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Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: What we learned from the first day of practice at Jeddah

Red Bull still strong, problems linger for Ferrari, and more lessons from Jeddah

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F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia - Practice Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

The first two practice sessions are in the books at Jeddah Corniche Circuit, ahead of this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. All ten teams will take the night to debrief and prepare for the second race of the 2023 Formula 1 season, but here is what we learned over the first two sessions.

Red Bull is still the leader of the pack

Following a dominant performance in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, expectations were high for Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez, and the rest of Red Bull. While Team Principal Christian Horner did his best to downplay expectations heading into Jeddah, saying that the Bahrain GP was just one data point, every other team in the field pointed to Red Bull as the team. to bead during Thursday’s press conferences.

Friday’s practice sessions will not help Horner downplay expectations for this weekend.

Verstappen and Pérez locked out the top two spots in the early session, with Fernando Alonso trailing them, much like we saw two weeks ago in Bahrain:

Then in the evening session, under conditions which will more closely mirror Sunday’s Grand Prix — racing under the floodlights — Red Bull was again atop the field. Verstappen led the way with the best lap, as many teams turned in some simulated qualifying runs, followed by Alonso. Verstappen’s teammate, Pérez, came across third:

As was noted by the commentators on F1TV, “it was otherwise as you were” coming out of Bahrain. With Red Bull up top, Aston Martin closing the game, and the rest of the field fighting to find as much performance as possible.

Are we in for a shocker from Haas or Alpine?

Perhaps the biggest surprise from Friday, particularly the second session?

Some strength from both Alpine, and Haas.

Nico Hülkenberg of Haas put in one of the better laps of the second session, finishing the evening portion of practice in P8, just 0.578 seconds off Verstappen. Hülkenberg made a little noise during qualifying in Bahrain, pushing into Q3 before his lap in the third portion of qualifying was deleted, forcing him to start tenth. While he slid down the field and only managed to finish the Bahrain GP in 15th, he at least showed some pace during qualifying.

That could continue this weekend, given what we saw Friday.

Then there is the Alpine duo of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly. Ocon’s first race of the season was a nightmare, as he drew a number of penalties, and eventually retired on Lap 43. His teammate Gasly started 20th, but fought his way up the field to finish in a shocking ninth position.

Could they have even more up their sleeves this weekend? If the second session is any indication, they just might. Gasly came across in P6, while Ocon finished the evening session in P4, just 0.436 behind Verstappen’s pace.

Perhaps one — or both — of these teams shakes things up this weekend.

Turn 22 and Turn 23 will be a factor

As we noted earlier this week, one of the storylines to follow this weekend is the safety of the drivers on the track. Jeddah is known as the fastest street circuit in the world, with drivers reaching average speeds approaching 160 miles per hour, making it one of the fastest tracks on the calendar, despite its 27 turns.

However, recent crashes at Jeddah, such as Mick Schumacher’s during qualifying a season ago, led to some alterations to the circuit for thie season. One of those alterations includes making Turns 22 and 23 much, much tighter. “In the final change, Turns 22 and 23 have seen the ‘S’ shape squeezed via the adjustment of the fence at T23, and the addition of a bevelled kerb – with a view to slowing down the drivers by approximately 50km/h,” according to F1.

Drivers certainly slowed down during that section of the circuit on Friday. This graphic depicting the speeds from Verstappen last season, and during Friday’s practice sessions, puts that into a clearer picture:

Beyond the drop in speed, many drivers struggled to navigate that portion of the track, with many running well wide through those two turns:

Even the teams themselves took notice of what was happening at Turn 22:

Which drivers — and teams — figure out this portion of the track will be in strong position this weekend.

Ferrari has a lot of work to do

After a disappointing start to the season for Ferrari, with Charles Leclerc enduring a DNF in the Bahrain GP, there were hopes that the Scuderia would begin to battle back this weekend.

Instead, Friday draws to a close with even more worries for Ferrari.

The day began with word that, in addition to Leclerc facing a ten-place grid penalty for switching to his third control electronics for this weekend — teams are alloted just two per season, and face a penalty for going beyond two — Ferrari made even more changes to both his car, and teammate Carlos Sainz Jr.’s SF-23:

Not only is Ferrari apparently struggling with reliability issues, they lacked pace, particularly in the second session. As the teams pushed some quali sims in the second session, Ferrari fell down the field. Leclerc finished ninth, and Sainz tenth:

Making matters worse, Leclerc radioed in near the end of the second session that he was dealing with even more power issues.

Ferrari may eventually prove the rest of the field right, and push closer to Red Bull at the top of the running order. But they have a lot of work to do before they can get there.