently in 2023, Red Bull flexed their muscles as Sergio Perez converted pole to victory, while Verstappen eased past most of the field to take P2 from P15 on the grid. Fernando Alonso enjoyed his day as well, claiming the 100th podium of his illustrious career.

Last Race Recap

The Bahrain Grand Prix was a fairly ominous sign of things to come in 2024, as Verstappen turned a commanding pole position into a dominant victory. Perez fulfilled his role to make it a 1-2 for Red Bull, while Carlos Sainz channelled his disappointment at losing his seat for next year into an impressive podium finish ahead of his teammate Leclerc, who suffered from reliability issues.

Mercedes and McLaren seemed fairly indistinguishable in terms of overall pace as they filled out the next four positions, while Lance Stroll recovered from a first corner collision with Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas to take a double points finish for Aston Martin, alongside the experienced Alonso.

The two RBs of Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda had a fairly heated ongoing dispute concerning team orders as they fought for pride outside the points, and the drama continued past the chequered flag as both drivers made their feelings for the other known.

The two Alpines could only make it P17 and P18, after a dismal qualifying session which saw the pair share the back row of the grid.

Drivers to Watch

Credit: TOLGA BOZOGLU/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Sergio Perez - Now or Never

The Mexican driver made the Jeddah Corniche Circuit his stage last year, pulling out all the stops to maintain an impenetrable gap to his teammate behind, but unfortunately the rest of the season didn’t really go his way.

2024 may be his final chance for a shot at the World Championship, and the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is the perfect chance to equalise the points between him and Verstappen at the top of the standings, before the Dutchman disappears off into the distance.

Esteban Ocon - Project Recovery

The Alpine driver has always run well here in Saudi Arabia, finishing in 4th, 6th, and 8th place in the previous three Saudi Arabian Grands Prix.

However, the circumstances are different this year, as his team have endured a nightmare start to the campaign and find themselves very much at the bottom of the pecking order. So, it falls on Ocon to capitalise on his good form in Jeddah and achieve a much-needed result to get the team firing again, and hopefully try to make something out of the 2024 season.

Marcus’ Predictions

Anything other than Verstappen cruising to the chequered flag on Saturday would be greatly optimistic, but the fight behind could heat up, especially on a track such as the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

I could see another Red Bull 1-2, but with everything so tight behind them, a Lando Norris podium could be on the cards. I’ll predict Aston Martin to have a dreadful weekend, and Ocon to capitalise on their misfortune and claim a point for the Alpine team.

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