Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023

Red Bull retain their advantage in Jeddah but Alpine have joined the chasing pack

2023 Saudi Arabian GP Friday practice analysis

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If there was one thing that all 10 teams and 20 drivers unanimously agreed on at the conclusion of the opening round of the season, it was that you cannot make grand assumptions about this year’s championship based on the results of opening round of the season.

For the last two weeks, as teams returned home to prepare for the second round in Saudi Arabia, the prevailing wisdom was that the Jeddah circuit would offer a completely different kind of challenge to the one they had faced in Bahrain.

High-speed, low-downforce. A street circuit where barriers sit in wait to punish any error – a complete contrast to the hairpins and generous run-offs of Bahrain. For this reason, everyone from Red Bull themselves all the way down to Williams insisted that the order and gaps seen in race one would not be perfectly copied during race two.

However, after the first day of practice, Max Verstappen and Red Bull look ominously like they’re set to enjoy an easy victory for the second time in two races – at least judging by the timing screens. But is there more than what the times tell us alone?

Red Bull still undisputed on pure pace

If you are looking for some reassurance to take you into the final two days of the race weekend that you will not see Red Bull and Verstappen face little competition for victory, you are going to be disappointed. Fastest times are not everything in practice, but it is also no coincidence that Verstappen occupied the top spot across both sessions on Friday.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Verstappen held sway over proceddings on Friday
Verstappen’s best time of a 1’29.603, set midway through the second session on soft tyres, was three tenths faster than his team mate’s best effort from the session, set slightly earlier in the hour. Perez began losing time to his team mate from the time they reached turn four, falling to around three tenths adrift by 22, and that gap remained through the only other true corner remaining on what if officially a 27-turn track.

But while Perez could not match Verstappen’s best, someone else did get closer – Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin. For the second race weekend succession, Alonso appears to be the closest Red Bull have to a rival. On his best lap of the session, Alonso was actually faster than Verstappen over the first half of the circuit, only sinking under the Red Bull’s time as he exited turn 17 to begin the long, full-throttle run to the tightened turn 22.

Red Bull’s straight-line speed advantage was striking throughout 2022 and it showed up in full force on Friday. Verstappen and Perez topped the speed trap on the day, with Verstappen enjoying a full 10kph speed advantage over Alonso on the run to the first corner of their respective best laps. By comparison, Alonso and team mate Lance Stroll were well down the bottom half of the speed trap figures, with Alonso’s superiority on the exits of the long left handers either side of the circuit showing Aston Martin were happy to run with more downforce levels than Red Bull.

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All to play for behind?

While the Red Bull looked fastest in terms of one-lap pace, the relative performance between teams in the second half of the hour was far more intriguing – not least of which for the surprise appearance of Alpine among the chasing pack.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Mercedes’ W14 has been a handful for its drivers
Verstappen was one of few drivers who opted to make his high fuel run on the soft tyre, rather than the mediums that most of his peers chose. Over a 16-lap run, he managed to maintain a pace within the 1’35s. Red Bull had been the only team to use the softs for multiple early stints in Bahrain and with degradation levels unlikely to be close to as high in Jeddah, they will likely be encouraged by what they’ve seen so far.

For the rest on mediums, it was unsurprising to see that Perez was the quickest over the long runs based on average lap time, with a pace of 1’35.096. Alonso was closest in the Aston Martin, but could not quite match the second Red Bull driver, logging an average lap time of a 1’35.280.

Behind the top three, it was surprising to see that the closest to their high-fuel pace was not the Mercedes or the Ferraris, but the Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon. Both Alpines had an average stint pace of a 1’35.3, only hundredths of a second faster than Hamilton and around a tenth quicker than the second Mercedes of George Russell.

“I must say, I’ve been pleased with today’s work,” admitted Gasly after the session. “It’s very high-speed here and there’s a lot you have to get right to be quick. The car feels good, we have a good idea on the set-up direction we want to take and there’s more to come from us this weekend.”

Mercedes, on the other hand, know they have to get on top of the balance issues that caused problems for both Hamilton and Russell during both sessions.

“The pace when we get the lap together didn’t look too bad,” said the team’s trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin. “But the car hasn’t been easy enough to drive so that’s something we’ll look to improve tomorrow ahead of qualifying.”

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Ferrari falling behind?

Ferrari were conspicuous by their absence from the top six in both sessions on Friday. A frustrating start to the season in Bahrain compounded when Leclerc was made to have to change his control electronics for a second time before the second round, dooming him to start 10 places further back than he will qualify on Saturday.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Ferrari don’t seem to have shown their hand yet
As such, Ferrari can be forgiven for focusing on race performance rather than outright single-lap pace on Friday. But while ninth and tenth was perhaps not fully representative of their overall speed, Leclerc’s long run performance did not exactly set the Jeddah Corniche on fire.

His average pace of a 1’35.451 was slower than the top six cars, but with Leclerc reporting some anomalies with his power unit during the session, it could be that Ferrari were being especially cautious with what they were asking of his engine – a theory boosted by how much slower Leclerc was at the end of the straights than the others during his run.

“It’s difficult to get a sense of our competitiveness as everyone is on a different programme so far,” Leclerc reasoned. “The feeling in the car is pretty good.

“We will try to maximize our qualifying tomorrow, but given that we will have a 10-place grid penalty on Sunday, our main focus will be on making up those positions during the race.”

Pole position is no guarantee of victory in Jeddah – just ask Perez after last year’s ill-timed safety car – but at this stage it’s hard to look past the formidable form that Red Bull appear to be in heading into qualifying. But even if the champions secure a second consecutive front row lockout in just two attempts, the battle behind them could provide plenty of entertainment this weekend.

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Combined practice times

PositionNumberDriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
11Max VerstappenRed Bull1’29.6171’29.60347
214Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’30.3151’29.8110.20848
311Sergio PerezRed Bull1’30.1001’29.9020.29946
431Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’31.1811’30.0390.43649
563George RussellMercedes1’30.7711’30.0700.46753
610Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’30.9491’30.1000.49752
718Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’30.5771’30.1100.50747
827Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’31.5521’30.1810.57849
916Charles LeclercFerrari1’31.1181’30.3410.73854
1055Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’30.9241’30.5920.98952
1144Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’30.7871’30.5990.99653
124Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’32.1491’30.7211.11848
1322Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’31.1101’30.7761.17355
1423Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’31.0301’30.8101.20750
1520Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’31.5661’30.8201.21748
1624Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’31.9861’30.8371.23449
1721Nyck de VriesAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’31.4501’30.9211.31858
182Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’31.9221’30.9591.35656
1981Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’31.4911’30.9641.36150
2077Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’31.9701’31.0521.44955

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First practice lap times

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds). Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

Second practice lap times

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds). Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

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Teams’ progress vs 2022

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2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Author information

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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2 comments on “Red Bull retain their advantage in Jeddah but Alpine have joined the chasing pack”

  1. Aston Martin is quick through most of the lap except from the straights. If Aston Martin can time there runs in Q3 perfectly where Alonso gets a good tow from from Stroll and maybe Stroll can latch on to some else’s tow they’ll be in with a good chance to snap a suprise front row or pole with Alonso. A long shot but it’s worth a shot! They are definitely podium pace so should be interesting

  2. The reality is we don’t know exactly where any of the chasing pack is as we don’t know what fuel levels they’re running. After all it was only FP2, so until Quali, we won’t know who is where.

    For all we know the Alpine’s and George Russell were on low fuel (George Russell pitted immediately after his fastest lap). We know Max was on 4 lap old Softs when he set his fastest time and went on to do a number more laps, so there is certainly more from him. Alonso and Stroll both make the Aston’s look quick, so definitely a threat and the Ferrari will have there Power U it’s turned down until they can understand their reliability.

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