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F1: Five things we learnt from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

After Sergio Perez took victory in Sunday’s race, what did we learn from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix?

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Sergio Perez converted his pole position at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to claim his fifth win in Formula One. 

Red Bull
Red Bull finished first and second once again in 2023. Credit: Mark Thompson via Getty Images

The second round of the 2023 season is now into the books. Jeddah saw the same three drivers, who have dominated this season so far, on the podium once again.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is considered by many to be one of the best tracks on the calendar. The fast-paced circuit consists of 27 high speed corners that will leave you on the edge of your seat throughout.

Sunday’s race did just that. We saw the first safety car of the season. There were plenty of overtakes and intense battles across the 50 laps. Similar penalties from the Bahrain Grand Prix ensued in Jeddah and more frustration from the drivers was made apparent on the team radio.

Saudi Arabia had it all. But, what were the five key talking points to take away from the race?

Red Bull’s domination continues

Perez has proven that he runs the streets in F1. Four of his five victories in the sport have come at street circuits. Checo started the race on pole. However, he was soon overtaken by Fernando Alonso into turn one on the first lap of the race.

The Mexican driver was able to remain composed and ended up overtaking the Spaniard a few laps later. From then on, he dominated the rest of the Grand Prix to claim his first win in 2023.

Max Verstappen on the other hand, had a more challenging race compared to his team-mate. The Dutchman started the Grand Prix in P15 after suffering a drive shaft failure in Qualifying.

During the race, Verstappen was able to make his way through the pack. When the safety car was brought out on lap 18, he was already up to fourth in the race. Halfway through the Grand Prix, the current world champion was up to second.

Verstappen didn’t have enough in the end to catch Perez, for what would have been an impressive comeback. Red Bull once again claimed a back-to-back 1-2 finish this season to extend their lead in the standings. However, Verstappen was left unhappy after the race as he stated “I’m not here to be second.”

With tensions at a high point towards the end of last season in the Red Bull camp, could this ignite a much bigger battle this year between the two drivers? Will they be able to stay cordial towards one another or will the gloves come off? Whatever happens, the team will want to remain focused on beating the rest of the competition. Red Bull have the quickest car by a distance this season. Will anyone be able to keep up with them?

Alonso retakes P3

Alonso came across the line in third place to claim his 100th podium in the sport. However, he was dropped to fourth place behind George Russell after receiving a ten second time penalty when the race had concluded. The Spaniard had been given a five second time penalty for not being positioned correctly in the grid box at the start of the race.

Alonso served his penalty when he pitted under the safety car, which was caused by his team-mate being told to retire the car by the team. But, there were questions over whether Alonso’s time penalty was served properly. It appeared that the team may have started work on the car too early.

A few hours after the race had finished, there was word that the penalty given to Alonso could be overturned. He posted on social media that he had achieved 100 podiums in the sport, at a time when nothing had been confirmed.

This did create some confusion online amongst the fanbase. However, Alonso was eventually given back his podium after Aston Martin appealed the decision. the FIA agreed that the touching on the car wasn’t enough to break the rules whilst serving the time penalty. This meant that Russell was dropped back to 4th place.

FIA controversy

The decision by the FIA to give Alonso his podium back was the right call. However, could all of these problems have been avoided sooner and are they unclear of their own rules? It took the FIA hours to reverse a decision which was made by them.

Many fans believe that Alonso should not have been punished to start of with. The two-time world champion’s former team-mate Esteban Ocon was also given multiple penalties over a fortnight ago in Bahrain. There has been a recurring theme so far that this issue could happen more often as we go through the rest of 2023.

The FIA will need to investigate and sort this problem out as soon as possible as later down the line, these mistakes could impact the drivers and the teams on where they finish in the standings. We would not want there to be another bad call that could define the outcome of the championship come the end of the season.

Overall, Aston Martin will be disappointed about Stroll’s retirement from the race but, the team can be proud that they came away from Jeddah with a thoroughly deserved podium and more points to add to their great start.

Improvement from Mercedes

Mercedes thought they may have had a podium after the Grand Prix. In the end, both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished in fourth and fifth place.

Team Principal Toto Wolff had said during the weekend that “Hamilton may need to look elsewhere” if Mercedes cannot deliver. However, the team looked much better in the race and are already in the process of making improvements to the W14.

A promising sign for Mercedes is that they were able to hold of Ferrari, who finished behind them. Even though they are still lacking the pace of the Red Bull’s and Aston Martin, the Silver Arrows’ season is looking better than it was before.

If Mercedes can build on this, they could turn their season around in the upcoming races. The 2023 campaign may have only just begun but, the team will want to remain competitive and do whatever they can to be challenging for race wins, which we are all so accustomed to seeing.

Former Chief Strategist at Mercedes and the current Team Principal of Williams James Vowles believes the Silver Arrows “will be mighty at some tracks” this season. After impressing in Jeddah, what specific tracks could Mercedes have more of an advantage at? This may be too early to say now but, Mercedes are on the up and will be hoping to close the gap to the teams above them over the next 21 races.

Mercedes comfortably stayed ahead of Ferrari at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Credit: GIUSEPPE CACACE via Getty Images
Ferrari are going backwards

Both Ferrari drivers finished sixth and seventh at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Carlos Sainz started the race in fourth place. His team-mate Charles Leclerc qualified in second. However, he started all the way back in P12 after taking a ten-place grid penalty.

The Prancing Horse looked uninspiring on Sunday as it seems that they have taken a step back. Before the season had begun, Ferrari were considered to be one of the favourites for both titles but, they are way off the pace. Both drivers finished more than 35 seconds behind Perez.

On the opening lap Stroll overtook Sainz and moved into fourth. Leclerc looked pretty good in the early stages as he made his way through the field. However, Ferrari’s mistakes continued as the Monegasque driver was left frustrated with the team on the radio. He overtook Hamilton pretty easily before the safety car. But during it, he wasn’t told that Hamilton was in the pits, which allowed the Mercedes driver to come out ahead of Leclerc. If he had known that Hamilton was in the pits, he wouldn’t have created the gap which allowed him to go ahead.

The iconic F1 team struggled with reliability and decision making in the crunch moments of last season. This ultimately let Red Bull to go on and win both championships quite comfortably. The same problems are arising this season and have already put a dent into their title hopes.

Sainz believes that Ferrari are “solving their bad situation” which they are currently in. At Ferrari, comes pressure. Even though there is still a long way to go this season, they will need to improve considerably to keep up with others around them. Otherwise, it could be another disappointing season for the Italian team and the Tifosi.

More misery for McLaren

McLaren’s disappointing season continues as Oscar Piastri finished in P15 and Lando Norris finished in P17 in Jeddah.

Only 24 hours earlier, the team looked like they could pick up some points after Piastri qualified in eighth place for the race. Norris qualified in P19 after damaging his front wing on the last corner in Q1. He was unable to go back out for another run.

On the opening lap of the race, Piastri had an unfortunate coming together with Pierre Gasly after turn two where he sustained damage to his front wing. The debris of the rookie’s car hit Norris’ car which subsequently damaged his front wing as well. This effectively ruined both of the driver’s race as they had to pit soon after.

McLaren definitely have two great drivers that can achieve point finishes and their car has shown some pace in moments this season. However, it all seems to be going wrong for the Woking based team at the moment. Could the team have done more to recover what was an unlucky start to their race?

McLaren currently sit at the bottom of the standings. Themselves and AlphaTauri are the only two teams to score no points so far. The team will be hoping to have some good fortune next weekend for the third round of the 2023 F1 season.

After that result, there is now just one point separating the championship leader Verstappen and his team-mate Perez at the top. What will we be able to expect as F1 travels to Albert Park next for the Australian Grand Prix?

Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images)

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