After 50 laps around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on the coast of the Red Sea, The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was won by Red Bull driver Sergio Perez from his teammate Max Verstappen (+5.355 seconds behind). This start to the season marks only the second time Red Bull have achieved two consecutive 1-2 finishes — the other coming in 2009. Fernando Alonso (+20.728) rounded out the podium, continuing to show the impressive pace of Aston Martin. Unfortunately for the Silverstone, UK based team, their other driver — Lance Stroll (20th, DNF) — suffered an engine issue that prevented him from contributing to a strong points day for the team. Mercedes seemed to stabilize their concerning position with a solid P4 and P5 for George Russell (+25.866) and Sir Lewis Hamilton (+31.065) respectively.
Qualifying proved to be quite eventful as it began with American Logan Sargent (P16, +86.293) was unable to set a representative lap time and even damaged his car after running over a curb too aggressively (curbs in F1 are not like those out on the street — they are not as steep and drivers will often ride them to help maintain speed through the corner). Q2 saw favorite for pole Max Verstappen retire from the session as he suffered a driveshaft issue that prevented him from advancing to the top 10 shootout in Q3. Verstappen’s exclusion cleared the way for teammate Sergio Perez to take pole by just 0.465 seconds over Fernando Alonso. Charles Leclerc (P7, +43.162) qualified with a lap just 0.155 seconds slower than Perez, but started 12th after taking an engine penalty in just the second race of the season.
At the start of the race, Alonso raced past Perez into the lead at the first turn, before being passed a couple laps later and not seeing the lead again. The two McLarens of Oscar Piastri (P15, +85.021) and Lando Norris (P17, +86.445) both suffered damage in the opening laps as they were forced to pit for repairs on laps one and two respectively, effectively ruining their races at the time. While Verstappen was forced to start from P15 because of his engine issue, he still raced in the most dominant car and was able to work his way up the field relatively easily. On lap 17, Stroll had his engine issue and stopped his car off track. Because the stewards (referees) could not tell how close the car was to the track with their GPS data, they sent out the safety car to bunch up and slow down the field and give the marshalls time to clear the car. Turns out the car was far enough off track to not necessitate a safety car, but by the time they realized this it was too late.
In addition to making the track safe for the marshalls, safety cars also trigger strategy options for the teams before the cars bunch up, they all must slow down to 40 percent of racing speed. Usually when a car pits under racing conditions in Jeddah, they end up around 21 seconds behind relative to where they were prior to their stop. However, under safety car conditions, that number drops to around 12 seconds; creating an opportunity for drivers to keep positions they otherwise would have lost. This occurred for two drivers as the safety car came out around the time that many other drivers took their pit stops. As a result, Yuki Tsunoda (P11, +67.494) was able to jump into the points for the restart and Sir Lewis Hamilton was able to keep ahead of one Ferrari instead of losing out to both. Unfortunately for the Japanese driver, he lost the last points-paying position in the last couple of laps to Kevin Magnussen (P10, +64.826).
Speaking of Ferrari, they again suffered a disappointing weekend with Charles Leclerc’s penalty causing him to be hindered by traffic and Carlos Sainz (P6, +35.876) simply lacking the pace to compete with the Mercedes and Aston Martins. Post-race comments from team principal Frédéric Vasseur amounted to the team needing to stop talking and actually work to get faster, both with their car and organization.
Two bits of controversy came up post race. First, Fernando Alonso incurred the same penalty as Esteban Ocon last week — improper placement on the starting grid. He then also served his penalty incorrectly after the rear jack used to lift touched the car prior to the five second penalty being served, causing a further 10 second penalty to be applied. However, the penalty was assessed too late after the incident so it was overturned. Had the penalty stood, the Spaniard would have dropped behind George Russell. Secondly, Max Verstappen’s father, Jos, was seen blatantly not enjoying celebrations for the 1-2 just because his son finished second — despite the fact his son maintains the championship lead due to achieving the fastest lap for the race. This drew comparisons to Perez’s father's celebrating joyously after the younger Dutchman’s win in Mexico last year. This behavior drew special attention because of the elder Verstappen’s questionable parenting style (google “Jos Verstappen gas station”).
Now that round two of the 2023 Formula 1 Championship is now complete, here are the standings:
The next round will be in Melbourne, Australia March 31st-April 2nd, with qualifying and the race at 1:00am EST on that Saturday and Sunday, respectively.