The 2023 Formula 1 World Championship continues in the Middle East after the opening round in Bahrain with Round 2 at the seaside resort and port city on the Red Sea where the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is being held this weekend. Situated 30 kms from Jeddah, the is the third time that the city is hosting a round on its Corniche street circuit.
Like the Bahrain GP, the Saudi Arabian GP will also be run at night on the 6.174-km circuit, the second longest in the 2023 calendar (after Spa-Francorchamps). Designed by Carsten Tilke, the son of the famous F1 circuit designer, Hermann Tilke, this is the fastest street circuit in the F1 calendar at the moment. Speeds on simulators have averaged over 250 km/h around the track which has 27 turns, the most of any circuit this year.
The second round of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship has not been smooth running since the weekend began. First there was the missile attack on an oil depot just 11 kms away from the Corniche Circuit and although many drivers were reluctant to continue through the weekend, they were convinced to do so after assurances from the Saudi Arabian authorities that they would be safe. The Houthis were also said to have assured that they would suspend attacks for 3 days, perhaps understanding a bit about global perception if anything were to happen to F1 participants, even accidentally.
Then there was the nasty accident when Haas F1’s Mick Schumacher hit a wall and had to be hospitalized. Fortunately, he’s okay but he can’t race. And then for Scuderia AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda (already placed last on the grid as he did not qualify), his race ended before it even started as his car lost power while he was driving it to the start.
When the race got underway, Sergio Perez got off the a good start as his Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen raced past Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz leaving the grid. Many were watching Lewis Hamilton who had been in 16th place after qualifying, and then repositioned two places up after McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo was given grid penalities. Hamilton had also made a good start and moved 2 places up in the early stages of the opening lap. Alfa Romeo’s Zhou, however, seemed to slip backwards a place or two at the start, bumping into Ricciardo as well.
On lap 5, the two BWT Alpine drivers began fighting each other to move into sixth place. Fernando Alonso had attempted to get past his team mate who was unwilling to let him through. Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas was closing in and watching the tussle and looking to take advantage of it to get past but Ocon held him back too. That little battle between Ocon and Alonso can’t have pleased the team boss.
The Alpine battle was helpful for Mercedes-AMG’s George Russell who had moved one position up from starting sixth. He was about 12 seconds back from the next car (Sainz) and could concentrate on steadily moving closer with a 10-second gap behind him on lap 12. By then, his team mate Hamilton had moved into 11th place.
Zhou had managed to get up to 13th but on lap 13, he had overtaken Williams’ Alexander Albon whose rear tyres were gone. The pass was done off the track and the Stewards spotted it and gave him a 5-second penalty for that.
Lap 16 saw the first accident as Williams’ Nicholas Latifi went into the barriers near the final corner. This brought out the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) and many drivers took the chance to head to the pits for a tyre-change. Perez too came in, which let Leclerc take over the lead as the VSC was replaced by a real Safety Car to manage the flow while the damaged racing car was removed. At least 3 cars (Hamilton among them) did not come in and they had all started on Hard tyres.
The Safety Car left the track on lap 20 and racing resumed with Leclerc in the lead and Verstappen almost in his slipstream. A frustrated Perez was third, also not far from the front and although he tried, he was unable to stop Sainz from getting past as well and instead watch out for Russell coming up. Incidentally, both Ferraris had switched to Hard tyres when they came in.
Magnussen didn’t give up trying even after Hamilton had passed him and interestingly, both cars were still on their starting Hard tyres after more than 30 laps as they had not gone in during the Safety Car period for a change. Aston Martin’s Nico Hulkenberg, running in 14th, was the only other driver who was still running on starting tyres.
As lap 37 started, Alonso’s car seem to drop back with a noticeable reduction in speed. After having made it past Magnussen, he very quickly slipped back down the field and then radioed that the Alpine had no power. He tried to roll back to the pits but could not and parked so the VSC came out.
Then Ricciardo also reported that his McLaren had lost power and he had to stop right at the pit entrance, blocking it to Hamilton who was planning to come in. Bottas had come in earlier and not departed so he too retired. The VSC was kept active for another few laps as efforts were made to clear the Alpine.
9 laps remained when the VSC went off and Hamilton rushed into the pits to get Medium tyres. When he rejoined, he was just behind Magnussen who was in 11th.
On lap 43, Verstappen went into attack mode and swept past Leclerc, but the Ferrari driver did not give up easily and fought back to regain the lead. Behind, the other Red Bull with the Mexican in it was also duelling with Sainz. Much drama as the race was in its final laps.
There was last-minute drama as Albon and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll came into contact and the yellow flags came out. But it was a close fight as the leaders exchanged positions and Verstappen seemed to hold the lead better. And then it was over – Verstappen got across the finish line half a second ahead to win the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Race starts in Jeddah at 8 pm/1 am (Monday) in Malaysia
While the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 caused cancellations and rescheduling of the rounds of Formula 1 World Championship, there have been many other times when certain rounds have not been run in the past. However, they were not due to conflicts or political issues in the host country, with the exception of the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix which was cancelled when anti-government protests (inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’) led to concerns about security for the F1 participants.
This year, the conflict in Ukraine has seen the termination – not just cancellation – of the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi by Formula 1 as a response to the invasion of Ukraine. Yesterday, the second round of the 2022 championship in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was also the subject of security and safety concerns after an Aramco oil storage facility just 11 kms from the circuit was attacked by Yemen’s Houthis. However, after much discussion with government agencies and the teams, it was announced that the race would go on as there were sufficient assurances of protection.
“We have received total assurance that the country’s safety is first,” said Formula One CEO, Stefano Domenicali. “So they have in place all the systems to protect this area, the city, the places where we are going. So we feel confident and we have to trust the local authority in that respect.”
“The attacks had targeted economic infrastructure and not civilians. We have the assurance from a high level that this is a secure place, the whole thing will be secure and let’s go on racing,” added FIA President, Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
This second round of the 2022 championship is the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and it is the second time the event is being run at Jeddah where the 6.174-km long Corniche Street Circuit has been created. Like the Bahrain round last weekend, this 50-lap race will be run after sunset with over 600 lights providing illumination (connected by 200,000 metres of cable and fibreoptic lines).
Very fast circuit
The young circuit has proven to be one of F1’s fastest circuits (and it also has the most corners this year). At an average speed of 253.9 km/h, Lewis Hamilton’s pole lap last year is second on the current calendar, behind Monza. It trails the Italian track, Silverstone (pre-2010 layout) and the Osterreichring in the all-time list.
A number of revisions have been made, mainly at improving the sight-lines for the drivers. This has been done by moving the barriers further back. The track at the final Turn 27 has been widened to 12 metres, and that could mean a quicker lap time than last year.
However, as will be the case at every track this year, the redesigned cars for 2022 will require understanding of the new demands. With the walls close and the stakes high, judgment and precision will be key factors for victory.
“The Jeddah circuit marks a completely different challenge compared to the opening Grand Prix in Bahrain due to the diverse track characteristics, both in terms of layout and asphalt. Drivers will also use a softer range of compounds this weekend to cope with the specific demands of the track, which is nearly as quick as Monza. The teams have no experience of these tyres and cars on the circuit, and conditions could be somewhat different from last time in Saudi Arabia just 4 months ago – with the race now being held at a different time of year and a few track modifications in store,” said Pirelli’s Motorsport Director, Mario Isola.
Brembo supplies all teams
The Brembo Group is supplying all the teams with its calipers, the first time since 1975. All 20 cars will have new nickel-plated and machined from billet 6-piston calipers, the maximum number allowed by the regulations. Five of the teams will also use by-wore units to manage rear braking, allowing balancing of braking forces between front and rear wheels.
Brembo engineers have also worked with each team to customize many of the brake systems because each racing car is set up differently. Some teams opt for lighter and less rigid calipers, while others choose stiffer, heavier set-ups; so the weight/stiffness ratio has to be optimized for each brake caliper. In-wheel sensors keep the team’s engineers informed of the disc and caliper temperatures at all times so they and the drivers can regulate and optimize braking performance.
Some of the new regulations have affected brake disc design. Until 2021, discs could be pierced with up to 1,480 holes of 2.5 mm diameter. This year, the requirements allow for between 1,000 and 1,100 holes at the front and around 900 at the back, compared with 1,050 holes previously. The updated rules also impose a new minimum diameter of 3 mm. This means that while disc thickness stays the same, there will be fewer and larger holes, reducing cooling ability.
Perforated brake pads have also been banned this season, so Brembo is offering teams a choice of two alternative configurations. In terms of weight, the 2022 braking system is around 700 gms heavier per wheel, adding almost 3 kgs to the total weight of cars compared to last season.
The new era of F1 has already lived up to expectations that the dominance of Mercedes-AMG and Red Bull Racing can be challenged by others, and Ferrari’s victory in the first round showed this. While the reigning champions Mercedes-AMG will be looking to do better than third (and not from the misfortune of others), Red Bull Racing has revealed that the sudden power failures to both its cars in the closing laps was because of a fault in fuel delivery which they do not expect to happen again.
Haas F1 had a surprising performance without Nikita Mazepin around (not that he contributed any points last year) as Kevin Magnussen finished fifth, and Mick Schumacher was just one position short of the top 10 finishers. George Russell also did well in his first official drive with the Mercedes-AMG team (second if you include the stand-in drive last year), while the tenth placing by newcomer Zhou GuanYu was commendable for his very first F1 race.
With this being the second last round, tensions were very high on the starting grid. Lewis Hamilton had to put in everything he could to secure a win while Max Verstappen, with just a narrow lead, could take the title tonight too. The Constructors title was even closer – just 5 points apart – and with the new circuit, there were still unknowns that could affect the way the race would end.
As the lights went out, Hamilton got a good start and team mate Bottas, who had started next to him, did his duty by preventing the Red Bull driver from going after Hamilton. No major incidents as the cars got to the first corner other than an incident between Williams Racing’s George Russell and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
Further down, Yuki Tsunoda, Scuderia AlphaTauri’s Japanese driver, challenged Alpine’s Esteban Ocon going into the first corner but the high wall forced him to back off and in the process, he lost 5 places, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz slipping past him as well.
The gaps were close in mid-field with the most aggressive driver being Sainz, fighting pushing other drivers as he moved further up from his 15th starting spot. However, the frantic pace cooled off when the Safety Car appeared after Haas F1’s Mick Schumacher’s spun and crashed crashed at the spot where Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had also had the same misfortune in FP2.
As the Safety Car led the convoy, Hamilton and Bottas came in for a tyre-change that could be their only one in the 50-lap race. Verstappen, however, remained on the track to try to open up a gap and hold on to his inherited lead. When the two Mercedes-AMG drivers rejoined, they were about 3 seconds behind. Besides Hamilton and Bottas, 8 other drivers also came in to change tyres.
For this race, it was the Safety Car provided by Aston Martin and messages heard on the radios seemed to suggest that the speed of the green car in front was not fast enough. And then a Red Flag signal came out on lap 14, and all cars had to return to the pits. The barriers that Schumacher had it at Turn 23 were too badly damaged and time was needed to get them fixed properly. Hamilton was furious, suggesting that the appearance of the Red Flag was not necessary…
When the race was allowed to restart (standing start) about 18 minutes later, Verstappen had the ‘pole position’ he did not get on the starting grid, his decision to stay out having paid off – just by luck. He could also get fresh tyres and push as hard as his rivals for the remaining 36 laps.
An angry Hamilton was well prepared for the restart, this time behind Verstappen and both cars raced side by side to the first corner. However, Bottas locked up and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez went into a spin. In the chaos, three cars crashed – Haas’ Nikita Mazepin, Russell and Perez – all had their race end there. Out came the red flags again and racing stopped again. What a way for Saudi Arabia’s first ever F1 race to go!
Only 15 laps had been completed when the race was allowed to restart after the mess was cleared. Earlier, when the two frontrunners were charging into the first turn, Hamilton had reached it just a slight bit earlier and was trying to hold the lead. However, the Red Bull forced him off and wide, which many felt was not right, and Ocon slipped by.
The Race Director saw what happened and told the Red Bull team that Verstappen would start in second place. It was assumed that Hamilton would be the first car but Red Bull stated that it was Ocon. The race was suspended for 15 minutes again and the restart saw Ocon as the first car, Hamilton second and Verstappen third, an arangement Mercedes and Red Bull accepted.
The restart saw Ocon, briefly enjoying his pole position as both Hamilton and Verstappen charged with him int Turn 1 . Hamilton didn’t take chances and eased off while Ocon decided to avoid both of them… and it was Verstappen who emerged on the other side in the lead again. However, he felt that he was not getting sufficient power when he saw how Hamilton was closing in.
As the race neared the halfway mark, Tsunoda couldn’t make the first turn as he battled with Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, and went straight off, destroying his front wing as he went into the barriers. And out came the yellow flags with the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) being activated. Four cars were already out of the race – would the AlphaTauri be the fifth? Tsunoda would be deemed to have been in the wrong and got a 5-second penalty.
As the VSC ended, the cars had finally reached the halfway mark of 25 laps. Verstappen was in the lead, just barely ahead of Hamilton, with Ocon some 11 seconds behind.
But the VSC came back on again a few laps later as there was too much debris on the track from the various collisions, including one between Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. The risk of a puncture was great, Alonso was warning, especially with the cars hitting up to 300 km/h. So the officials decided to activate the VSC to clear the debris, which slowed down all the cars again.
The VSC was switched off on lap 33 and racing resumed, with Hamilton still holding the fastest lap and the 1 precious point. He pushed harder to set an even faster time 2 laps later. And then it happened as both cars arrived at Turn 1 again and Hamilton went into the back of Verstappen, damaging his front wing badly! But the Mercedes-AMG driver stayed in the chase although his car’s performance was compromised with the damage.
On lap 42, Verstappen was told to slow down and let Hamilton pass to take the lead, as it seemed to be recognised that the collision was the Dutchman’s fault so the team was probably trying to ‘resolve’ things before the Stewards made their decision. The Stewards decided to let the race proceed and would review the incident after the race. With 4 laps remaining, Hamilton regained the lead and was on course to take the chequered flag.
It was by no means easy for both the drivers in the remaining few laps. Hamilton’s front wing was self-destructing and Verstappen had to keep his tyres intact till the end. Hamilton crossed the line comfortably in the lead and had 25 points plus 1 point for fastest lap, so it was going to be a close fight in the final round.
Bottas had put in a superb effort and just on the last lap, he managed to get past Ocon and slot into third, adding much-needed points to the team to secure its title again.
Race starts at 8:30 pm in Jeddah/1:30 am (Monday) in Malaysia
This weekend, for the 21st round of the 2021 championship, Formula 1 goes to Saudi Arabia for the country’s first F1 event at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. The circuit, newly created, is a street circuit situated 30 kms outside the historic city of Jeddah, the second largest city in Saudi Arabia. It is the second venue to join the calendar this year, following Qatar a fortnight ago.
While this is the first time an F1 race is being held, Saudi Arabia is no stranger to international top-level motorsports and, in recent years, has hosted rounds of the Formula E series and the Dakar Rally. Saudi Arabia also joins three other countries in the Middle East – Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE – to host F1 rounds.
Second longest circuit
The streets have been specially prepared to meet FIA’s strict standards for a Formula 1 circuit, with 34 tonnes of new asphalt and 550,00 tonnes of cement used. At 6.175 kms, it is the second longest circuit in the 2021 calendar, just 800 metres longer than the circuit at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit will be the fifth track to run a F1 race at night. The total number of lights is estimated at over 600 to achieve lighting levels have to be 1,500 lux, and there is more than 20 kms of electric cabling.
There are 27 turns around the track with one (Turn 13) banked at 12 degrees. That’s three degrees steeper than Indianapolis’ banked corners and 7 degrees less than those at Zandvoort. This will add stress for the drivers who will experience a high g-load (around 4.9 lateral g) as they circulate for 50 laps.
As the track is totally new, the top speed that the cars will reach is not known but simulations put it as 322 km/h, with an average speed as high as 252.8 km/h. On this basis, Jeddah has billed its circuit as the ‘fastest street circuit in the world’.
The waterfront location presents similar challenges to Abu Dhabi, blowing sand onto the track and experiencing wind shifts from daytime to the evening. Because of the long track length, energy management is very difficult, which puts more focus on the performance of the MGU-H and hybrid systems.
Hard work for tyres
The circuit has more corners than any other track on the calendar, which will keep the tyres working hard. As it’s never been used before, drivers can expect a slippery and ‘green’ track at the start of the weekend. “Jeddah is probably the biggest unknown we face all year, as with the track being completed very close to the race. As a result, we can only rely on simulations from F1 and the teams, along with other information we’ve collected, to come up with our nomination of tyres to supply,” said Mario Isola, Head of F1 and Car Racing at Pirelli. “This street circuit looks set to be quite different to anything else, and the high speeds with fast corners will obviously play a big part in the way that the tyres behave.
Blind corners, unforgiving track
Many parts of the circuit are quite narrow and unforgiving, with the walls close to the side of the track. “Blind corners are obviously an issue whenever someone is cooling down and you are on a push lap because of the huge speed difference so we all need to be super focused even when we are not pushing. The track leaves very little margin for mistakes and Charles Leclerc was unfortunate to crash,” said Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
“It is unforgiving; there is no room for any mistakes. The most challenging part is getting into the right rhythm with all the blind corners there are. But as soon as you do, it’s even more exciting to drive,” added Leclerc.
With the exceptionally high speeds, stopping power will be of great importance and the expert at Brembo have classified 2 braking sections as ‘very demanding’ on the brakes; 2 are of ‘medium difficulty’; and the other 3 are ‘light’. The hardest on the brake system is the last corner because the racing cars come to it after braking for the last time on turn 22 (they don’t have to brake in the other 4 corners). As they come onto Turn 27, the cars will be at around 317 km/h when the brakes will need to be used for 2.6 seconds. This is the time needed to slow down to 110 km/h. In the meantime, they cover a distance of 127 metres and the drivers experience 4.3g of deceleration.
Can Verstappen be champion?
Following Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Qatar, Max Verstappen’s lead had been cut to just 8 points. The Red Bull Racing driver still has a chance to take the 2021 title and he must outscore Hamilton by 18 points. This requires the Mercedes-AMG driver to finish 6th or lower. Clocking the fastest lap with its precious point – and holding it till the end – will also be an important factor. If he finishes second with the fastest lap and Hamilton is down in 10th place at the end of the race, then the Dutchman can be confirmed as 2021 champion.
In the Constructors Championship, the gap is narrow – just 5 points – so the drivers of each team will be working hard to collect as many points as possible. Ferrari looks set to take third overall this year, with McLaren in fourth.