► The second race of 2023
► Another Red Bull one-two, but there are cracks appearing
► What did we learn?
The second F1 race of the year is in the books, and although the result was everything we expected, the race itself was fairly eventful. This week’s Red Bull one-two was led by Sergio Perez, with Max Verstappen in second and Alonso (eventually) rounding off the podium in his Aston Martin. However, there were several interesting stories throughout the weekend, all of which suggest this season isn’t the forgone conclusion it appeared to be in Bahrain. Well, after the Red Bulls, anyway.
1. A chink in Red Bull’s armour
Max Verstappen’s Red Bull was dominant all weekend – apart from when it counted. The Dutchman had the pace to comfortably be on pole, but a driveshaft failure during qualifying meant he lined up 15th on Sunday. The result? A recovery drive to second place, helped in part by a safety car, and an increase in team tensions – despite us only being two races in, and despite the world-champion leading the standings. We’ll get to that later.
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Red Bull’s rivals will be hoping there are other technical gremlins in the Milton Keynes rocket, because there’s nothing on the grid that comes close on pace.
2. Aston Martin’s pace isn’t a flash in the pan
Now with the sample size doubled, we can safely say Aston Martin really is the second fastest F1 team in 2023. Jeddah is a very different track to Bahrain with different demands and lower tyre degradation, but Aston Martin was once again Red Bull’s closest competition. Both Astons had good pace throughout the weekend, although a mechanical failure on Stroll’s car meant only Fernando Alonso’s car was able to score any points.
Aston Martin’s newfound form comes with an extra caveat. The team’s shocking 2022 will help it throughout 2023; Aston’s 7th place finish in 2022 means it has more wind tunnel time than time than its competitors to refine its car.
3. Mercedes are coming – they say
After a hopeful winter, Bahrain was a huge disappointment for the Brackley team – and Jeddah was set to be even worse. After a disappointing qualifying in which Lewis Hamilton said he simply couldn’t connect with his W14, there was more talk of a changed concept. According to team principal Wolff, a new design is making ‘big steps’ in the wind tunnel and is already improving on this year’s car. With progress so easy so quickly, you must wonder why the change in focus came so late. Also, didn’t we hear all of this in the winter anyway? We’ll see just how fast the W14B is when it hits the track.
Still, Sunday proved to go considerably better for Mercedes than forecast. Thanks to a safety car, some decent strategy – and a slow pair of Ferraris – Mercedes was able to score a decent 4th and 5th. That means the team is 2nd in the Constructor’s championship after two races – despite having the 3rd, 4th or even 5th fastest car.
4. Where is Ferrari?
After testing it was clear Mercedes had dropped the ball in a big way – but it appears Ferrari are somehow in an even worse state. Despite a sound winter and pre-season test, the Scuderia have started off 2023 just how they ended in 2022 – in a shambles. A failure in Bahrain had ramifications in Jeddah, with Charles Leclerc needing to take new control electronics – and with them a ten-place penalty. Sound familiar? Sounds like 2022 to us.
The main difference between this year and last year? The Ferrari isn’t even that fast anymore. Both Aston Martins were comfortably faster than Ferrari in the race, and even Mercedes – who are having their own crisis – easily had the match of Ferrari. Frederic Vasseur has a serious task on his hands.
5. You can’t park there, Fernando!
The FIA once again embarrassed itself on Sunday after failing to correctly interpret and apply its own rules. Still, at least it corrected its mistake this time. The troubles stemmed after Alonso received a penalty for an incorrect starting position, and then served the 5-second stop and go penalty in the pits. During the five second penalty, nobody is allowed to work on the car – but the FIA determined a rear-jack touching the car constituted as work. The issue? The penalty may have been incorrect, and it took over 30 minutes for the FIA to tell Aston Martin.
What followed was a 3rd place for Fernando (including a podium celebration) before a 4th place demotion. To add to the shambles, an Aston Martin appeal ultimately proved successful, giving Alonso his 100th podium, hours after the race, and hours after Russell had received the trophy instead. Still, at least it was a 3rd place, and not a championship, eh?
6. Max finds reasons to be upset
Having the fastest car hasn’t stopped Red Bull having an intra-team crisis. In the closing laps, Perez was told to hold his speed, and given a target of 1:33.00 despite his teammate setting times around half a second faster. If Perez hadn’t questioned this, he’d have had Max on his gearbox with a few laps to go.
Still, Verstappen was able to disobey team orders one last time. Although both drivers were told to manage their pace, Max took the fastest lap point from his team mate on the last lap, ensuring he still leads the drivers’ championship leaving Jeddah.
The issues continued after the race too: Verstappen blasted his team for Saturday’s driveshaft error and reportedly left the track before the team briefing.