The second Formula One race of the season takes place this weekend in the coastal setting of Corniche in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Red Bull had a dream start to their 2023 season as they will hope to defend both the title and constructor’s championship. Max Verstappen finished his race in Bahrain 11 seconds ahead of teammate Sergio Perez who came in second while Fernando Alonso enjoyed a return to the podium with his new team Aston Martin.
However, attention now turns to the neighbouring country of Saudi Arabia where Charles Leclerc has already been given a 10-place grid penalty. 2023 was set to be a new dawn for the Prancing Horses following a year of misfortunes but it felt little had changed when the Monegasque driver was forced to retire in the 39th lap.
With the 25-year-old now only able to start from as high as 10th, here are some of the key talking points ahead of this weekend’s race…
Can Sergio Perez match his teammate?
If Bahrain is anything to go by, it would appear that Max Verstappen’s closest driver to a rival for 2023 is his own teammate, Sergio Perez. No other cars came anywhere near close enough to match the pace of the formidable Red Bulls and it looks like just as one dynasty of Formula 1 dominance has ended with Mercedes creeping down the order, Christian Horner is ready to lead the next.
At present, it doesn’t seem like Verstappen is going to have any difficulty securing a third successive title but fans will be hoping for a rather more exciting season than the simplicity of the win in Bahrain suggests it could be.
Perez, of course, is the main target to challenge Verstappen but given he finished a considerable 11 seconds behind the Dutchman, it feels apocryphal that he will be able to provide much of a threat.
Given the speed of the Jeddah circuit, Red Bull are set to showcase their ferocity once again, but this time Perez will have to pull out all the stops if he is to secure any more wins in that car.
Can Aston Martin maintain their success?
While of course Red Bull cruising round Sakhir was the main talking point two weeks ago, the other, arguably more notable storyline, was Fernando Alonso’s podium and the achievements of the injured Lance Stroll.
Stroll came into the race following a freak injury which had required surgery and was able to finish sixth while his two-time world champion teammate finished third.
The main question is, can they continue? Well, Mercedes and Haas seem to think so with George Russell saying their the “surprise package” and Guenther Steiner his former back of the grid rivals are now “tipped to be on top this year.”
If it’s a question of pace, Jeddah is sure to separate the dubious from the demonstrable but with such success from Bahrain in the bag, Lawrence Stroll is likely to get much more used to seeing his son and former world champion up on those podiums.
Can Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes bounce back?
Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff called the Bahrain Grand Prix one of the team’s “worst days” in racing. After the 2022 season Lewis Hamilton had made it clear what he felt the car needed and he has since come out to say the team did not listen to him when designing the car for this season.
Undoubtedly Russell and Hamilton are two of the most skillful drivers on the grid, but this skill is going to be meaningless on a track such as Jeddah if their car offers no pace which, in Bahrain there was little evidence of it being able to do so.
What is going on at McLaren?
This does not look like it’s going to be a fun year for the Papaya Team and Martin Brundle has warned that McLaren could lose their star driver Lando Norris if something doesn’t change quickly.
The British driver is now in his fifth season of Formula 1 but has never appeared further from securing his maiden win let alone a championship. He finished 17th in Sakhir, having to pit several times and Brundle has said: “To have a slow car in Formula 1 is one thing, especially for McLaren. To have an unreliable and slow McLaren is a terrible thing. Unreliability just shouldn’t happen these days so let’s hope they have a better weekend in Saudi Arabia.”
When will they catch a break? This is meant to be the most successful team in Formula One but it seems hard to imagine just at the moment. Week two is far too early to be dealing with grid-place penalties but here we are and it will just put Leclerc even further back in the championship standings and it will only have been the second race.
Leclerc had reportedly requested a meeting with the Ferrari chairman John Elkann about the difficult start to the season and rumours are beginning to swirl. Team Principal Fred Vasseur has high hopes for a quick turnaround but it would appear the Prancing Horses are going to need prayers, luck and maybe even a Red Bull DNF if they are to make it through Saudi Arabia.