The second round of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship saw reigning champion Max Verstappen starting from 15th after driveshaft failure forced him out of qualifying, and Charles Leclerc in 12th after taking a 10-place grid drop for using more than his 2 allotted ECUs for the season,
Verstappen’s team mate in Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, had a poor start from pole position and was passed by a forceful Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin. However, the Stewards would give Alonso a 5-second penalty for incorrect starting location.
It’s Singapore, so rain was not unexpected and in the hours before the F1 race started, commentators were saying things like ‘buckets’ and ‘dumped with enough water to sail a small boat’. Due to the heavy rain, the scheduled 8 pm start was delayed for an hour to 9:05 pm. Even though the rain eased about 20 minutes before the start time, at least 24 mm of water had fallen on the track.
Heavy rain notwithstanding, the fans turned up in the biggest number in the 13-year history of the event, with attendance of 302,000 spectators. That was 2,000 more than the first F1 race in 2008 and according to Singapore’s Transport minister, about 50% were from overseas.
Just as the race was preparing to start, rain came down heavily, creating additional levels of stress. There was uncertainty about which tyres to start on, made worse by the fact that the street circuit is used by normal traffic at night, so it was a bit greasy too.
The formation lap was to start behind the Safety Car so everyone was required to be on full wet tyres. However, as the rain got heavier, there was a delay extending the start time to 16 minutes later than scheduled. After the cars moved off on the formation lap, the rain got even heavier and the red flags came out, so the race was suspended even before it started. There were remarks that the rainfall was unusually great… a climate-change message?
While safety considerations were understood, the teams were frustrated that they had to sit still waiting. As the rain suddenly ended 55 minutes after the race should have started, the race Director sent a message to the team to be ready to start in 10 minutes. The track was still wet, there were still dark clouds but it seemed that the race could get underway. A second message informed that the race would start at 4:05 pm – 65 minutes after the original scheduled time.
“For us, the preparation is before the start of the race and then the teams have the full allocation of tyres in blankets and can decide at the last minute what they want to do and the decision is up to the teams. The real problem here is the level of grip because we are on a street circuit. It is not the temperature because we tested the tyres in this temperature, but it is the level of grip that is really low. If the sun is coming out, the track is going to dry out very quickly, so it is another important choice for the teams’ strategists,” said Pirelli’s Motorsport Director, Mario Isola.
The 20 cars cautiously followed the Safety Car driven by birthday boy, Bernd Maylander, around the wet circuit. Two laps were completed as the race got underway with a rolling start. But even before the start took place. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll had a rear puncture and Williams Racing’s Nicholas Latifi slid into the barrier.
Charles Leclerc had sprinted off and was holding the lead with his team mate Carlos Sainz protecting him from Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen who were just seconds behind. Scuderia Alphatauri’s Pierre Gasly, in spite of a slide, set the fastest lap in the early stages. But just two laps later, on lap 9, Leclerc used the advantage of clear air to set a faster lap time.
By lap 12, the two Ferraris and two red Bulls were 8 seconds away from the rest, with McLaren’s Lando Norris and Mercedes-AMG’s George Russell duelling carefully for 5th place. Russell’s team mater, Lewis Hamilton was trying to move forward but it was hard to get past Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton came in on lap 16, switching to intermediate tyres. He managed to get back out in time to lose just one position to Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, slotting into ninth place. Meanwhile, Russell was asked to manage his tyres, possibly till slicks could go on. Right after Hamilton, Perez dropped out of third place and came in on the next lap for intermediates as well.
On lap 19, both Leclerc and Verstappen came in and took on intermediate tyres. However, Haas F1’s Mick Schumacher who also came in took on hard tyres, much to everyone’s surprise. The order then was Sainz in the lead, still on the first set of tyres, followed by Perez and then Leclerc.
As the 20th lap approached, Hamilton and Ocon were dicing and on one occasion, had contact. The Mercedes-AMG driver was uncertain if his car was damaged but did not report any unusual condition.
On lap 22, it was time to go to hard compounds and both the Ferraris quickly shot into the pits. Perez took over the lead as Sainz returned to the track behind him and Verstappen slotted into the space ahead of Leclerc.
Yellow flags appeared on lap 26 as Schumacher crashed and the Virtual Safety Car was activated initially and then the Safety Car went out. With Schumacher’s departure, both Haas cars were out of the Monaco GP as Kevin Magnussen had retired earlier. Sainz too had a heart-stopping moment as his car slid towards the barrier but there’s probably some rally DNA from his father and he managed to save the car from crashing.
As Schumacher’s car was being cleared, it was found that the barriers were quite severely damaged and more time was needed to make repairs. The decision was made to put out the red flag (which the Red Bull boss predicted) and stop the race, and the drivers headed back to the pits. The running order at that time on lap 29 was Perez, Sainz, Verstappen and Leclerc. Six seconds away from the Ferrari driver was Russell in fifth place.
The race was suspended for 19 minutes and resumed with a rolling start. The running order when the red flag had come out was Perez, Sainz, Verstappen and Leclerc. Six seconds away from the Ferrari driver was Russell in fifth place. The forecast was that there would be no more rain for the remaining 44 laps of the 77-lap race – but there was also the possibility that time might run out at the 2-hour limit.
The four frontrunners sped off but this time, Russell and Norris were also closer, just a few seconds further back and ready to take advantage of any slip the Ferrari or Red Bull ahead made. Behind Norris was a big 15-second gap to the next car.
Perez had the advantage of clear air but the race was not going to run for 77 laps and was likely to have only 29 laps remaining. Hamilton was again stuck behind Alonso and trying to take over 7th place. The Alpine driver seemed to be losing the pace although the team’s engineers said nothing was wrong. Still, it was difficult for Hamilton to get past on the narrow track.
Understanding that the race was shortened, Norris was beginning to plan for a more aggressive effort to take the fifth place from Russell before the race ended. The main consideration was whether the tyres could take the increased efforts and last for another 20+ laps – and Pirelli said that there was an outside chance of rain before the race ended.
And it was not only the Mercedes-AMG driver being frustrated by Alonso but others as well and the gap from the front got wider and wider. In fact, when Hamilton asked how far ahead the front-runners were, his team suggested that he not think of that and instead think of how far they were behind – which was about 30 seconds! By lap 51, Perez was already seeing the backmarkers not far ahead.
As Perez closed in on the lapped cars ahead, Sainz began to put the pressure on. Encountering traffic would make things tricky for the Mexican Red Bull driver who had to look ahead as well as watch behind. Verstappen and Leclerc were about 2 seconds away, also in a position to grab a better spot if the opportunity came up.
The pressure on Perez was very great as the Ferrari was right behind, almost under his wing. His tyres were not in great shape and at that point, no one was certain what the outcome of the race would be. The four leaders came up behind Alfa Romeo ORLEN’s Zhou GuanYu who got out of the way quickly to let them pass.
It was clear that with 5 minutes remaining, the front drivers were giving everything that had as there were moments when they looked like they would lose it. Sainz was pushing Perez and Verstappen was also pressuring from behind. Latifi was also in the way but moved aside and then there was some space to the next cars so the leaders began to push harder.
The clock stopped at lap 64 and Perez held on to his lead through 19 corners to cross the finish line and win the 2022 Monaco GP. Sainz was not letting up and neither was Verstappen so it was that order of finish, with a disappointed Leclerc coming up behind in fourth.
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.
It was already known that Sebastian Vettel would not get another season with Ferrari, the team he has driven for since 2015. So who he would be with in 2021 was the question in the air, and it’s been answered – Racing Point.
The 33-year old driver who has won 4 championships in his 13 years as a F1 driver is expected to be with Racing Point – to be renamed Aston Martin – for at least 3 years, although the team has not indicated the contract period.
“It’s a new adventure for me with a truly legendary car company. I have been impressed with the results the team has achieved this year and I believe the future looks even brighter. The energy and commitment of Lawrence [Stroll] to the sport is inspiring and I believe we can build something very special together,” said Vettel.
Though Vettel has had a lousy season this year and is 13th in the current championship standings after 8 rounds, he remains one of the top drivers and a good catch for the team. “On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, Sebastian is one of the best in the world, and I can’t think of a better driver to help take us into this new era. He will play a significant role in taking this team to the next level,” said Otmar Szafnauer, CEO & Team Principal of Racing Point.
However, a team can have only two active drivers which has meant that the services of Sergio Perez won’t be needed in 2021. Lance Stroll, 21, being the owner’s son, obviously would not be the one to be ejected…
Perez revealed that his notice only came the day before Vettel himself announced that he will join Racing Point but suspected something like that would happen. The 30-year old Mexican driver, nicknamed ‘Checo’, has been racing in F1 for 9 years, having started with Sauber in 2011. He has been with Racing Point since 2014 when it was known as Force India. At this time, he said that he is uncertain whether he will join another team though he is keen to remain in F1.
Racing Point’s change of name is more than just that and it will be an official Aston Martin works team. The intention is to run the team for at least 10 years, and it will be the first time the carmaker has been directly involved in motorsport in many decades although it currently has a partnership with ProDrive in Aston Martin Racing.
Who is Lawrence Stroll?
The move does not surprise observers since Racing Point’s owner, Lawrence Stroll, is Aston Martin’s Executive Chairman (after making a £182 million investment via a consortium and getting a 16.7% stake).
Stroll (the father), who is a Canadian billionaire, is well known in the fashion industry, with shares in Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors. He is a car-lover with a collection of vintage Ferraris and has been involved in F1 via brand sponsorships for many years.
Movements so far
There are still 9 races to go on the revised 2020 calendar and team owners may well be having private discussions with drivers. At this time, the confirmed movements are Fernando Alonso joining the Renault team which will be known as the Alpine F1 team, and Carlos Sainz, Jr. going to Ferrari to join Charles Leclerc. The vacant seat left by Sainz at McLaren will be taken by Daniel Ricciardo, which means Red Bull Racing is looking for a partner for Max Verstappen.
The finishing positions of the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix yesterday were taken on the 52nd lap rather than the 53rd lap. This means that the race distance was one lap short and the error is believed to be due to the chequered flag having been shown on the display panel one lap early.
Teams and drivers, upon seeing the chequered flag flash, assumed the race to be over as the regulations state. The FIA’s Article 43.2 says: “Should for any reason the end‐of‐race signal be given before the leading car completes the scheduled number of laps, or the prescribed time has been completed, the race will be deemed to have finished when the leading car last crossed the line before the signal was given.”
The officials don’t know how it occurred and blame it on a system fault. However, even with one lap short, the overall results are unchanged – with one exception. Although SportPesa Racing Point’s Sergio Perez (pictured below) had crashed out in what was to have been the final lap, the error instead positioned him as ninth-placed finisher. This meant he picked 2 valuable points for the team which is still going after Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda. Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg, having been pushed down one position to tenth place, lost a point.
Heavy penalties for Leclerc and Ferrari
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was also penalized for his collision with Max Verstappen on the first lap, resulting in the Red Bull Racing driver having to retire. The Stewards imposed a 5-second time penalty which was added to the elapsed race time.
Additionally, he got another 10-second penalty for continuing to drive the car in an unsafe condition after the incident on Lap 1. He drove until the third lap and then the damaged wing disintegrated and some broken parts caused damage to the mirror on Lewis Hamilton’s car.
This all means Leclerc’s finishing position is one step down, from sixth to seventh. He received 2 penalty points on his racing licence (total of 2 in the 12-month period), while the Ferrari team was fined 25,000 euros (about RM115,254).