Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022

Ferrari ahead again but driver errors on Friday could cost them in the race

2022 Saudi Arabian GP Friday practice analysis

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For a while on Friday night it seemed the practice times at Jeddah Corniche Circuit would be relegated to an obscure statistical footnote to a race which never happened.

However at the time of writing, despite the shock of a missile exploding a mere 10 kilometres from the track shortly after cars began lapping, all signs are the race weekend will continue as planned.

After winning the Bahrain Grand Prix with a one-two victory to start the 2022 season in perfect style, Ferrari and Charles Leclerc kicked off the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend by topping both practice sessions to position themselves again as the early favourites for Sunday’s race.

It didn’t all go to plan, however. Two deceptively minor-looking brushes with the barriers for both Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr ultimately ended the Ferrari drivers’ second practice sessions early.

While the two F1-75s will be easily repaired in time for Saturday’s final practice, both Ferrari drivers will rue missing out on their only opportunity for meaningful high-fuel race simulation runs.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022
Verstappen set promising times on his race sim run
For the second weekend in a row, Friday’s evening session will be the only truly representative hour of running for the teams in which they can dial in their cars for Sunday’s race. The significantly cooler conditions after the sunset – track temperature fell by as much as 10C – made it paramount for teams to gain as much data from second practice as possible.

In comments issued by the team – all drivers’ media sessions were cancelled as the implications of the attack not far away from the track emerged – Leclerc accepted that it had been a “bit of a shame we couldn’t get the high fuel laps done.” However he remained confident Ferrari “should be in the mix” come qualifying on Saturday.

Among those who did log some longer runs on the medium tyre, there was little surprise as to who appeared to look the strongest. Max Verstappen put in the best seven-lap representative stint of the field, with an average lap time of a 1’35.502, just over a tenth of a second quicker than team mate Sergio Perez’s comparative run in the second Red Bull.

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But despite being clearly the strongest of those who ran race simulations over the final phase of second practice, both Red Bull drivers remained cautious about their chances of overcoming the Ferraris on Sunday. Verstappen reckoned that Ferrari seemed “quite competitive again” after Leclerc topped both Friday sessions, while Perez predicted that qualifying would likely be “another straight shootout” between the two teams.

George Russell, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022
Mercedes appear closer to the pace than in Bahrain
After clearly being behind their main rivals last weekend in Bahrain, Mercedes’ Friday pace seemed more promising than it did seven days earlier. With Lewis Hamilton’s average race sim lap time deficit just over half a second to Verstappen around the 27 corners of the Jeddah circuit, there was reason for Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, to feel somewhat more positive about the potential performance of the team’s W13.

“Compared to Bahrain, the car balance is in a better place and in terms of degradation we’re quite happy with what we have seen today,” said Shovlin. “Our single lap still needs a bit of work but we’ve got the session tomorrow to do that. Overall though, a reasonable day but clearly we still have a bit of work to do before we’ll be troubling Red Bull or Ferrari.”

For McLaren, who began the season in dismal form in Bahrain, there was also more reason for confidence at the end of the first day in Saudi Arabia. As well as ending the day in the ‘best of the rest’ sport of seventh, Lando Norris’s long run lap times were also encouraging, faster than Esteban Ocon’s Alpine and only two tenths slower on average than Russell’s Mercedes.

“A few things [are] feeling a little bit better because of the type of track – much quicker and a lot smoother, so there are definitely some differences,” Norris explained. “We’re feeling a little bit more confident, but it’s all very close and we’re still lacking in many areas, so we’ll continue to work on some of the progress we’ve made, and see if we can get even more performance out of the car tomorrow.”

Once again, tyre performance and degradation looks like playing a big role in the outcome of this weekend’s grand prix. The C4 soft tyre is making its first appearance of the season in Jeddah, but Pirelli motorsport director Mario Isola believes that teams may aim to stay away from the red-walled tyre when it counts most.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022
Mclaren’s downforce deficit may be costing them less
“It’s hard to get an exact read on tyre performance as there was plenty of track evolution today, in FP1 and also in FP2, with sand blowing onto the track and the cars sliding around, especially at the start of each session,” Isola explained.

“We’ve seen the majority of long runs on the medium tyre, which the teams probably consider to be a strong race tyre along with the hard, which showed plenty of consistency. The soft is probably less suited to this circuit as the graining will lead to increased degradation, but it’s only Friday and we’re yet to see the full picture this weekend.”

The three compounds are closer in performance in Jeddah than the slightly harder trio of tyres used last weekend. Pirelli say the hard compound is nine tenths of a second a lap slower than the mediums, with the soft six tenths a lap faster than the mediums. That could make track position even more desirable, especially if there’s a high chance of Safety Car interventions throughout the 50 laps of the race.

But before then, qualifying comes first. While the race pace of the Ferraris remains unclear, their one lap pace has looked strong over these opening two rounds. However, while Leclerc went fastest of all on Friday, Verstappen’s early mistake on his sole push lap on the soft tyres midway through the session prevented Red Bull from showing their hand.

Expect Perez’s predictions of a “shootout” on Saturday to come to fruition. But after that, the likely outcome of the second Saudi Arabian Grand Prix becomes much harder to call.

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Charles LeclercFerrari1’30.7721’30.07432
2Max VerstappenRed Bull1’30.8881’30.21447
3Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’32.8021’30.32026
4Sergio PerezRed Bull1’31.5631’30.36049
5Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’32.3641’30.51344
6George RussellMercedes1’32.8391’30.66448
7Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’32.5941’30.73550
8Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’32.0261’30.76052
9Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’33.8501’30.83236
10Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’31.5051’30.88652
11Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’32.3811’30.94450
12Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’31.3171’30.96357
13Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’35.4121’31.16949
14Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’33.4841’31.37251
15Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’32.5061’31.52747
16Nico HulkenbergAston Martin-Mercedes1’34.2191’31.61553
17Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’34.6921’31.61553
18Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’33.5291’31.81452
19Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’33.0871’31.86654
20Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’32.34415

Teams’ progress vs 2021

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2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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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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    9 comments on “Ferrari ahead again but driver errors on Friday could cost them in the race”

    1. Good to see Merc getting closer. Looks like this season will be between Leclerc and Hamilton.

      1. Don’t see why verstappen wouldn’t be in there.

        1. Exactly! Leclerc and Verstappen are favorites for the title at the moment.

      2. I don’t think they are any closer tbh. On long run pace the Merc had again problems with high tyre degredation, lapping at a similar pace to the Alpine and Alpha Tauri.
        Mercedes still have big problems with porpoising and until they haven’t solved that issue, they won’t be able to fight at the front. However, there seems to be pace in that car. They just need to unlock it.

      3. Too early to tell. Mercedes got very lucky last race because RB dropped the ball massively. It won’t be long until Merc catches up and RB will have wasted the rare momentum Merc was weak. If reliability keeps a challenge for RB they will be out of contention from early on and your prediction might be right. However, if RB finds reliability Max will be on the podium every race as he showed enormous consistency last year (finishing all races either 1st or 2nd bar 4 races of which at least 2 were beyond his fault). And Ferrari might be quick but both their drivers made a lot of unforced errors in previous seasons similar to this Friday. If they don’t mature they won’t content despite their good car. So might as well easily become another Lewis year or a Leclerc vs Verstappen year. It just too early to tell.

      4. You seem to assume ferrari and Redbull do not develop the car and wait until Mercedes solves it development issues.
        A bit naive…

    2. As expected the cars are closer to last year’s pace here compared to where they were in Bahrain. The new cars really come alive in fast corners.
      Leclerc and Verstappen didn’t have clean laps on the soft tyres, so there is plenty to come from them in qualifying. Pole time should be somewhere in the mid 1:28s.
      Mercedes looked solid on fresher tyres (in particular during the first couple of laps on their long runs), but seem to again suffer from high tyre degredation across the stint. P5 and 6 should be achievable for them though.
      Alpine and Alpha Tauri seem to be heading the midfield this time. Their long run pace was close to Mercedes, especially in the latter part of a stint.
      Haas and Alfa Romeo are the big disappointments so far this weekend. Regardless of their technical problems, they don’t look fast at all. I wonder why they are lacking pace all of a sudden?

    3. Better make errors in practice than race or quali.

      1. True, if errors are part of the learning curve its a good thing.
        But better is no errors at all and be able to do the test program.

    Comments are closed.