After an action-packed season-opener in Bahrain, racing resumes in Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Round 2 will see champions Red Bull go in as favourites, but it’s the old guard of Fernando Alonso and his team, Aston Martin, who look most likely to be able to take the fight to Max Verstappen and Red Bull following the first race.
Heading into the second race of the 2023 F1 season, let’s take a look at a few possibilities.
Also Read – Formula One 2023: Team Principals
Who can stop Verstappen?
If we were to describe Red Bull’s performance in Bahrain in one word, it word would be: dominant. That’s what it was — utter dominance from the Austrian team in the season-opener, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the grid, especially their rivals.
There wasn’t a single stage at the Bahrain Grand Prix during which Max Verstappen looked like he might lose the race or be challenged by anyone else. The only chance the rest of the grid had was right at the start, when both the Ferrari drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, had a chance to attack him, but Verstappen got a sublime start and just kept increasing his distance from the rest of the field. He was already more than six seconds ahead by Lap 10.
It was a Red Bull 1-2 in Bahrain. The closest car to them was that of Fernando Alonso, who was almost 40 seconds behind Verstappen. The pace deficit for the rest of the grid compared to the Red Bull is just a bit too much, and while Ferrari may look like the ones who can throw a challenge to the Austrian team, the Italians need to fix their own reliability issues first. It was a horror start for the Scuderia in the opening race, with Leclerc retiring and Sainz losing out on a podium place to a much quicker Aston Martin of Alonso.
Red Bull’s straight-line speed is scary, and while Ferrari and Aston Martin can compete for podiums, Red Bull are a league above them. If the Austrian team manage to keep their reliability and other issues at bay, this season should be over very soon.
Pole prediction: Max Verstappen / Sergio Pérez
Win prediction: Red Bull
McLaren are in serious trouble
McLaren were 1.4 seconds off the pace in Free Practice Session 1 in Bahrain, 0.6 seconds in Free Practice Session 2, 0.7 seconds in Free Practice Session 3, and started P11 and P18 on race day. To say they were off the pace in Bahrain would be an understatement; the British team already started off slowly, being off the pace compared to their rivals, and, to make matters worse, Lando Norris had to pit six times due to power unit issues. His teammate, Oscar Piastri, in his debut for the British team and F1, also faced technical issues and had to retire.
McLaren have confirmed that they will be bringing upgrades to both Jeddah and Melbourne before their first big upgrade in Baku, but the road ahead for the Woking-based team is a long and arduous one. The team had already admitted that they didn’t match their pre-season testing targets, and while they still showed decent race pace, their reliability is a big worry. Add to that the fact that their fellow midfield rivals, Aston Martin, Alpine and Alfa Romeo all have taken positive steps forward, it’s going to be a long season for the papaya team.
While scoring podiums, which they were looking to achieve, is out of the question at the moment, a Q3 appearance and points finish will be a positive for McLaren, which shows how big a fall it has been for the team aspiring to be fighting with Red Bull and Ferrari.
Alfa Romeo could spring a surprise or two
While it wasn’t a double points finish in the season-opener for Swiss team Alfa Romeo, they did show solid pace throughout the weekend, with Zhou Guanyu even topping the second day of the pre-season testing session. Valtteri Bottas took home four points for the team with his P8 finish, while Guanyu finished P16.
With the likes of McLaren and AlphaTauri struggling in the midfield, Alfa Romeo have a brilliant opportunity to increase the gap to the rest of the midfield teams and score big before the rest of the teams start bringing upgrades. Along with a strong Ferrari power unit, they have two bankable drivers in Bottas and Guanyu, so keep your eyes out for the Swiss team. It won’t be a surprise if they take home a big haul of points from Jeddah.
Dark Horses: Alfa Romeo / Alpine
Race details: When and where to watch (India)
Circuit: Jeddah Corniche Circuit
Venue: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Practice Session 1 time: 19:00 (IST), March 17
Practice Session 2 time: 22:30 (IST), March 17
Practice Session 3 time: 19:00 (IST), March 18
Qualifying Session time: 22:30 (IST), March 18
Main race time: 22:30 (IST), March 19
Where to watch: F1 TV Pro