With the dust of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix having well and truly settled, it’s time for the second round of the 2023 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the staggeringly fast Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit is so much more than a “typical street circuit”, with it being the fastest street circuit on the Formula 1 calendar due to the drivers wrestling the Jeddah streets at an average speed in excess of 160mph (250km/h). It’s a monster of a circuit and without a doubt a car killer, with Mick Schumacher having found out the hard way last season just how punishing the circuit can be. Pushing beyond the limit will result in a crash, with there being absolute no room for error.
This weekend’s Saudi Arabian GP is the third in the sport’s history, with the first two having delivered exceptional races. The first, of course, saw a dangerous duel between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, with the duo having been unwilling to give one another a centimetre of space. It resulted in a collision between the pair, with Hamilton ultimately coming out victorious.
Last season’s instalment saw another titanic battle, but this time between Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. The duo somewhat famously almost came to a complete stop in a bid to catch the other one out at the final corner, in a bid to get DRS. Unlike in 2021, Verstappen’s fight with Leclerc last season was clean and sublime, with fans presumably hoping for more of the same this weekend.
Pirelli Motorsport have opted for the same tyres to be used this weekend that were used at the event last season, meaning the Italians second-softest range of tyres will be in use. This weekend’s hardest compound will be the C2, whilst the medium will be the C3, and the soft the C4. Just like last season, further track changes have been made to improve driver safety, with rumble strips now being present on the escape roads, whilst several kerbs have also been smoothed to reduce their severity.
Some walls have also been repositioned around the circuit for various reasons, with the walls at Turns Eight and Ten having been moved to improve visibility on corner entry. Walls at Turn Twenty-three have also been moved, but in a bid to slow the corner down. Given how high the average speed is around the circuit, the tyres are more affected by lateral forces than heavy braking, the complete opposite to the first race of the year at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Last season, Verstappen won on a one-stop strategy, something which will presumably be preferred again this weekend should it be a fairly uninterrupted race. The only real similarity between the Saudi Arabian GP and the season-opening Bahrain GP is that qualifying and the race both take place at night, meaning Free Practice Two is the only opportunity the teams get to gather data at a similar time of day to the all-important sessions.
With all of that in mind, Pirelli Motorsport Director Mario Isola has highlighted the importance on finding the correct balance, given that Jeddah boasts “completely different characteristics to Sakhir”.
“For the rapid Jeddah track, we have confirmed the same compound choices as last year as they showed very good consistency throughout the race weekend. In the two races held up to now, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix has been quite unpredictable because of the frequent safety cars and neutralisations, being a typical street circuit. A one-stopper was the fastest option in 2022, when a safety car led to an early pit stop for most of the drivers, who went on to finish the race on the hard tyre.
“Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc fought hard on this strategy thanks also to the durability of the tyres, with the Red Bull driver winning by less than a second at the end of a great race. The teams will also have to work hard on car setup because they will only have free practice to fine-tune the balance on this track with the latest tyres. The first race in Bahrain was all about traction and braking but Jeddah instead focuses on lateral forces, with completely different characteristics to Sakhir.”