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F1 Race Preview: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

F1 Race Preview: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

The Formula One 2022 season got underway with a bang last weekend! Several teams will head into the second race in Saudi Arabia full of confidence while others have a lot of catching up to do. Who will be victorious in the desert? Read on to inform your predictions ahead of the big race with expert insight from Jennie Gow.

Wow! What an amazing start to the 2022 Formula One season we’ve had. The Bahrain Grand Prix was fast and furious with joy for the Tifosi and despair for Red Bull. Coming into the race, it was clear Ferrari had the speed to challenge the pacesetters in testing and the battle between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen was thrilling, with the lead swapping four times in two laps.

It was the young man from Monaco who prevailed though after Verstappen’s car spluttered to a halt with fuel issues (he also experienced brake and steering issues earlier in the race). His teammate Sergio Perez then suffered a similar fate on the final lap of the race. It left the way for a Ferrari 1-2 with Carlos Sainz picking up back-to-back podium finishes.

And after all the poor form they showed in practice, qualifying, and during the race, it was Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes who took the third podium place – in what was a surprisingly positive result for the team. It was certainly a case of damage limitation for the Silver Arrows, with George Russell securing fourth place.

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Saudi Arabian GP: Heading back to Jeddah

Saudi Arabia will play host to the second round of the F1 World Championship and if you thought Bahrain was frenetic, then brace yourself because the Jeddah Corniche circuit promises to offer even more thrilling action. The street circuit was new to the F1 calendar last year and was the site of a highly dramatic and bad-tempered clash between Hamilton and Verstappen. That was only in December last year and the controversy surrounding the race is still very fresh in the minds of many.

The fastest street circuit on the F1 calendar has changed a bit since making its debut last year, as the result of modifications requested by the governing body following a few on-track incidents during the race. These largely consist of improving visibility for drivers through some of the corners by moving the barriers further back, while the final turn (Turn 27) has been widened by the removal of a grandstand, which could make the lap slightly faster. Turn 13 still features 12 degrees of banking, a feature that makes the circuit the second-quickest of the season overall, after Monza. Even with the changes, it’s still a fast and tricky track that could trip people up - the 50-lap race around the Jeddah Corniche will be a spectacle once again.

Who will get the perfect lap?

Getting the perfect lap around Jeddah is not easy to do. In qualifying last year, Verstappen very nearly nailed it. If his Red Bull car hadn’t clipped the wall on the final turn it would have been one of the most impressive laps we’ve ever seen. However, just that tiny little scrape by the rear end was enough to see him start third on the grid behind Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

He will be incredibly focussed on making amends this year so look out for another blistering lap from the Dutchman. However, the Ferrari clearly has the pace to match, or even beat the Red Bull, so can Leclerc make it two in a row after his Bahrain pole and win? His chances are good but in the past, Leclerc has had a tendency of ‘dropping the ball’ on his hot laps so he’ll need to work hard to keep the car out of the walls this weekend - and the walls in Saudi are big and inviting!

A new year, a new rivalry?

It is clear that Red Bull and Ferrari are faster than any other team on the grid. However, it’s also clear that Carlos Sainz hasn’t quite got to grips with his prancing horse. If he can work out how to drive it he’ll be a threat but at the moment, he’s running at about 90% compared to his teammate - so getting pole here might be a stretch but another podium finish is definitely a possibility for him.

The battle for the race win looks likely to be between Leclerc and Verstappen because the Mercedes just doesn’t have the pure power pace it needs to really challenge at the moment.

It’s worth pointing out that Leclerc vs. Verstappen could be a likely and really interesting rivalry for this year. It would appear that Leclerc is a very canny fox and knows just what to do to make Verstappen drive with an air of desperation. In Bahrain, his ability to let Verstappen overtake when he knew he would be able to retake the lead in a few corners' time was inspired. Let’s see how quickly Verstappen learns from that.

In order for that rivalry to happen though, Red Bull need to fix their car. The team came into the first race weekend as the favourites, with Ferrari hot on their heels but the RB18 went on to experience some major issues towards the end of the race. A steering track rod was bent during the pit stop process which meant Verstappen was struggling to drive the car. It then appears there was a problem with the fuel for both cars so it was a very costly and unexpected double DNF for the Milton Keynes team.

In testing, they didn’t run a full race simulation on track - could they have spotted (and fixed) the issue if they had? Quite possibly. They will come back hungry in Saudi Arabia, to make amends and move off the bottom of the Championship table.

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – best of the rest

Mercedes showed that they lack pure pace and have a car that isn’t working properly. To salvage third and fourth from Bahrain was miraculous and only happened due to the Red Bull double DNF. There will be no quick fix - a new floor will take weeks to make - but both drivers will be there ready and waiting to make the most of any issues Ferrari and Red Bull have. Even with this problematic car, Mercedes are clearly third in the pecking order so don’t rule them out of a Championship challenge just yet!

Every team will develop their car aggressively at the start of the season, trying to find fixes for their shortcomings. Those with the most work to do are McLaren, Williams, and Aston Martin (incidentally, all of whom are powered by Mercedes). Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were nowhere near where they should have been in Bahrain and it was pretty painful to watch. Hopefully they can sort things out – and fast!

On the other end of the scale, Haas – usually found at the back of the grid – had a blistering first race. New driver Kevin Magnussen was brilliant on his return to F1, scoring big points with his fifth place and it will do so much for morale at the US-based team. They are no doubt the surprise of the season so far and another Magnussen miracle could be on the cards this weekend, as other teams struggle to find fixes for their cars.

Alfa Romeo seem much improved and very capable of scoring points this season too, with both Bottas and rookie Guanyu Zhou putting in good performances. I would also watch out for Fernando Alonso this season. Give him a couple of races to understand the nature of the car and how it works with the new tyres and I think he will come into contention for the odd podium here and there. He wants to be a Championship challenger again - he doesn’t have the car for that yet but I think he can get some good finishes this year in the Alpine.

Stay up to date with the 2022 F1 season by reading Jennie Gow’s weekly race preview before analysing the latest Pinnacle F1 odds for each race.

*Odds subject to change

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