The second Formula One race of the season takes place this weekend in Saudi Arabia, and it is set to bring more revelations about the competitive order in 2023. The recent season-opener in Bahrain saw Red Bull dominate, but this doesn’t guarantee the same outcome in Jeddah. The characteristics of the track in Saudi Arabia are different and could significantly shake things up. Before the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, here are some of the big questions on everyone’s minds.
Although Red Bull‘s domination of the Bahrain International Circuit was impressive, there is a strong argument that it still underplays Max Verstappen‘s advantage over the rest of the field. Bahrain allowed the RB19 to play to its strengths and expose the weaknesses of its rivals, Ferrari and Mercedes. However, Saudi Arabia offers a unique set of challenges, and the track surface is much smoother, which could benefit other teams. Furthermore, GPS data from Bahrain indicated Ferrari held an advantage over Red Bull in top speed, which could translate into better performance relative to the RB19 in Jeddah.
Aston Martin‘s seventh-place finish in the 2022 constructors’ standings meant that Fernando Alonso‘s podium finish in Bahrain raised eyebrows. Although not a complete shock, it was still a remarkable result. The key strength of Aston Martin in Bahrain was its superior tyre management, which enabled it to secure progress through the field. It is uncertain whether this success can be replicated or improved upon at a different circuit. There is no reason to believe Aston Martin will suddenly fall out of the race for podiums, but victories still seem like a stretch.
McLaren‘s first race of the season was disastrous. Oscar Piastri retired after just 15 laps, and Lando Norris finished last of the finishers. McLaren‘s missed performance targets over the winter were apparent, and they will not have a significant update for their car until the fourth round of the season. Until then, the team will continue to do the best with what they have and rely on their two drivers to perform.
Mercedes‘ poor performance in Bahrain was a shock. After finishing fifth, Lewis Hamilton made it clear that he warned about the direction of development over the winter. Mercedes will look to introduce a planned upgrade at Imola in mid-May, but it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia will be a happy hunting ground for them.
Ferrari‘s competitiveness was defended by their boss Fred Vasseur in Bahrain, but there were reports that there has been a culture clash between some of the team’s senior engineers and Ferrari‘s CEO Benedetto Vigna. The team is facing a tough time, and a victory in Saudi Arabia is needed to bring some stability to the team.