2023 Saudi Arabia Grand Prix Roundup
After the highs and lows of last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, there was optimism and hope for some and a lot of work to be done for others. The past few years have proved to be exciting races at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, and despite a few track changes for the first street circuit of the year, there were high expectations for an eventful race in Saudi Arabia. So did it end up with another surging drive from the resurgent Aston Martin team or another parade from Red Bull, here is our rundown of the second race of the 2023 season.
Free Practice and Qualifying
After the free practice sessions, it seemed it was going to be business as usual following the Bahrain results, however qualifying was a different story. A technical issue for defending champion and championship leader Verstappen meant that he had to retire in Q2 and would start from a lowly 15th. Similarly, Charles Leclerc faced a 10-place grid penalty thanks to an engine penalty. This left the door open for Sergio Perez to show what he can do in an identical car and understandably took pole position, ahead of Leclerc (prior to his 10-place penalty) and Fernando Alonso took third which meant he was promoted to the front row. Russel, Sainz and Stroll completed the Top 5.
For the race, Perez started on pole and continued Red Bull’s strong start to the season from the very off. Despite being overtaken by Alonso in his Aston Martin into the first corner, Perez soon got the place back by the 4th lap and refused to give it up. The same race he also won last year, there must be something about the fastest street circuit on the calendar that suits the Mexican’s driving style. Alonso had been judged to have started the race too far left of his starting grid and as a result had a 5 second time penalty to serve during the first round of pit stops. The second race in a row such a penalty has had to be given.
Verstappen, starting 15th, was keen to fight his way through the field from the beginning and soon found his way through the field to an impressive second place, helped in part to a safety car at the halfway point. Not quite having the additional pace over his teammate to be able to hunt him down in the end. Perez would have been leading the championship for the first time in his career, and the first Mexican driver to do so for over 60 years, if it wasn’t for Verstappen completing the fastest lap on the last lap of the race to take the extra point that keeps him in the lead. He must be a very annoying teammate!
The Best of the Rest
Alonso remained third followed by the improved Mercedes pair of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari teammates Sainz and Leclerc, impressively coming back from starting 12th, finished 6th and 7th, with Ocon, Gasly and Magnussen completing the points positions.
But the drama wasn’t to end there. After the race had finished, the Aston Martin pit crew had been found to touch Alonso’s car before the full 5 second time penalty had been served, meaning he had been penalised with a further 10 second penalty after the race and dropped to 4th place, just 0.2 seconds ahead of Hamilton in 5th in the end and promoting George Russell to 3rd place. The only annoying thing for Russell was that it came too late for him to actually enjoy the celebrations of being on the podium, enjoyed by Alonso instead prior to the penalty. Perhaps a poor decision to delay the awarding of the penalty not just after the race, but for an incident that had happened 35 laps before the end of the race.
Then in a further twist the FIA decided they perhaps should have let Fernando Alonso know sooner about the time penalty, so that he could have maybe been given the opportunity to open up the gap to Russell and Hamilton, and therefore reinstated his third place finish after all. Is that their final decision? Who knows. You couldn’t make it up. The credibility of the rule makers after the controversy of the Hamilton/Verstappen championship farce from a couple of season ago in Abu Dhabi shows no sign of making definite decisions any time soon.
That leaves Red Bull firmly at the top of the standings, with just a point separating the two drivers. Alonso, despite his penalty, then non-penalty, continued his strong start to this year and is just behind in 3rd, ahead of Russell in 4th with Sainz and Hamilton just 1 point further behind in joint 5th. In the constructor’s standings, Red Bull already have a 46 point lead over Mercedes, probably surprised themselves that they find themselves in second. Aston Martin sit third, with Ferrari fourth, Alpine, Alfa Romeo, Williams and Haas the only remain teams with points at this stage, with AlphaTauri and McLaren yet to get off the mark.
The 3rd round of the season is on the 2nd April at the recent traditional season opening venue of the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit in Australia. The Australian Grand Prix is usually a race filled with drama and excitement and hopefully will not disappoint in 2 weeks’ time. Can anyone stop Red Bull from dominating yet another race and making it a 3rd race of the year taking the top two positions on the podium? Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston Martin will hope so.
Take a look at the rest of the Formula 1 calendar here: F1 Schedule 2023