The second race of the 2023 Formula 1 season is here, with the circuit in Saudi Arabia for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The 20 drivers will navigate the twists and turns of the fastest street circuit in the world, with drivers reaching average speeds around 155 miles per hour. Beyond the speeds, are the twists and turns, with the Jeddah Corniche Circuit placing 27 demanding turns in front of the drivers, including the difficult Turns 22 and 23.
Speaking of twists and turns, this week has delivered its share. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, despite posting the second-fastest qualifying time on Saturday, will start 12th on Sunday, thanks to the team turning to the third set of control electronics in just the second race of the season.
Joining Leclerc in the middle of the field? Max Verstappen. The defending world champion was strong throughout the three practices and the first qualifying session, but a driveshaft failure during Q2 saw him retire the RB19 during the second session, and he will start Sunday in 15th.
Here is the full qualifying order, and what to watch for during the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
|1||Sergio Pérez||Red Bull||2||Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin|
|3||George Russell||Mercedes||4||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Ferrari|
|5||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||6||Esteban Ocon||Alpine|
|7||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||8||Oscar Piastri||McLaren|
|9||Pierre Gasly||Alpine||10||Nico Hülkenberg||Haas|
|11||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo||12||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari|
|13||Kevin Magnessen||Haas||14||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo|
|15||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||16||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri|
|17||Alex Albon||Williams||18||Nyck de Vries||AlphaTauri|
|19||Lando Norris||McLaren||20||Logan Sargeant||Williams|
What to watch for in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Can Aston Martin remain strong?
Perhaps the biggest storyline coming out of the Bahrain Grand Prix was the performance from Aston Martin. Lance Stroll, battling back from a training accident that left him with fractures in both wrists, finished in P6, while teammate Fernando Alonso secured his first podium since 2021, to finish in P3.
After Saturday’s qualifying sessions, the two Aston Martin drivers are in position to build on that success. Stroll will roll off the line fifth, while Alonso will start second thanks to Leclerc’s grid penalty, putting him on the front row for the first time since 2012. The 41-year-old driver is also the oldest driver to secure a starting spot in the front row since Michael Schumacher started second in the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix.
After qualifying, Alonso addressed his chances of grabbing a victory at Jeddah. The veteran driver downplayed his odds of a win, but pointed to how Aston Martin was in line for a very good day. “I don’t want to sound pessimistic but if we see the pace the whole weekend in free practice, we see the Bahrain race, we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a little bit ahead of everyone,” said Alonso after qualifying. “So that’s not, let’s say, the target tomorrow, you know, to fight for the win with Checo. But as I said before, Formula 1 is not exact mathematics, you know, anything can happen and today no one of us will put Verstappen P15, you know, but these things happen sometimes. So, for us, the most important thing is to score points. We are starting both cars in the top five. We try to finish both cars in the top five and keep accumulating points for the Constructors’ Championship. That’s the main goal for Aston Martin this year.”
The potential is there for Aston Martin to have a huge day, now we have to see if they deliver.
Can Sergio Pérez break through at Jeddah?
For the second-straight year, Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez qualified in pole position.
Is this the year he breaks through at Jeddah?
Pérez qualified in fifth position for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2021, but a collision on Lap 14 forced an early retirement. Pérez qualified on pole for last season’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but an unfortunately-timed safety car — coming after Pérez had just made a pit stop — opened the door for Verstappen, Leclerc, and Carlos Sainz Jr. to restart in front of him.
Pérez would eventually finish fourth.
Saturday after qualifying, Pérez talked trackside about his success in qualifying at Jeddah, and his chances for Sunday. “It was tricky. It was tricky that Q3, especially [after] not getting that second lap,” said Pérez in an interview right after qualifying. “That [first lap] was quite good, you know, it was quite clean, really clean. Nailing that lap, you know, you really feel the Formula 1 cars coming alive in this place and yeah just maximising that lap was very important, you know, because with the issue we had into the final run it was really important as the track was improving.”
Pérez has shown the ability to put down some fast laps at Jeddah. Sunday we will see if he can string enough together to finish at the front.
Is Sunday the day Alpine makes some noise of their own?
During practices on Friday, Alpine seemed to have something up their sleeves for the field.
They showed that on Saturday.
Both Alpine drivers will start inside the top ten, with Esteban Ocon rolling off in sixth, and Pierre Gasly starting in P9. The team was confident in the wake of that performance, and Gasly indicated that double points for the team are on the table. “Our race pace has been good, we showed that in Bahrain, and in Practice yesterday, and I’m feeling confident that double points are achievable.”
Can Verstappen, Leclerc, or both work some magic from the middle?
Up until the second qualifying session, Verstappen was the strongest driver in the field. But the driveshaft issue his RB19 suffered will see the defending world champion come off the line in P15 Sunday.
Leclerc posted the second-fastest time in Q3, but because of his grid penalty, the Ferrari driver will come off the line 12th.
Can either driver — or both — work some magic from the midfield at Jeddah? There is some precedent for this. Last season, Lewis Hamilton started 15th, but finished 10th, making up five spots during the race. Nico Hülkenberg, driving for Aston Martin, made up five spots as well, finishing 12th after starting 17th.
There was even more movement in the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Both Stroll and Sainz Jr. picked up seven spots during the race. Stroll started 18th but finished 11th, and Sainz finished eighth after starting in 15th position.
So there is hope for both drivers that they can make something happen on Sunday. Leclerc addressed in his post-qualifying comments the possibility that he could make up some position in the Grand Prix. “I think our race pace is stronger this weekend. So this is a good thing. Then, I don’t know how easy it is going to be to overtake on this track because the midfield seems to be all extremely close in terms of race pace,” said Leclerc. “And if you have a DRS train, then it makes things very difficult. But I’ll give my best, try to come back to the front as quickly as possible. And we’ll see what happens.”
Is the Mercedes comeback upon us?
Earlier this week Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff noted that that the team was bringing some “small developments” to Jeddah. While Wolff cautioned that “they won’t be game changers,” Sunday will see both Mercedes drivers starting inside the top ten, with Lewis Hamilton in P7, and George Russell in P3.
When Russell came across the line at the end of the third qualifying session, he seemed fairly pleased with how the W14 performed:
Is this a sign of better days ahead for the Silver Arrows?
In a few hours, we will know for sure.