Will Ferrari make it two from two? Five talking points for the Saudi Arabian GP

2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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The opening race of the Formula 1 world championship prompted as many questions as it answered as the Bahrain Grand Prix provided an enthralling first race for 2022.

But there’s hardly any time for the ten teams to take stock as they travel immediately to Saudi Arabia for the second round of the year, just one week after the first.

The Jeddah Corniche Circuit will host its second race in the space of four months with the track benefiting from all those extra weeks of work, hopefully making this year’s event better than its first.

Here are the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Can Ferrari back up their Bahrain success?

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2018
Ferrari last won the first two races of a season in 2018
Ferrari could not have hoped for a better start to the season than the one they enjoyed in Bahrain. Pole position, fastest lap and their first win in over two years for Charles Leclerc, with Carlos Sainz Jnr crossing the line in second to make it a one-two for the Scuderia.

Heading into Saudi Arabia, Ferrari have the opportunity to do something they have not achieved since 2018 – win the opening two rounds of the season.

While Ferrari delivered on the promise they showed in pre-season, when they arguably had the most impressive testing programme of all the teams, Red Bull kept them honest throughout the weekend, with Max Verstappen just over a tenth off Leclerc’s pole time and the two battling hard after their first pitstops before Verstappen was forced to retire later in the race.

With so many unknowns about the behaviour of these new ground effect cars for 2022, will the F1-75 have the edge over the RB18 again this weekend? Or will the high speed street circuit suit the Red Bulls better?

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Will Jeddah track changes make racing cleaner and safer?

George Russell, Williams, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
The Jeddah circuit has been modified slightly over the winter
The new Jeddah circuit achieved immediate notoriety among fans and drivers after its first race just four months ago. With two red flag stoppages due to accidents and the second-highest average lap speed of any circuit on the calendar, the many fast, blind and barrier-lined corners on the circuit earned some criticism.

“I think Suzuka is an amazing track, but you wouldn’t do Suzuka with walls,” remarked Sebastian Vettel after last year’s race. “And that’s what they’ve done, more or less, here.”

In response to concerns raised by the drivers, the circuit’s management have made a series of minor changes to the track for this year’s event. The priority was to improve drivers’ sightlines into many of the blind corners, by moving the barriers back by up to two metres at turns two and three as well as the flat-out turn 14 following the hairpin.

Jeddah Corniche Circuit track map, 2021
Track data: Jeddah Corniche Circuit
The barriers on the apexes of turns four and 16 have been made shallower, as have turns 22 – scene of many accidents the first weekend – and the fast kink of turn 24. The final hairpin, where Verstappen threw away a likely pole position, has been widened with the barrier moved back to try and give drivers more room to manoeuvre.

Despite these changes, there has been no adjustment to turns eight and nine, scene of the closest near-miss of the 2021 weekend where Nikita Mazepin came across a slow Lewis Hamilton in the middle of the fast, blind sweeper during practice. Teams and drivers will have to remain on the highest of alert throughout the weekend to avoid either being hit, or running into slower cars in sessions.

The new 2022 cars pose an added visibility problem. The wheels are taller and include mandatory bodywork extensions over the top of them, making it harder for drivers to judge where the apex of a corner is.

Red Bull’s power unit problems

It was, quite literally, a baptism of fire for Red Bull’s new powertrains division in Bahrain, with only one of the four cars powered by Red Bull-badged Honda power units reaching the chequered flag.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
Three of the four Red Bull power units failed to finish in Bahrain
Sergio Perez described last Sunday as a “very low day” for the team as they saw second place disappear for Verstappen, then a potential third lost on the final lap when Perez’s car seized at the hairpin. Earlier in the race, Pierre Gasly had pulled off the circuit with his AlphaTauri on fire, leaving Yuki Tsunoda’s car the only Red Bull-powered machine to finish.

An initial analysis suggested a problem with the fuel system was the fault for the two Red Bulls – a problem that had not appeared for the team in testing. With such limited time between Bahrain and this weekend, there has not been a lot of scope for Red Bull to address any problems they have found if it is something more fundamental in their power unit. There’s likely to be some nervous faces in the Red Bull garage right the way until the chequered flag this weekend.

How will the order vary at round two?

The major rules changes for 2022 offered the best opportunities in some time for teams traditionally further down the order to make a leap up the grid. And in Haas and Alfa Romeo – securing fifth and sixth respectively – that certainly proved the case.

Both Alfa Romeos scored points in round one
But just a single weekend is nowhere near enough of a sample size to assess the true order of performance across the ten teams this season. Going from a permanent circuit like Bahrain, with its heavy emphasis on traction and braking, to a street circuit like Saudi Arabia characterised by quick kinks, rapid direction changes and very high top speeds could provide a very different picture of the teams this weekend.

While it’s unlikely that Mercedes will suddenly find the half-second-plus they need to join the battle at the front of the grid, we could well find that six or even seven teams come away with points this weekend. What order that will be is unknown.

With the rate of development expected to be high throughout the season, points scored at this early stage could end up being crucial to deciding the final places in this year’s constructors’ championship. So expect the fight for the points to be especially intense this weekend.

Will porpoising prove more of a problem on a street circuit?

After it became one of the major talking points in Bahrain, porpoising did not seem to become too big of a headache for the 20 cars on track during last Sunday’s race.

Mercedes have suffered more than most with porpoising
That was almost certainly influenced by teams who had suffered with more severe bouncing – such as Mercedes – running set-ups to deliberately reduce the effect as much as possible without compromising their cars’ performance too much in the process.

However, the Bahrain circuit saw high speeds reach at the end of long straights into braking zones for tight corners. But the Jeddah circuit has a much greater variety of corners, with many of them being approached in higher gears.

Many drivers, including Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel and Alex Albon have said that they expect the 2022 cars to be less comfortable to drive around street circuits this season, due to the stiffer suspension settings teams will aim to run to make the most of the ground effect downforce. With street circuits naturally bumpier than most permanent and purpose built venues, this weekend will likely give teams a strong idea of how badly their cars are likely to be affected by porpoising over the many other street tracks to come on this year’s calendar.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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31 comments on “Will Ferrari make it two from two? Five talking points for the Saudi Arabian GP”

  1. It would be great if ferrari brings the fight to Redbull (or vv depending on viewpoint)
    A fight for championship during the year with three or four protagonists.

    1. @erikje What’s vv?

      1. IfImnotverymuchmistaken
        24th March 2022, 14:10

        If I’m not very much mistaken, “vice versa”?

        1. Nice.. :-)

        2. Ahah, with such a name you could cut a few words on your answer!

    2. I’d honestly rather have seen Ferrari v. McLaren and their two sets of drivers this year. Enough of Red Bull and Mercedes after last season. Obviously not going to happen. Realistically it will be Leclerc, Sainz and Verstappen with Perez providing support to the latter but not in contention for the championship. I guess your ‘three or four’ acknowledges that. But there’s surely no way Mercedes won’t back in the fight in the next few races.

      1. I totally agree (coming from a Hamilton fan)

      2. I dont see Sainz in that fight but rather Lewis, Leclerc and Verstappen. I dont think Sainz is at Perez level, but he’s also no Charles. Mercedes I expect to be back already this weekend. Their pace was not as bad as they predicted and surely their progress will be steep given their experience to operate at top level.

  2. And remember – no same sex kissing or you’ll be flogged.
    And say the right things in the press or you’ll be cut up.

    1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
      24th March 2022, 15:24

      Completely off topic of the article and unnecessary comment! Yes, we are all aware of the hypocrisy of F1 in relation to various race locations!

  3. Can Ferrari back up their Bahrain success? – I hope they can.
    Will Jeddah track changes make racing cleaner and safer? – I doubt or at least not a massive difference.
    Red Bull’s power unit problems – Time will tell if they’ve fixed their issues.
    How will the order vary at round two? – I reckon mostly the same pecking order, but surprises are possible, not to mention this track has an ability for extraordinary circumstances that can mix up the order.
    Will porpoising prove more of a problem on a street circuit? – Possibly.

  4. What I am really looking forward to is how Mercedes can bounce back with incremental performance. They sure know how to develop and set-up a car! James said that the Jeddah track is more suited to their track and from reports on Twitter, I’ve seen a less “Drag-y” Mercedes rear wing.

    Either Way – FORZA FERRARI! :D

    1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
      24th March 2022, 15:28

      Porpoising pun intended? when wondering if “Merc will bounce back”! lol.

      1. They bounce to the back..

    2. @moeaz
      The teams have already packed and prepared for the 2 back to back opening races. I don’t expect much development in the second race. Mercedes may reduce their issues through better understanding of the car, tyre behaviour and optimised set-up. They will certainly bring significant upgrades in the Spanish GP and as usual in Silverstone.

  5. So hard to know given such early days with these cars and tires. I’ve read that Ferrari is saying they didn’t have their engines turned up all the way and that they will only progressively do that. Interesting as it implies they could have potentially romped away from Max, or Sainz could have been given more tools and relinquished Max to a third place at best assuming completion of the race, so either they don’t really have much more to turn up, or they were comfortable letting Max be that close, and letting Sainz be where he was, and are following a hard and fast set plan with their pu. If they’re saying they didn’t have it cranked perhaps they need more data before they just go ahead and turn it up.

    I’ve read that Marko is saying their issue with their cars was a vacuum in the fuel system that starved the engines of fuel…should be fixed for this weekend. Obviously they either need to be careful or have beefed up their steering system to withstand the car being dropped off the jack. I’m sure they could still stand to lose some weight as well. If they are something like as much as 10kg heavier than Ferrari well that is huge and will make a huge difference if/when they shed that weight and get themselves down to the allowed 798kg mark. Otherwise, the RBRs are seemingly not that far off the Ferraris (again early days), so it bodes well for an exciting season.

    Mercedes? I don’t suppose we should expect them to have made big strides in a week, but of course they should be there or there about to capitalize on any issues or what have you that Ferrari and Red Bull might have. They’ve talked of a less draggy rear wing and if they bring that this weekend it will be interesting to see what effect that has on their performance. They ran the wing they did for a reason, even if draggy, so I would expect that they won’t be able to just slim down the wing without making other changes. But this track might lend itself to that anyway. Others already have experienced a less draggy rear wing for a race.

    If Ferrari is still looking to be the benchmark this weekend, as a Max fan I hope it is Sainz that betters Leclerc, lol.

    1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
      24th March 2022, 15:32

      I’m curious what RBRs fix is and whether if its a permanent fix or something that will get them by? If it’s running with additional fuel until a permanent fix comes along, then they will be running even heavier than 10kg impacting their performance even more. None the less… it’s all a guess until we see four or five races to see some sort of performance trend across the grid.

      1. @flyingferrarim Hmm I don’t envision a vacuum issue as something they can’t address immediately, and I’m not sure what running additional fuel would do either, but yeah like you say much is guess work and more time needs to go by with these cars and tires.

        1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
          24th March 2022, 15:52

          I its been stated (an issue other teams found with the E10 fuel) that when running low fuel, the vapor issue becomes a problem. Many teams that did low fuel running in testing found this out. So, simply adding additional fuel so you don’t run below the point when vapor lock becomes an issue would, in theory, solve it for the short term until a better solution is conceptualized. Five days is a short turn around for a long term solution.

          1. @flyingferrarim Ok fair enough. Interesting point. For sure I can’t speak to what the real/permanent solution is nor how long it might take them to solve it. I am hopeful that they can solve it permanently for this weekend since they didn’t seem to have an issue in testing, nor do other teams seem to have the issue, so that leads me to be hopeful they know why it happened last weekend and what to do about it. eg. did they change something between testing and Bahrain’s race that they can change back.

          2. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
            24th March 2022, 16:10

            yeah, we can only speculate and guess! Hopefully what ever it is they thought of works.

      2. Maybe they can be allowed to buy some carbon credits from their budget cap and then run regular fuel.

    2. @robbie remember that engine modes are set pre-quali, so it’s not that they could have turned the engine up mid race to move clear of / pass verstappen. They would have set a level they were willing to run at pre event most probably. Not saying the rumours are true, but them settling for what they had certainly doesn’t disprove them.

      1. @j4k3 Yeah true. Forgot about that thanks.

  6. I think this continues to be a very dangerous circuit. I am afraid of damage even heavier cars can make.

  7. I don’t recall this track being particularly bumpy so I don’t know if that is an issue for the bouncing per se. (I hate the term porpoising here because it suggests emphasized changes in pitch which doesn’t seem to be the actual issue and porpoises don’t do what these cars are doing.) But going into a high speed corner and facing an unpredictable stalling of the floor can make things really interesting with these walls beckoning. Also, trying to ride the curbs a 200kph may have similar effect on your underbody downforce. I would be studying a set up book from an early 90s CART race, or lighting incense in the garage.

    I’m expecting a safety-car lottery.

  8. Must be pretty good odds that Verstappen** will take himself and Leclerc out soon, maybe this weekend. Sergio, Carlos and Lewis will be watching closely.

    1. Magnusson or Bottas win, or maybe Zhou!

    2. About the same odds Lewis and George will crash into each other.

    3. The last race here there was also much more at stake in the championship. I don’t think it will be as intense this time.

  9. But the Jeddah circuit has a much greater variety of corners, with many of them being approached in higher gears.

    This, I am fearful of. If a car starts porpoising in the middle of a high speed turn, won’t it lose downforce and go straight instead of turning? And in Jeddah, going straight could mean going into a wall! I doubt any of the turns we saw in Barcelona and Bahrain so far have been as high speed as Jeddah.

    Once again, I pray we go through the weekend without a serious incident

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