#1081 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

2022-12-23 00:00

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#2023, Fulvio Conti, Fabio Giardini, Giulia Vergani, Giulia Noto, Laura Ruggieri,

#1081 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

During the weekend from 17 to 19 March, Formula 1 arrives on the Jeddah circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the second round of the 2023 season


During the weekend from 17 to 19 March, 2023, Formula 1 arrives on the Jeddah circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the second round of the 2023 season of the Formula 1 World Championship. The Grand Prix represents the second round of the season, two weeks after the dispute of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the opening round of the Championship. In this second race Scuderia Ferrari will try to redeem itself, after Charles Leclerc's car had to stop during the race in Bahrain. It is precisely the Monegasque driver who will be penalized on the starting grid, as he will be forced to replace mechanical components of the Power Unit, but the Maranello team hopes to still be able to collect a good result with Carlos Sainz Jr. In Jeddah, on the other hand, both Red Bull Racing and Aston Martin hope to confirm the current state of form of the cars and their drivers, while Mercedes will have to manage to pick itself up after a less than happy start from a technical standpoint. For this Grand Prix, Pirelli, the sole tire supplier, offers the choice between C2, C3 and C4 compound tyres, the type of tire that characterizes the central range of the type of tire made available by the Italian company, the same option chosen since the inaugural edition of the Grand Prix in 2021. On the characteristics of the Jeddah circuit and on the prudent choices regarding the tyres, Pirelli Director Mario Isola summarizes the situation and declares:


"For the rapid Jeddah track, we have confirmed the same compound choices as last year as they showed very good consistency throughout the race weekend. In the two races held up to now, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix has been quite unpredictable because of the frequent safety cars and neutralisations, being a typical street circuit. A one-stopper was the fastest option in 2022, when a safety car led to an early pit stop for most of the drivers, who went on to finish the race on the hard tyre. Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc fought hard on this strategy thanks also to the durability of the tyres, with the Red Bull driver winning by less than a second at the end of a great race. The teams will also have to work hard on car setup because they will only have free practice to fine-tune the balance on this track with the latest tyres. The first race in Bahrain was all about traction and braking but Jeddah instead focuses on lateral forces, with completely different characteristics to Sakhir".


On the performance in the first race in Bahrain and expectations in the second race in Saudi Arabia, Mercedes’ Team Principal Toto Wolff says:


"Our performance in Bahrain wasn't where we want it to be. But this is the position we find ourselves in and it is already full steam ahead on the car, understanding it and working to get it in a better place. That's an exciting challenge for all of us.Since Bahrain, we have had open and honest discussions from which we started to plan our fight back. In the short term, leaving no stone unturned in the search for performance. In the longer term, focusing our development to determine how we get to the front. I've already felt the energy and determination in the factory and know that will continue moving forward. Anything can happen in motor racing, so we'll be working in Jeddah to maximise every part of our performance, chasing every point, every position, and every millisecond. That's one of the huge strengths of our driver line-up with Lewis and George. We are racers and giving everything we've got, every time we go on track.This weekend in Saudi Arabia we will learn more about W14, its characteristics and its limitations. It provides a very different test to Bahrain, and it will be interesting to see how the car reacts. We are bringing some small developments to the car: they won't be game changers, but they can start moving us in the right direction. And we'll be pushing as hard as we can to create opportunities, and hopefully will give us a better account of ourselves than in Bahrain".


At Aston Martin, the Spanish driver Fernando Alonso is satisfied with how the car performed in the first race in Bahrain and maintains high confidence to get another good result in Jeddah:


"The car felt very good in Bahrain, and we enjoyed our weekend scoring our first podium of the season. But we have now shifted all our focus to this weekend and Jeddah.It will be a very different challenge there as it is a completely different circuit to what we experienced in the opening race.We spent two weeks in Bahrain, and all became very familiar with the circuit and conditions so the learning curve from this Friday will be a lot steeper.Realistically I do not think it will be until after Australia that we will know better where the overall performance stands, as by then we will have had three very different race weekends on varied circuits in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Australia.Our feet remain on the ground and hard work is needed to maintain this start and try to get another strong result this weekend".


At Ferrari, Frédéric Vasseur, Team Principal, comments on the first weekend of the season in Bahrain and outlines the team's expectations for the Jeddah round:


"We came away from the Grand Prix in Bahrain with a first picture of the strengths and weaknesses of our car and useful pointers for making progress. Comparing the SF-23’s qualifying and race performance, there’s still some room to improve our Sunday performance. We are working well as a team to extract the maximum from our package both in terms of drivability and reliability. We found the cause of the issue that stopped Charles in Sakhir and will use the third CU on his car, which means that we will take a grid penalty.The Saudi Arabian track is very different to Bahrain in terms of layout and track surface, and top speed is particularly important. I’m confident that we can have a better weekend here".


At Ferrari, Carlos Sainz Jr. is confident that the team will be able to have a different weekend than Bahrain:


"I’m confident that we can have a better weekend here in Saudi Arabia than we did in Sakhir,We learned a lot in Sakhir and it was good to finally start the season and get a clear picture of the situation. We weren’t happy with our performance, but since then we have worked hard with the data we gathered and I’m confident we have everything we need to make progress. The team is very solid and focussed and we are clear on the programme ahead of us.I like the track. We know it’s important to do as many laps as possible to have confidence with the walls at this unusual street circuit. From that point of view, tomorrow’s free practice will be particularly important".


Charles Leclerc, despite a start that didn't go as hoped, has found a group unity that goes in the same direction and is confident about the adaptation of the SF-23 on this track:


"There’s no denying the start of the season hasn’t gone the way we had hoped. A retirement in Bahrain and a penalty here is definitely not what we wanted. But when I got back to Maranello after the Sakhir race, I found a united group all pulling in the same direction. It was the atmosphere I was expecting to find and it means I’m particularly motivated for this weekend. I think this track will suit our SF-23 better than Sakhir and the problem that stopped me there has been fixed, so I’m confident that in the race we have the potential to make up places quickly and get up to the front.I expect to be competitive in qualifying and that on Sunday we can be in the mix. The Safety Car often plays its part here and we will have to be brave to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself. Having to come from behind, I’ll be aggressive as is my nature and I hope the long straights will help us out".


At Red Bull Racing, Max Verstappen comments on the characteristics of the Jeddah circuit based on those of his car:


"After a great start in Bahrain I don’t expect it to be an easy task in Jeddah, it is a completely different circuit and needs the car to be quick. Nevertheless, with the high-speed corners, I do believe we can have a strong car around this track. The track changes that have been made are mainly for visibility, so hopefully it has improved things a bit for us drivers, as it was definitely dangerous in some areas. It’s a really cool street circuit, with quite a lot of grip, so I always enjoy going back there to race".


Sergio Perez concludes:


"We have to try and keep the momentum going from Bahrain. There are definitely a lot of improvements we can still do, to try and make our car better. We gathered plenty of information from the first race and we have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. It will be very interesting to see how everyone performs in Jeddah this week, it is a very different track to Bahrain. I am looking forward to going back to this circuit after getting pole in 2022. I was very unlucky last year with the timing of the safety car while leading the race so hopefully it can be my turn to win".


On Friday afternoon, at 4.30 p.m. local time, the sun is still high in the sky not due to set until a little after 6:30 pm local time and it is swelteringly hot. Everyone is ready for the first free practice session, even if it’s a slightly unrepresentative session, being run in the daylight with qualifying and the race both set to start long after the sunset. The Red Bulls are expected to be quick here, while the Ferraris are a slight unknown; Aston Martin should be up there and Mercedes are a mystery still. Before the start of the session the Mercedes team do not confirm the self-certification to be submitted to the Federation that British driver Lewis Hamilton was wearing jewellery, in the form of piercings, chains or metal watches. Hamilton was summoned by the stewards but he doesn’t receive any sanctions. Via his social media account the seven-time World Champion announces that he will no longer be accompanied by long-time trainer and physiotherapist Angela Cullen; she has worked with the British driver since 2016. Going back to FP1, t is to say that this is a busy session, with plenty of laps completed but without incidents nor red flags; the first driver on track is Nyck de Vries: having never raced at this track before he'll be keen to learn from this session; most of the drivers go out on hard or medium tyres before switching to softs towards the end. Max Verstappen comes out on track with soft tyres long after the start of the session and after a few laps, despite complaining about understeer, he sets the fastest time in 1'29"617, followed by Perez in 1'30"100. The Dutchman is the only one to go under the time of one minute and thirty seconds; the time is set after the car's set-up had been lowered: this shows how the reigning World Champion is in great shape (even after suffering in the past days from stomach-ache) and drives a car which is clearly superior to his competitors’ ones. 


The following positions are in pairs: the two Aston Martins, with Alonso ahead of Stroll - who has not yet fully recovered from his injuries - and then the two Mercedes with Russel fifth and Hamilton sixth, both just under a second off the pace. Hamilton, who on this day celebrates 10 years since he made his Mercedes’ debut, remarks he is struggling for grip as rounds the track on softs. The silver arrows seem to have more tyre degradation than expected. The Ferrari finish this session with Sainz in P7 in 1'30"924 and Leclerc just in eleventh position. They opted for a different strategy than the other teams, more focused on finding the right race set-up. Gasly, Albon and Tsunoda close the top ten of this FP1, Esteban Ocon takes P12 for Alpine, ahead of Nyck de Vries in P13, while Oscar Piastri finishes 14th for McLaren. Haas are 15th and 16th with Nico Hulkenberg ahead of Kevin Magnussen. Logan Sargeant is 17th for Williams. Then Valtteri Bottas 18th, 10 years after making his F1 Grand Prix debut, and Zhou Guanyu 19th. Lando Norris finishes the FP1 in last position. The second session of free practice starts at 8.00 p.m. local time, the climate condition have changed a lot since the first session as the sun sets down and the track has cooled off, its temperature being 10 °C lower than it was earlier: this will make a big difference with the tyres management. As the session gets underway plenty of drivers get on track; everyone want to do a lot of laps because they need to fine-tune their set-ups before qualifying, in more representative conditions, and they still need to get more familiar with the track modifications. Max Verstappen continues to set the pace as he leads the timesheets also in this second session in 1'29"603, placing ahead of the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso (just 0.208s behind) and his teammate Sergio Perez. The two Ferraris struggle a little in this session, finishing only ninth and tenth; Leclerc complains a lot about traffic, a common problem in street circuit, but Carlos Sainz Jr. proves to be close to the performance of the Austrian team in the race pace. 


Lewis Hamilton, who won the first race in Jeddah back in 2021, seems less comfortable in the car, being only eleventh, behind the Ferrari duo, after his first run on the soft tyre was impeded by yellow flags. It is also a strong Friday for Alpine, with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly finishing fourth and sixth respectively in the session, with the Mercedes of George Russell between the French pair in P5. It's clear now that the midfield is looking incredibly tight, with Ferrari and Mercedes looking to have their work cut out to get clear of the chasing pack and close up to the front two Red Bulls. Lewis Hamilton, who hasn’t find the right balance with the car yet, declares: 


"I struggled in both sessions today, but we completed the run programme we had and tried to learn as much as possible. We will continue to go into the details overnight and focus on improving the balance of the car to make it easier to drive. It's a tough car to drive but I know everyone is working so hard at the factory. It won't be solved overnight and will take some time, so we just have to be patient and give it everything we can here at the track".


George Russell seems more confident about the possibility of extracting the maximum potential from the car: 


"We gathered plenty of data to go through tonight. We will be aiming to maximise the package we have got and get the set-up in the sweet spot. As much as we would love to, given all the hard work everyone is putting in, we know we won't find one second overnight. Red Bull are clearly out in front, but we are learning lots about our car. These learnings will help us in both the short and medium-term. As is always the case in practice sessions too, we're not sure what power modes everyone was running so we will know more tomorrow".


Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director, adds: 


"After Bahrain, we came here with realistic expectations. While the team back in the UK is working hard on developing us to a better place, our focus has been to maximise the potential of what we currently have. There were a couple of scheduled upgrades that look to be working OK but while taking us in the right direction, they are not a huge step. The sessions themselves went smoothly; we were struggling with the front end in the first session and may have over-corrected for the second session. Nevertheless, we've got plenty of information to pick through to work out the setup for tomorrow. The pace when we get the lap together didn't look too bad, but the car hasn't been easy enough to drive so that's something we'll look to improve tomorrow ahead of qualifying".


Max Verstappen, who currently doesn’t seem to have strong contenders in the world title fight, declares:  


"I am feeling a lot better after a few rough days of illness, it wasnt nice but I am feeling good now. Today out on track was about finetuning things, we had a positive day but there are still quite a few things we can do better. On the long runs we all seemed fairly close to each other but its more because of managing the tyres because they dont really let you push around here at the moment. With a very low deg circuit then the lap times will always be very close, so it is definitely not going to be like Bahrain".


After a busy day, Sergio Perez seems quite confident with his car performace, beside the mechanical issue:  


"It was all about learning the conditions today. From FP1 to FP2 the track changes a lot, so it was good to test the car in varying temperatures. We had a bit of a mechanical issue, which meant there was slight inconsistency and we couldn’tt get a proper read, but were confident we can sort it out before tomorrow. Once we fix that, it will hopefully bring us even more pace, but generally the performance is there as expected. Im sure our rival teams will work hard overnight to close the gap and we look forward to a competitive showing tomorrow".


Fernando Alonso, after an incredible start to the season and a podium in the first race, can only be happy with his car:


"It has been a strong day for us as we continue to learn about this car. We knew that Jeddah would present different challenges to Bahrain and it is almost like a second test here for everyone this weekend. Overall, the day went smoothly for us as we are trying to optimise the setup and adjust to the high-speed nature of this circuit. We have a lot of data to analyse as usual for a Friday and we will continue to look at everything tonight and into tomorrow. Our main goal will be to reach Q3 again".


Free practice turned out to be positive for Scuderia Ferrari. Despite the penalty he will have to serve, Charles Leclerc is therefore confident and convinced that he can achieve a good result:


"We tested some new parts today and everything works as expected. It’s difficult to get a sense of our competitiveness as everyone is on a different programme so far. The feeling in the car is pretty good. We will try to maximize our qualifying tomorrow but given that we will have a 10-place grid penalty on Sunday, our main focus will be on making up those positions during the race".  


The FIA also confirm that Ferrari change also Sainz’ Power Unit as a 'precaution' for this weekend, without any penalty. The Spaniard declares:  


"It was an intense day here in Jeddah. This is a very unusual circuit with very peculiar characteristics which requires specific work to achieve a good balance. There is still some performance to find, but in general the car feels in the right window. Race pace was decent and tomorrow we will focus on maximising the result during qualifying".  


Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, concludes:


"It was quite an interesting day, especially in the second free practice session. As expected, FP1 wasn't particularly representative in terms of tyre behaviour, characterised by notably high track evolution. On a track that was completely different to the opening round in Sakhir, the teams concentrated on car setup for the most part. The FP2 session was much more relevant, with nearly all the drivers focussing on the medium and the soft tyres. The main theme for tyres last year was managing front degradation, which was mainly down to degradation. The first analysis of the long runs indicates that this year's new construction that was designed to reduce understeer, along with the better overall balance of the 2023 cars, has practically eliminated graining on the hard and medium. There's still some graining on the soft - especially on the front-right tyre - but this doesn't significantly influence performance over long runs. The constantly evolving track conditions and improvements to the setup that teams will make in FP3 suggest that a one-stop strategy using medium and soft is most likely for the race, also because there's a relatively small performance gap of 0.4 seconds between these two compounds, which makes both valid options for the race".


Also on Saturday, March 18, 2023, Max Verstappen, after testing Hard tires, mounts Soft tires and scores a performance more than a second better than the best time of the same session of the 2022 season. Sergio Pérez sets the second best time, stopping 0.6s behind his teammate Behind the two Red Bull Racing drivers, good speed is confirmed for the Aston Martins, which monopolize third and fourth place. The Ferraris carry out numerous tests related to set-ups, with variations dictated by the use of tires and fuel load. Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton's fifth time, and McLarens, with seventh and eighth times, seem to be more competitive. Many drivers complete two warm-up laps before setting a time: this causes rear-end risks, as happened between Max Verstappen and Lando Norris. Nyck De Vries does not take part in the session, due to a problem with the Honda RBPT power unit, which has irregular parameters. Before qualifying, the second unit related to the internal combustion engine, turbocharger, MGU-H, MGU-K, electronic control unit and exhaust system is installed on Nyck De Vries' car. However, the Dutch AlphaTauri driver will not be penalized as the newly installed components are among those that can be used in the maximum number set by the technical regulations. At the start of qualifying there is a spin by Nyck De Vries. Soon after, Logan Sargeant rises to the lead, ahead of Nico Hülkenberg. However, the U.S. driver's time is erased for crossing the line that marks the entrance to the pit lane on the finishing straight. Charles Leclerc closes the first lap, without improving on the limit set by Hülkenberg; Sergio Pérez rises to the top, while Russell is third. Max Verstappen takes the lead soon after, with Lewis Hamilton slotting into sixth. Carlos Sainz Jr. is forced to abort his first fast attempt. The Ferraris have enough fuel load to accomplish on track almost the entire session. Kevin Magnussen climbs to fourth place, while Carlos Sainz Jr. manages to climb to third, albeit one second behind Max Verstappen's time. The Spaniard will later be preceded by teammate, Charles Leclerc. Lando Norris touches the inside of the wall at the last corner, damaging his left front suspension. The Briton is forced to pit, but the repairs are not fast enough to allow him to return to the track. Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, is the author of a spin. 


George Russell and Lewis Hamilton intersperse between the two Ferraris, while Guanyu Zhou and Oscar Piastri enter the top 10. Fernando Alonso later takes fourth place, while Lance Stroll is only 15th with five minutes left in the session. Logan Sargeant commits a spin, ruining his lap, and failing to enter the fight for passage to Q2. Lance Stroll climbs up to 10th place. Then Pierre Gasly climbs up to 11th place and better does Esteban Ocon, who rises to eighth. Lance Stroll makes another comeback, up to fourth place, while Oscar Piastri moves up to eleventh place, eliminating Alexander Albon who remained in the pits. At the end of the session Logan Sargeant hits a wall, ruining his fast lap. Yuki Tsunoda, Alex Albon, Nyck De Vries, Lando Norris and Logan Sargeant do not advance to the next round. In the second phase Alonso closes the first attempt by turning in 1'28"757, close to Max Verstappen's performance in Q1. Lance Stroll is second 0.5s behind, before Charles Leclerc slots in between the two. Esteban Ocon is fourth, ahead of the pair of Mercedes drivers. Max Verstappen misses the first fast attempt, risking running into a wall. Soon after, the Dutchman slows down and is forced to retire from qualifying, due to a broken driveshaft. Sergio Pérez, meanwhile, comes in behind Fernando Alonso, 0.117s behind. With four minutes to go in Q2 Carlos Sainz Jr. would still be eliminated. Next, George Russell improves enough to place ahead of Lance Stroll. The drivers are all very close in times. Guanyu Zhou moves up to eighth, with Oscar Piastri doing even better, and is seventh. Nico Hülkenberg intersperses between the two, before Carlos Sainz Jr. takes fourth place. Sergio Pérez snatches the best performance from Fernando Alonso. Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly climb back into the qualifying zone for Q3. Not entering Q3 are Nico Hülkenberg, Guanyu Zhou, Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen. In the final stage, Fernando Alonso is the first on the track, finishing the first lap in 1'28"925. Behind him follow the two Alpine drivers, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly. The arrival of the two Ferrari drivers changes the classification: Charles Leclerc rises to the first position, while Carlos Sainz Jr. stands between the two French cars. Next Lewis Hamilton rises to third place, but loses one position when George Russell closes his first attempt by setting the best time. 


The limit set by the British driver is improved, however, by Sergio Pérez, who turns in 1'28"265. Lance Stroll and Oscar Piastri enter the track later: the Canadian is fifth, while the Australian finishes tenth. Fernando Alonso improves, but is unable to approach Sergio Pérez's time. Oscar Piastri tries a second consecutive fast lap, and climbs to eighth place. So tries also Lance Stroll, but he ruins the lap with a mistake in the final part. Charles Leclerc again precedes Fernando Alonso, while Carlos Sainz Jr., penalized by the presence of the two Mercedes at the beginning of his attempt, is fifth. Sergio Pérez takes pole position ahead of Fernando Alonso. For the Mexican it is the second pole position start in his career, after the one he won in the previous edition of the race. Charles Leclerc, penalized ten positions, will start from 12th position. Moving on to the undisputed winners for this second date on the calendar, Sergio Perez on his feeling with the track and his rivals says: 


"It was all about learning the conditions today. From FP1 to FP2 the track changes a lot, so it was good to test the car in varying temperatures. We had a bit of a mechanical issue, which meant there was slight inconsistency and we couldn’t get a proper read, but we’re confident we can sort it out before tomorrow. Once we fix that, it will hopefully bring us even more pace, but generally the performance is there as expected. I’m sure our rival teams will work hard overnight to close the gap and we look forward to a competitive showing tomorrow".


Max Verstappen, with a little melancholy, declares:


"I am feeling a lot better after a few rough days of illness, it wasn’t nice but I am feeling good now. Today out on track was about finetuning things, we had a positive day but there are still quite a few things we can do better. On the long runs we all seemed fairly close to each other but it’s more because of managing the tyres because they don’t really let you push around here at the moment. With a very low deg circuit then the lap times will always be very close, so it is definitely not going to be like Bahrain".


Charles Leclerc, who tested the long run for the longest time in free practice and slowly climbed the peaks during qualifying leaving his opponents behind, says: 


"I'm happy with my lap, it was on the limit and we finished further up the order than we expected to in this session. However, our competitors are strong and we still have a lot of work to do. Our race pace looks solid this weekend. It's not easy to overtake on this track, so I will do my best to fight my way back to the front tomorrow".


Carlos Sainz Jr. on the other hand, who risked not qualifying for the thirds due to the mistake in Q2, releases these not very happy words: 


"Not the best of qualifyings from my side to be honest. I struggled with the tyres into the first few corners and lost the time there. The rest of the lap felt good, but it wasn’t enough to make up for sector 1. My bad. However, the weekend is not over and we have the pace to fight for a step on the podium, so we’ll reset tonight and come back at it tomorrow in the race".


Ferrari's Team Principal Frédéric Vasseur on the use of extra tires due to Sainz' small mistake says: 


"It was a decent quali for the team today with Charles P2, one tenth off Perez - which will become P12 with the penalty - and Carlos fifth fastest. Our pace was not too bad but we need a step forward. It’s a pity for Carlos because he had to put on a second set of Softs in Q2 and at the end, in Q3 he only had one set and made a small mistake, which probably cost him the front row".


And Adds:


"However, Carlos had good pace and he’ll start P4, which gives him a good opportunity. Looking at tomorrow, our race pace was good yesterday and on the long stints we had low degradation, also thanks to the fact this track is very grippy, very different to Bahrain. It could be a strange race because it’s quite easy on paper to overtake but actually, we could see a DRS train which could be a game changer. We need to find good track position and the right slot for the pit stops".


Mixed emotions for McLaren, on one side there is Oscar Piastri happy with the result: 


"P8 on the grid! It was nice to get into Q3. I'm super happy to be in the top ten and it was a good experience to do all three quali sessions. Now we'll work hard to make the most of this position and bring home a positive result in the race tomorrow".


On the other hand, Lando Norris is a little demotivated about what happened:


"I made a silly mistake, it's disappointing because it cost me a chance to go into Q3 today. The car was good and I was feeling comfortable out there. On the bright side it's a long race tomorrow, with plenty of opportunities, so I look forward to that. Hopefully, I can make up for the mistake and we can try to fight our way forwards".


Among the oldest but modest gods is Fernando Alonso who, as regards the times of his opponents and the type of track, declares: 


"All in all we have to be very happy with starting on the first row of the grid tomorrow. It is a very different circuit compared to Bahrain and to see us fighting in Q3 again is a positive sign. The track did evolve during the session, but maybe not as much as we anticipated, especially from Q2 to Q3. Our strength in this package has been on the long runs, so hopefully we can optimise this as much as possible tomorrow. It is very tight between a number of teams so tomorrow will be an interesting battle for sure. But with both cars starting inside the top five positions, our main goal is to come away from this race with as many points as possible".


George Russell is confident on the possibility of playing between Ferrari and Aston Martin: 


"We have exceeded the potential and our own expectations to be ahead of an Aston Martin and a Ferrari. It is a solid job; we put in a lot of work overnight. The team back at Brackley were working hard in the simulator and we did a lot of work trackside this morning to try and get more out of the package. We know we are not in the fight for pole just yet, but you have to maximise what you've got, and we certainly did that today. We have a fight on our hands tomorrow, most likely with the Aston Martins and the Ferraris. We will be pushing hard to get on the podium and seeing what we can do. This Team has higher standards and expectations for themselves than just finishing in the top three, but we will be giving everything we've got to be standing there on Sunday".


Lewis Hamilton is a bit down for the performance during qualifying:


"I struggled a little bit today, but we just need to keep trying. No matter what changes we've been making, we've been struggling to extract the speed, and I just don't feel properly connected to the car at the moment. That is something we will work on to improve the confidence in the next races. George did a great job today though and he wasn't that far off some of the cars at the front, so we just need to keep pushing. It wasn't the greatest of days but there are improvements for the Team. Tomorrow is a new day, and we will keep working at it".


Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ Team Principal & CEO, on the technical side of the performance of the two riders declares:


"I think today is about where we expected to be. We know the deficits that we have and two tenths faster or slower can move us up or down a few positions; we know we need to make bigger steps forward than this, though, in the races to come. I think pace-wise tomorrow we are with the Aston Martins and the Ferraris; at least that is per the long runs yesterday, so we should be able to play around in the race. Lewis's lap looked a bit sticky in sector one, so we need to look into that. The time never came together for him, but he was as fast or faster than George in the rest of the lap, and we need to evaluate what effect the differences in set-up had" .


Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director, says instead:


"It's been a difficult weekend to get the car in the right place and I don't think George could have got any more out of it with his laps in the final session. We've benefited from Max's issues and Charles' penalty to end up third on the grid, but George still had to get ahead of a number of key cars that were all pretty quick.Lewis had a tough time through the sessions, struggling with the balance and grip in the first sector.He had a very solid morning so it's a bit of a surprise but hopefully we'll see strong pace tomorrow.The race here normally has a few incidents so how well you do is often a function of whether they fall at the right times.Only a few places separate our cars so it gives us an opportunity to split them on strategies so we can cover the bases. Hopefully we'll be a bit kinder on the tires than we were in Bahrain;we've tried to work on the setup to achieve that and we 'll find out tomorrow if we've made progress".


Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, focuses on the technical side of the tyres and their performance declares: 


"We saw an interesting qualifying with plenty of memorable moments. The C4 also showed itself to be a very versatile tyre in the final session that determined the grid, both on a flying lap as well as over longer runs. Q1 demonstrated how it was possible to have a good level of grip also on the second and third attempts with the same set of tyres, using cool-down laps in between. The opportunity to have a tyre with these characteristics already presented itself on certain circuits last year, and we've seen that once more here today. On an unusual track like Jeddah, the method of preparing the tyres varied from team to team: another element that underlined the particular characteristics of the C4 combined with those of the different teams using them. From a strategy point of view, all the data collected so far this weekend confirms a one-stopper as being the quickest option, with only small differences between the three possible combinations. This is also bearing in mind the high likelihood of neutralisations and possible stoppages, from what we have seen at the two previous grands prix held here to date".


Down in Saturday’s evening the typical coming and going of engineers and mechanics enliven the starting straight of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, while the drivers suit up and focus for the upcoming race. The starting grid sees Perez’s RedBull occupy the first position, followed by Fernando Alonso, George Russell and Carlos Sainz. Stroll, Ocon, Hamilton, Piastri, Gasly and Hulkenberg close the top 10. The reigning World Champion Max Verstappen will start only fifteenth due to what happened during Q2, and Charles Leclerc will start from P12 grid slot, having to discount a 10-grid penalty due to further power unit changes at his Ferrari. Most drivers will start with medium tyres, expect from Leclerc who is on softs. On Sunday, March 19, 2023, at 8.00 p.m. local time, lights go out and the third edition of the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix begins. Alonso makes his first move and manages to take the lead into Turn 1 passing Perez, but only a few moments later the stewards notice an incorrect starting location by the Aston Martin driver, as he has stopped to the left of his grid box, meaning he will have to discount a 5-seconds penalty. In the meantime, Perez does not wast any time so that as soon as the DRS is available, immediately tries and succeeds to regain the position on Alonso. 


In the back, shortly after the start, there is a contact between Piastri's McLaren and Gasly's Alpine; due to the collision, the Australian rookie is forced to pit, followed also by teammate Lando Norris as he has ran over the debris damaging his car. Leclerc and Verstappen start their climb back up through the field. Ferrari’s bold choice to put soft tires turns out to be very convenient as it allows Leclerc to easily overcome the train of slower cars ahead. The Ferrari’s driver is only temporarily braked by Lewis Hamilton, who receives a black and white flag for weaving down the straights, so the Monegasque manages to pass him with DRS. By Lap 5 of 50, Leclerc has climbed to P9 and Verstappen to P11. On Lap 10 the order is as follows: Perez is still leading, followed by Alonso, Russell, Stroll, Sainz, Ocon, Leclerc, Hamilton, Gasly and Verstappen, who shortly after overtakes the Frenchman assuring P9. The first pit stop action begins on Lap 12, when Zhou, Hulkenberg, Bottas and Stroll travel the pitlane. Four laps later, also the Ferraris are called to the box: a move that initially seems to benefit the team, except that immediately after Stroll is forced to stop his car on track unleashing a VSC that turns then into a Safety Car, compromising the Ferrari’s strategy, while the rest of the front-runners into the pit lane not loses their position. Most of the drivers switch to hard tyres, aside from Hamilton, Sargeant (P15), Zhou (P17), Bottas (P18) and Norris (P19), who all put on a set of medium tyres. When the Safety Car leaves the track at Lap 21, Perez holds his lead in front of Alonso, Russell and Verstappen, now running in fourth position, with Sainz, Hamilton, Leclerc, Ocon and Gasly closing the top 10. One lap later, Hamilton makes a move on Sainz for P5, while the other Mercedes of Russell comes under attack from Verstappen who manages to pass it with DRS. 


The Dutchman also tries successfully to take the position on Alonso and jumps up to P2. Both Red Bulls are now leading the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix. Further back, Albon reports a brake failure, which forces him to go back to the Williams garage, finishing his race prematurely. Russell, who is currently in front of his teammate, radioes the team to suggest to avoid fighting over position, even though Hamilton is proving to be quicker with his medium tyres. Leclerc, currently driving in P7, complains about lack of pace; but he isn’t the only one feeling his car not at the 100%,as the leader Perez expresses concerns about a long brake pedal and Verstappen reports an unusual feeling from the driveshaft. Between the two Red Bull’s drivers and the pit wall begins a back and forth to understand if there is a team order for swapping position or if the drivers are free to push until the end of the race. No further communication seems to be coming, so Perez pushes and takes the win, closing once again with a double podium for Red Bull as Verstappen takes the second place. The two drivers are followed again by Alonso, who takes the second podium for Aston Martin in this season. Russell takes P4, ahead of Hamilton and the two Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc. Ocon, Gasly and Magnussen complete the top 10. Tsunoda, Hulkenberg, Zhou, De Vries, Piastri, Sargeant, Norris and Bottas close the ranking. Alonso is investigated post-race for serving his penalty incorrectly due to the rear jack mechanic starting working on the car too early. The stewards decide to give a 10-seconds penalty, which drops Alonso from P3 to P4 and promotes Russell to the podium. But following a Right of Review from Aston Martin, the stewards reverse their decision, so Alonso takes back the podium, thus officially signing his 100 podium in his career. Sergio Pérez, despite the misunderstandings with the team during the final stint on keeping or not a certain pace, admits that he has enjoyed the race a lot:


"No, I did enjoy the race to be honest. I enjoyed it a lot, especially at the end, just pushing each other with the lap times knowing that he went a tenth faster, tenth slower, tenth slower, and it was all pretty intense. Then we were told to maintain a certain pace, then I was told again to push then to maintain the pace - so it was just a bit all over the place. I didn’t get a good launch, something I need to work on with the engineers to make sure we fix that, and Fernando just had a better start, and we lost a position, but I knew that it was not the end of the world - it’s a 50-lap race, it’s a pretty long one, and it’s more important to manage my tyres at the time, don’t get mad and making sure I was able to do my own race. Once I got past Fernando, I could do… my race, but once again when that Safety Car came out, it reminded me all over of Jeddah last year again and I was like ‘not again’ but luckily we hadn’t pitted at the time so yeah, it was a new race after the Safety Car again. Very early on, Max came back and we were basically towards the end just making sure we get that healthy gap between myself and Max but that meant we were pushing quite hard and trying to get to maintain the gap".


Max Verstappen, starting from the fifteenth position, had to make his way through the grid, concluding in second position, a result that does not make the Dutchman entirely satisfied:


"My first weekend [in Bahrain] was not very clean, because of just the big balance shift from testing to the race weekend, some other things which were going on in the background, and now again after three positive practice sessions of course I have an issue in qualifying. Of course, I recovered to second which is good, and in general the whole feeling in the team, everyone is happy, but personally I'm not happy, because I'm not here to be second. Especially when you are also working very hard also back at the factory to make sure you are arrive here in a good state, making sure everything is spot on, and then you have to do a recovery race - which I like, I mean I don't mind doing it - but when you are fighting for a championship and it looks like it's between two cars, we have to make sure the two cars are reliable. I never really think about it, but I think realistically with or without the Safety Car, I think P2 was the highest possible. The beginning, the first few laps were really hard to follow cars because of the street circuit, the fast corners, the walls are all very close, you get kind of a tailwind effect, and the car is a bit all over the place. After a few laps it all started to settle in a bit better and I could pick them off one by one, and the pace was good. The Safety Car of course helped me a bit to get back in the race, but even with that in the restart you just lose too much time to Checo [Perez], for example. So, once I got into P2, it was quite a decent gap on a track where there is not a lot of deg. I tried to close the gap a bit, but at one point I picked up these vibrations on the driveshaft, on the rear. The team could not see anything, but I'm fairly sure there was something odd going on with the balance since the vibrations started to kick in. At one point I did the calculations; I wouldn't have been able to close that gap to the end with only 10 laps to left, so at one point I think it is more important to just settle for second, not having an issue with the car".


Carlos Sainz Jr. does not hide his disappointment and hopes for an improvement in the upcoming races:


"It was a tough Sunday. Going into the race and looking at the sessions over the weekend, we were expecting a better race pace. We have work to do and we know the car is not where we want it to be at the moment. However, we will keep pushing and I am fully confident we can improve the situation".


Charles Leclerc, after a very good start with the softs that allowed him a quick come-up, did not have the pace he expected with the hard tyres and that compromised the rest of his race:


"There wasn’t much more we could have extracted today. Our first stint on the Softs was pretty strong and I could push, making up some positions. Just after we switched to Hards, the Safety Car came out so unfortunately we didn’t gain an advantage there. Our pace was not as good as we expected on the Hards and the rest of the race was spent in a train with Carlos. We have work to do on our race pace and will push to come back stronger in Australia".


Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari’s Team Principal, is feeling unsatisfied with the performance of the cars today, despite the good strategy adopted:


"Overall, we can’t be satisfied with today’s result. We did not have the pace we were expecting from our car, especially on the Hard tyre. There was also a big gap in our performance level between qualifying and the race. However, there were some positives today, starting with Charles’ pace on the Soft tyres which was good and allowed him to make up six positions on his first stint. Carlos also ran well on the Mediums. Our strategy was on point and our pit crew executed two good stops. There is still a long way to go this season and we will continue to fight. We are fully committed to maximising our package and further developing the SF-23 for the coming rounds".


Fernando Alonso does not hide his enthusiasm, feeling very glad of his second podium with Aston Martin and the performance of the car:


"I am happy in the end with the result tonight and our second podium. We showed that we can be the second fastest team and we had good pace throughout the race. It was my mistake at the start with the position on the grid, but we pushed to make up that time. Coming into this weekend we were not sure exactly where we would be, so this is good news for us going into the next few races. I am looking forward to Australia next".


George Russell, despite losing the podium after the stewards’ decision to cancel Alonso’s penalty, is very pleased with the team’s hard work and the car performance that allowed him to earn some great points:


"When you put the hard work in and it pays dividends, you come away feeling satisfied. We finished ahead of both Ferraris on merit today and we know we've got a lot of performance to come soon. The gap to the Red Bulls is still considerable, but we'll take the positives from the weekend, keep fighting as hard as we can and focusing on ourselves. It was an interesting race. After the Safety Car I was on the hard tyre and Lewis was behind on the medium. He had a bit more pace at the beginning, but I knew my pace would come at the end. Fernando deserved to be on the podium today and I was pleased with P4. I'm not complaining too much about taking home a trophy though, and we will take the extra points".


Lewis Hamilton has struggled a bit during both qualifying and race, but believes there are still some positive things to work on:


"We got some great points as a Team today. George getting third is amazing and I was able to move forward from seventh to fifth, which is the main thing. If I had qualified better then maybe I could have got a better result, but we still got some points. My set-up this weekend has been the biggest issue I've faced. I got it wrong for Qualifying and it wasn't good in the race either, so I struggled today. We were trying to go long on the hard tyre, but the Safety Car came out, so I had to pit. We just about managed to make the medium work, but it was a long second stint. We didn't have the same tyre degradation as we did in Bahrain, though. We were a lot closer to some of those ahead and it's great to be in the top five, ahead of the Ferraris. There is lots to work on but there are positives to take away from this weekend".


Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ Team Principal & CEO, is confident and believes the team is heading in the right direction:


"Today was positive and we'd rather take a small trophy home than none. I think we saw some performance gains to Bahrain which is encouraging. It shows us that the development trajectory is going in the right direction. I think both of our drivers under our guidance probably over-managed their tyres a bit, and we had a little more pace. Bahrain is still in our heads, and we could have maybe pushed more. It was a strong driver from George and a great recovery from Lewis to get solid points. Red Bull are still far away in terms of performance and that won't be easy to catch. Nevertheless, today we've seen that our development is heading in the way we want to head".


Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director, thinks that the team have maximized the potential of the car, earning points and making steps ahead:


"A good effort by the team and both drivers today to collect some very useful points and clearly a pleasing end to the weekend for George picking up third place. The car is hard work to get into the right window and it's not as easy for the drivers as it needs to be, but we've certainly found a better balance than in Bahrain and it has been a lot kinder on its tyres". 


And adds:


"We're under no illusion that we have a lot of work to do. We've been busy at the factory searching for performance and the initial findings are encouraging which gives us the motivation to keep working hard to improve. Today, we did exactly what we needed to do, which is to maximise the potential in what we have. We're looking forward to the next race in Melbourne; it's closer in characteristics to Saudi than Bahrain, so hopefully we'll have a car that we can fight for a podium. If there is any more performance that we can bring we'll make sure we get it to the track".


Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, comments that everything seems to have gone as predicted both from strategies perspective and tyre behaviour:


"The third Saudi Arabian Grand Prix went largely as we expected it to; both from the point of view of strategies as well as that of tyre behaviour. Eighty per cent of the drivers chose the medium at the start, which ensured maximum flexibility in the event of a race neutralisation - which duly happened for the third time in three years of racing here. The arrival of the Safety Car following Lance Stroll's retirement coincided with the pit stop window, which meant that the drivers who hadn't made a stop so far were able to take advantage of this neutralisation to put on the hard tyre. The performance gaps between the compounds also fitted in with our expectations, and that was the case for degradation as well. This was practically nothing on the medium and hard tyres, and quite limited on the soft used by Charles Leclerc: the only driver to have carried out a significant stint on this compound. The absence of degradation was what allowed even the drivers who had fitted the hard tyre before the safety car came out - such as Kevin Magnussen and Oscar Piastri, who completed 42 and 49 laps on it respectively - to push all the way to the end, with both of them pulling off some great passing moves in the closing stages. The medium also showed a lot of consistency, as underlined by Lewis Hamilton, who was able to take advantage of its superior performance compared to the hard in order to get past Carlos Sainz shortly after the re-start".


Verstappen now leads the drivers’ standings with 44 points, one ahead of Perez and 14 ahead of Alonso, while Red Bull top the constructors’ battle by 49 points from Aston Martin and Mercedes. For the umpteenth time, Red Bull Racing proves to be competitive, as does Aston Martin, which wins with Fernando Alonso another very valuable podium in this amazing start to the season. At the moment, both Ferrari and Mercedes again miss the appointment with glory. For these two teams it seems that the road to a return to the top is really steep and full of pitfalls. The next stop will be the Australian Grand Prix, which will take place from March 31 to April 2.


©​ 2023 Osservatore Sportivo


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