From some extraordinarily fast vehicles beginning out of place to Fernando Alonso chasing a primary win in a decade, and from a five-team battle for the rostrum to a mixed-up midfield, we’ve picked out some key areas to control when the lights exit on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit…
1. Verstappen and Leclerc out of place
Heading into qualifying, many observers had already assigned pole place to Max Verstappen, such was the tempo benefit he had proven in FP3. He was quickest in all three observe periods nevertheless it was earlier on Saturday when he had gone almost a second away from the primary non-Red Bull automobile.
So when he returned to the pits with a difficulty firstly of Q2 and was unable to set a lap time as a result of a driveshaft failure, it got here as a significant shock. Verstappen will begin from fifteenth place, and he might be joined exterior the highest ten by the motive force who initially certified simply over 0.15s adrift of pole place.
Charles Leclerc went into the weekend understanding he would have a grid penalty as a result of an influence unit part change, along with his prime two qualifying place dropping him to twelfth for the beginning of the race.
READ MORE: Perez storms to pole for Saudi Arabian GP as Verstappen suffers dramatic Q2 exit
Both vehicles are far faster than their grid positions recommend, and Leclerc says he’ll do every little thing the can to placed on a present on Sunday. But it’s Verstappen who’s concentrating on the rostrum from his beginning spot given the tempo he has proven thus far.
Starting within the pack is fraught with hazard, nevertheless, with Verstappen needing to keep away from getting caught up in any incidents and doubtlessly taking a extra conservative method within the opening laps. As qualifying confirmed, there’s no ensures nevertheless fast your automobile is.
2023 Saudi Arabian GP Qualifying: Max Verstappen out of qualifying in Q2 after automobile drawback at Jeddah
2. Can Alonso threaten a win?
Verstappen and Leclerc’s points have opened the door to quite a lot of drivers, not least Fernando Alonso who will begin on the entrance row alongside Sergio Perez. While Perez will look to erase the reminiscence of a yr in the past – when he began on pole for the primary time however was damage by a badly-timed Safety Car after making his first pit cease – Alonso is out to cease him.
The Red Bull is the faster of the 2 vehicles and Alonso is aware of he’s the underdog, however the Aston Martin’s tempo remains to be sturdy sufficient to place up a battle if he can take the lead off the road – and he’s been identified for some speedy launches prior to now.
READ MORE: Jeddah pole-sitter Perez hoping to keep ‘lion’ Alonso at bay as he predicts how much Verstappen can recover from P15
Speaking of the previous, it’s 10 years since Alonso final received a race, when he secured victory within the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix whereas driving for Ferrari, and though he began on the entrance row in Canada for Alpine final yr he hasn’t had a automobile this aggressive for a very long time to try to safe that thirty third victory.
The opening section of the race might be essential to his hopes, as effectively the progress of Verstappen and Leclerc, however it will be some story if Alonso turns into the oldest winner in F1 since Jack Brabham in 1970, who took victory beneath than a month earlier than his forty fourth birthday.
3. A five-team podium battle
We’ve spoken about Leclerc already, however there was a telling quote from him on Saturday evening when he acknowledged Ferrari are “more or less in the same race pace of Alpine, Mercedes and Aston Martin so it should be a good fight”.
Granted, Red Bull might be eyeing the highest step and Verstappen thinks he can get into the highest three too, however that’s 5 groups who all assume that they’ll get themselves onto the rostrum. Alpine are the latest addition to that group after a powerful weekend thus far, and with Esteban Ocon ranging from sixth on the grid alongside Lance Stroll.
READ MORE: ‘I thought it was over’ admits Ocon as he describes ‘pedal to metal’ Q3 lap at Jeddah
Pierre Gasly additionally begins within the prime 10 however maybe the most important battle goes to be between George Russell and Carlos Sainz, lining up alongside one another on row two. Both have comparable race tempo efficiency and Russell is inspired by how snug with the automobile he feels, however in the identical approach Alonso may maintain up Perez if he will get forward firstly, the Mercedes or Ferrari may do the identical to the Spaniard in an identical situation.
It’s so aggressive between all of them that there’s each probability three of the groups might be left dissatisfied come the chequered flag if they don’t seem to be selecting up a trophy.
4. Will there be factors on the desk for the remainder?
Something we highlighted in Bahrain continues to be the case in Saudi Arabia, as there isn’t any clear slowest group within the discipline and the “midfield” now constitutes no less than half of the grid. McLaren hope to hitch the battle additional ahead in time and after a gradual begin to the season they’d an encouraging Saturday as Oscar Piastri reached Q3 and can begin from eighth.
For Piastri to choose up his first factors, he’s seemingly going to want to drive a defensive race as Verstappen and Leclerc may shortly demote him to tenth, and Gasly additionally has sturdy future tempo beginning behind him.
READ MORE: Piastri says maiden Q3 in Jeddah ‘wasn’t expected’ as Norris shoulders blame for Q1 barrier strike
Haas have additionally been engaged on their race efficiency and begin with Nico Hulkenberg in tenth, whereas Williams scored within the season opener and had been dissatisfied to not have a automobile escape Q1 right here.
The drawback all of them face is the truth that if the 5 groups with podium hopes all have clear races, then they may hoover up the entire factors regardless of how aggressive the sector is. But then a clear race has but to be seen in Jeddah…
5. Safety Cars and DRS battles
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit is a large check for the drivers, and one they relish. It’s excessive velocity, excessive adrenaline, however excessive threat. The proximity of the partitions means tiny errors get punished, and there are some slim sections that may set off fierce battles.
On the race’s debut on the calendar there have been two purple flag durations, whereas final yr noticed each a Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car interruption, they usually can all combine up the order as a result of affect on technique.
Not that the order has wanted mixing up an excessive amount of prior to now both, because the structure of the circuit and lengthy DRS sections have allowed lengthy fights to develop, with drivers in a position to overtake one another frequently however not break free in the event that they don’t have a significant tempo benefit.
HIGHLIGHTS: Relive the action from a dramatic qualifying session in Jeddah as Perez seals his second career pole