Red Bull’s staggering superiority and the impact of a doubtful Safety Car call

2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix interactive data

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Red Bull didn’t need the questionable deployment of the Safety Car 18 laps into the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to score a one-two finish – even with Max Verstappen starting a compromised 15th.

Questionable Safety Car settles race

Verstappen was already up to fourth place when Lance Stroll was urgently told by his Aston Martin team to pull to a stop. He could hardly have done a better job of locating an access road to pull his AMR23 into and on the face of it a Virtual Safety Car period might not have been necessary, yet race control made the surprising decision to send the Safety Car out.

An FIA spokesperson said the Safety Car was deployed as it was not immediately clear to them where Stroll had parked his car, and race control therefore chose the safest option. However it removed several key points of intrigue from the race.

It was a disaster for the likes of Ferrari, who had already pitted both drivers, and therefore lost more time compared to their rivals who were able to pit during the interruption. Recognising that Leclerc had as good as been passed by Verstappen at the time of his pit stop, that realistically cost each of their drivers a position.

FIA Safety Car, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
The Safety Car was bad news for the Ferrari drivers
Lewis Hamilton pounced on Carlos Sainz Jnr and passed him at the restart, though the Safety Car interruption wasn’t ideal for the Mercedes driver either. He was one of few drivers to start the race on hard tyres and was poised to benefit when the Safety Car appeared. Mercedes entertained the idea of leaving him out, but realised it would be futile.

Red Bull’s staggering performance

The scale of Red Bull’s superiority was apparent before the Safety Car period. Fernando Alonso grabbed the lead at the start but Sergio Perez went by with total ease once DRS was activated.

Alonso lasted five laps in Perez’s slipstream before losing pace and dropping back quickly. His pre-race assessment that Aston Martin could not challenge the Red Bulls was proved entirely correct, and after the restart he did not waste time trying to prevent Verstappen from overtaking him.

At this stage of the race, having traded medium compound tyres for hards, Red Bull’s pace advantage was enormous. Perez didn’t extend himself until Verstappen breezed by Alonso into second place at the half-distance points. From there both began to push.

The results made a grim spectacle for their rivals. The RB19s broke into the 1’32s and headed down to the 1’31s while everyone else was doing 1’33s or worse. From the lap 20 restart third-placed Alonso lost 22 seconds to leader Perez in just 25 laps.

Race start, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Poll: Vote for your 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Driver of the Weekend
Red Bull’s speed at this stage in the race indicates Verstappen would have had little difficulty rising to second place even without the Safety Car.

Verstappen nicks the fastest lap

After Verstappen reported troubling noises from his car, Red Bull told both drivers to rein in their pace. But as far as the world champion was concerned, the bonus point for fastest lap was still fair game.

Having backed off significantly on the previous lap, he unleashed a 1’31.906 to secure the extra point. While Perez had backed off – his final lap was over a second and a half slower – others were also pushing.

Aston Martin had realised the threat of a post-race penalty was hanging over Alonso and Mercedes spotted the same, so both were leaning on it. With the hard tyres now much more worn, they were able to lap a lot closer to Red Bull’s pace, Alonso’s final lap just three-tenths off the champion’s best. But the damage was already done, and the enormity of Red Bull’s performance advantage at a completely different track to the season-opener had been glimpsed.

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2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix lap chart

The positions of each driver on every lap. Click name to highlight, right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

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2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix race chart

The gaps between each driver on every lap compared to the leader’s average lap time. Very large gaps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix lap times

All the lap times by the drivers (in seconds, very slow laps excluded). Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and toggle drivers using the control below:

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2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix fastest laps

Each driver’s fastest lap:

Rank No. Driver Car Lap time Gap Average speed (kph) Lap no.
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’31.906 241.88 50
2 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1’32.188 0.282 241.14 38
3 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’32.240 0.334 241 50
4 63 George Russell Mercedes 1’32.433 0.527 240.5 50
5 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 1’32.822 0.916 239.49 50
6 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’32.941 1.035 239.18 47
7 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1’33.056 1.150 238.89 47
8 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’33.222 1.316 238.46 49
9 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1’33.374 1.468 238.07 44
10 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault 1’33.392 1.486 238.03 50
11 21 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1’33.609 1.703 237.48 49
12 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas-Ferrari 1’33.780 1.874 237.04 50
13 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’33.894 1.988 236.76 49
14 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1’33.931 2.025 236.66 50
15 4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1’34.122 2.216 236.18 49
16 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren-Mercedes 1’34.287 2.381 235.77 48
17 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’34.384 2.478 235.53 37
18 2 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes 1’34.469 2.563 235.32 49
19 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’35.140 3.234 233.66 7
20 23 Alexander Albon Williams-Mercedes 1’35.567 3.661 232.61 24

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2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix tyre strategies

The tyre strategies for each driver:

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2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix pit stop times

How long each driver’s pit stops took:

Rank No. Driver Team Complete stop time (s) Gap to best (s) Stop no. Lap no.
1 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 20.026 1 16
2 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 20.715 0.689 1 18
3 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine 20.719 0.693 1 14
4 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 20.76 0.734 1 15
5 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine 20.762 0.736 1 16
6 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 20.824 0.798 1 18
7 63 George Russell Mercedes 20.828 0.802 1 18
8 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas 20.87 0.844 1 8
9 2 Logan Sargeant Williams 21.064 1.038 1 18
10 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 21.102 1.076 1 18
11 21 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 21.116 1.09 1 17
12 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 21.15 1.124 1 13
13 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 21.282 1.256 2 18
14 4 Lando Norris McLaren 21.352 1.326 2 19
15 23 Alexander Albon Williams 21.397 1.371 1 17
16 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 21.414 1.388 1 17
17 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 21.505 1.479 1 9
18 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 21.567 1.541 1 11
19 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 21.703 1.677 1 11
20 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 21.808 1.782 3 35
21 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 22.191 2.165 2 17
22 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 26.879 6.853 1 18
23 4 Lando Norris McLaren 29.444 9.418 1 2
24 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren 31.534 11.508 1 1

2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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26 comments on “Red Bull’s staggering superiority and the impact of a doubtful Safety Car call”

  1. In reversal of last week the gap behind Red Bull is artificially inflated by those behind Red Bull settling for their position and more cruising to the finish line, this prior to Merc and AM told to push.
    In Bahrain it was Red Bull that was cruising after the 1st pitstop, now there were more pushing till about 10 laps till the end.

    If you look at lap 50, a lap were multiple drivers were pushing for various reasons the lap time difference is much smaller.
    All driving on hards of equal age Max was 0.3 faster than Alonso and 0.5 faster than Russell. Even Sainz in the Ferrari who had no reason to push and was on even older tires was less than a second behind Max’s FLAP.

    1. At the same time, remember that Max had to push more than normal, which would have taken more like it of his tyres than normal. If the others were selling for their position, they would have taken less out of their tyres than normal.

      Given all that, the fact he still beat Alonso’s fastest lap by 0.3 gives a good indication that the advantage they showed in Bahrain wasn’t an outlier.

  2. Hats-off to Red Bull, they’ve designed an amazing car.

    Unfortunately, unless you’re a Red Bull fan, it’s making races pretty boring!

    1. The downside of this sport unfortunately!

      Perez’s pace at the front was encouraging though. I hope Red Bull don’t hold him back too much too early in the season.

      1. I would say Perez was rather underwhelming seeing what Max got out of the car. Plenty of opportunity for AM, Mercedes and Ferrari to beat Perez this season.

    2. Unfortunately, unless you’re a Red Bull fan, it’s making races pretty boring!

      Not really. I’m not a Red Bull fan but found this race rather intense, not knowing if ham would beat rus, ver catch perez, lec wipe out sai, etc. The 5 teams in front may only really battle inside each team; but the last five teams are fighting intensely. Not for points unless one of the 10 best cars has a fault; but still.

      Not being a Mercedes fan either, I may have been inoculated against race boredom by the last decade :o)

  3. ‘Immediately clear’ is inexcusable as they have all the necessary tools & technology available to be aware of where every car is at all times, so pretty amateur error.
    Additionally, they could clearly see where he parked from the world feed footage & CCTV views.

    1. Agreed. And on top of all that, they could have spoken to the Marshalls on the scene.

      They took about 30s to decide to deploy the SC after Stroll retired. It’s inexcusable that in all that time with so many officials now available, they couldn’t see that the car was right next to the access road, off the track, out of danger and would be completely gone in no time.

  4. I think Alonso was 22 seconds behind after 25 laps. Lap 45, not lap 35.
    12 seconds behind after 9 laps, or 19 seconds behind after 18 laps, still shows a massive advantage.
    Mercedes “only” seem to be appropriately 1.25 seconds a lap behind at this track.

  5. How the race unfolded at least gave us the true pace of RBR. This is what it looks like then the push without hiding any pace. Sandbags removed. Even to the point both cars were developing issues. So they showed their hand.

    1. I liked Checo’s comment towards the end when both were going flat out and the distance between had stabilized around 5 sec, when he said: “Are we really doing this?”
      During the interview it was obvious that he didn’t know that Max had snatched FL from him on the last lap, his face “froze”. Though should have realized when the gap started opening up on the last few laps and tried himself.

    2. See, they’re not lapping the field, but indeed there’s a big superiority, however I wasn’t one of those who said “it’s only race one, let’s wait to see a few more tracks before saying red bull is gonna dominate”, what I saw in the first race was enough to convince me to vote they will win almost all races.

      1. In Bahrain, Max lapped all but the top 12, and it was very clear he wasn’t pushing for the majority of it.

        This race, they didn’t have much more than half race distance, Max wasn’t even in the lead, and they were still managing their pace for a significant amount of time. Bottas was still lapped, though. Without the safety car, even with their second driver leading, they looked like that could have lapped all but the top ten, maybe more.

  6. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    20th March 2023, 13:14

    I have a feeling Max could have won yesterday but he decided to not push the car to its limit as he thought there was an issue. He just bagged the 18 points. His fastest lap showed he had the extra 0.25 seconds of pace per lap but didn’t want to do 20 laps of that.

    1. Wouldn’t have been easy to pass perez anyway, he was on form.

      1. That’s assuming RBR wouldn’t have just ordered him to let him past… I don’t think that’s a very safe assumption.

  7. Its pretty clear piastri was faster than lando when they were both on whites

    1. I think if i’m reading it correctly, Piastri went on to the hards on lap one and then used them all race?
      Piastri and Lando’s lap times looked very even during the race and similar fastest laps, a lot more encouraging than Dan, especially after such little time in the car.
      So it looks like they have two top drivers and one of the crappiest cars

    2. Norris was on yellow mediums for most of the race. Piastri was able to overtake Logan quite soon after he was let part lando. It’s a very good performance from the rookie actually.

  8. With clickbait titles like this and repeated articles it looks this website is more and more part of the Mercedes PR camp.

    Why are there so many articles on what Mercedes, Lewis, Toto throws out into the media or articles of issues/bad things Red Bull are doing and far fewer and likely more interesting articles on the other 8 teams and their drivers.

    1. I wouldnt say that calling Red Bull’s superiority staggering is Clickbait.
      If it would of been ” Red Bull’s staggeringly superior budget busting car is unstoppable and the safety car made no difference ” then I would’ve agreed…

    2. So weird. The title and article have very, very little to do with Mercedes, Toto or Lewis and record Red Bull’s dominance in breathless terms, and this is your conclusion.

    3. How do you get “clickbait” from this title, or “Mercedes PR”? The RBR advantage is staggering. They clearly have over a second in hand on race pace, just look at the numbers and it’s plain to see.

      Of course, if you’re part of the anti-Mercedes crowd, I expect such a blinkered view.

    4. This. 100%. Imagine another driver saying what Lewis did about Mercedes. The press would totally crucify him. On here, its hardly a thing. All the focus goes to aiding the Mercedes PR machine. Blindly also, hardly any critical questions. Staggering superiority? No, nowhere near the Mercs in the V6 Hybrid era. But I think the effect of repeating the Mercedes narrative is decreasing. They have overplayed their hand by continuously rocking the boat and I think FIA and Liberty know Wolff’s antics by now. Look at the whole budget cap situation. Wolff spoke before he was allowed, before he officially had info and he exaggerated massively. Plus he made FIA look like fools beyond their fault as they had not yet concluded the process. And in the end it was hardly a thing (0,7-0,8% overspend), apart at some small fanatic group of fans. Or the first half of 2021 campaigning to get Max an image of being a dangerous idiot. Pure fear and lack of confidence they can win on their own. Or the lobby around porpoising – playing the safety card towards the FIA to eventually end up with nothing. Or the year before again playing the safety card to get the tyres to complement the Mercedes better. All is PR at Mercedes, hence their actual car isn’t really much since they lack focus and priority. They firstly need to return to participating in the sport and demonstrating they actually like what they are doing. Then the results will come back. Their continuous venom and complaining has made things internally toxic as well.

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