Max Verstappen’s clean sweep of Friday’s practice sessions ahead of the F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix put Red Bull in a commanding position. He demonstrated great pace at both night and day sessions, and his RB19 proved effective in both. Verstappen’s confidence when tackling the quickfire toboggan run after Turn 4 and approaching Turn 9 was impressive. However, other teams have expressed hope that a higher power will intervene to stop Red Bull’s dominance of the race. The Mercedes team had weaker performance in the corners, while Ferrari was not running at full capacity during its soft tyre runs. The Alpine showed promising pace as well.
Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez was outpaced by the Dutchman in both sessions. Verstappen’s speed allowed him to complete a startling 16 laps on the soft tyre during the second session. He was also able to tackle the reprofiled Turn 22 with ease, with the RB19 remaining hermetically sealed to the road even in high-speed corners. However, few of the other competitors expect to beat Red Bull, who remain in a strong position for Sunday’s race.
Red Bull has suggested that a lower-degradation race relative to Bahrain could condense the pack, but there are clear signs that the team remains in good shape. The Mercedes team may have to switch to a higher-downforce setup, with Ferrari showing a straightline speed disadvantage. Nonetheless, Ferrari’s long-run pace seems more solid, although it still suffers from engine power level issues. The Alpine also poses a potential threat. Verstappen suggested that the lap times are all very close given the lower degradation in this race.
Verstappen was absent from Thursday’s press sessions due to a stomach bug, but he made a remarkable recovery by Friday. It was unclear how the cooler conditions in the evening affected track performance, but Verstappen’s advantage over the rest of the field became more apparent in the night session. The team was able to demonstrate great pace on longer-running simulations in the second half of the session. The other teams may struggle to challenge Red Bull unless they are able to capitalize on a higher power intervening on their behalf.