Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Arrivederci, Ferrari?

The Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia, through its first two Formula 1 weekends, has produced some very interesting races.

There are 27 corners on the course, but drivers don’t really notice due to just how much they are on the throttle. The throttle pedal is a lot like the throats of the citizens of Saudi Arabia; constantly pressed on and rarely lifted from.

It kind of reminds me of a very big (second biggest track on the schedule) version of the Martinsville Speedway, but drawn by somebody who can’t draw a straight line.

There are three major areas to keep an eye on. The turns 1-2-3 chicane is the slowest part of the course and it’s a very easy area of the track to mess up at. With how often safety cars result at Jeddah, this is a trouble area on restarts and especially on red-flag grid restarts.

The second is turn 13, a sweeping corner that determines how fast a driver will be for the next five or so turns following it.

Finally, turn 27 is the last corner connecting two large straights and is a tight corner with very little run-off. Many drivers have been on their ways to fast laps only to ruin it right at the end in turn 27, most notably Max Verstappen in a crucial qualifying session during the 2021 championship race with Lewis Hamilton.

The common theory entering this weekend was that Scuderia Ferrari would have something for Red Bull Racing. The SF-23, much like last year’s SF-75, has one-lap speed but struggles with tire wear and typically either won or contended for wins last year at low-tire degradation.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is as low on tire wear as the country is on human rights, so this should have been at least a bright spot for the Scuderia in a year expected to be dominated by Red Bull.

Instead, the weekend started off on the wrong foot when Ferrari confirmed that they would need to take a 10-place grid penalty for Charles Leclerc, due to exceeding the two electronic control unit limit assigned to teams. Remember that it’s only the second race of the year.

On Friday (March 17), Ferrari struggled in both free practice sessions, with Carlos Sainz‘s seventh in FP1 being the highest on the boards for both cars in either session. Maybe Ferrari was running an aggressively low engine mode, but they may well be in serious trouble to be completely leapfrogged by Aston Martin for second place.

With Aston Martin now joining the top tier of F1 along with Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, the battle for the midfield this year may be closer with even fewer points on the line.

Had Leclerc finished the race in Bahrain, he would have surely finished in the top eight with the other seven top-team drivers. That would have left just ninth and 10th place for the midfield to fight over for points.

What’s more is that we really haven’t gotten the chance to see what Alpine has yet, with Esteban Ocon having a horrible penalty-filled first race while Pierre Gasly finished ninth after starting in last.

See also
A Stumble From 9th & a Rumble to 9th for Alpine

If those Alpines have the pace to be a buffer between the top teams and the midfield, that would mean the midfield would have to rely on any single point they can get. It’s going to be a departure from last year in which all 10 teams were able to score eight or more points and Williams was the only team to score less than 35.

This is why Zhou Guanyu pitted very late in the first race to get fastest lap, even if he was nowhere near points before pitting. Even if Alfa Romeo wasn’t able to get that point, Zhou was able to deny Gasly and Alpine that point instead as they held the fastest lap prior.

It’s a testament to just how solid the midfield is to where there really doesn’t seem to be a bottom tier this year.

If there was a team that could be ranked near the bottom, however, it would probably be McLaren. An awful preseason testing period was followed up with an equally awful first race, with Oscar Piastri retiring early due to mechanical problems and Lando Norris struggling all race long with multiple unplanned pit stops for mechanical problems.

They’ve been as reliable as the Saudi government has been at not publicly executing people.

As bad as McLaren has begun the season, it was a similar start to last year where the team was on the backfoot. McLaren was able to recover to challenge for fourth in the constructors’ standings, so the book hasn’t been closed quite yet on this team making an impact in the midfield battle.

A driver who had a really solid Bahrain race not many noticed had to be Yuki Tsunoda.

Tsunoda has entered this season in definite put up or shut up mode. This is the Japanese driver’s third season and with Honda being replaced with Ford as Red Bull’s powertrain supporter, he’s not going to be able to rely on that Honda partnership to keep him at AlphaTauri for much longer.

What’s more is that teammate Gasly, who it was fine to lose to as Gasly has much more experience and has won for the team, has been replaced with Nyck de Vries. de Vries only had one start entering this season, a very impressive points finish at Monza last season in a Williams. So Tsunoda needed to perform against his former Formula E championship-winning teammate.

And that he did, finishing 11th in what was considered one of the worst cars on the grid entering that weekend and outpacing his teammate throughout the weekend. It’s an open question as to if he can keep this up once de Vries gets a little more experience with AplhaTauri, but it went just about as well as Tsunoda could hope for.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via