Nick van der Meulen, delves into the recent Formula One Grand Prix in his race report F1 Review Saudi Arabia 2022.
Saudi Arabia has become a controversial venue for Formula 1 Grands Prix, particularly after a missile caused damage to an oil field a mere 10 kilometres from the circuit. The powers-that-be reassured the paddock that they would remain safe, however, and the show continued. The Saudis have been involved in the world of F1 since the mid-70s when Saudia (a Saudi airline) sponsored the Williams team.
The circuit at Jeddah, used for the first time four months previously, had safety adjustments made following criticism from the paddock. It was not enough, though, as Mick Schumacher (Haas-Ferrari) had a violent accident in Qualifying 2, destroying his mount.
Initial fears for the German’s safety was unfounded, however, as the young driver was unscathed in the incident. The team withdrew the Schumacher entry from the race as a precaution. Nicolas Latifi (Williams-Mercedes) had two incidents, which saw his sessions end in the wall: one in qualifying and the other in the race itself.
A maiden pole
Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) became the first Mexican to take pole position for an F1 Grand Prix and broke the record of taking the most number of race starts (215) to achieve it. He did a good job to blast into the lead at the start of the race. Perez maintained the gap to his rivals until lap 16, when a safety car period occurred as a result of Latifi’s brush with the wall.
As the Mexican had pitted a lap earlier, he was left at a disadvantage and was relegated to fourth position. His rivals took advantage and pitted under the safety car. He managed to maintain the position to the chequered flag to score his first points of the season.
Teammate and current title holder Max Verstappen spend most of his evening have a cat-and-mouse tussle with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. The Dutchman got the better of the Monegasque on lap 47 of 50 and scampering away to take victory by 0,5 seconds. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) had another solid day at the office, finishing third ahead of Perez.
Lacking in pace
While the Mercedes squad are well off the pace of rivals, they remain the third fastest marque on the grid. Interestingly, the engine appears to be off the pace of the Red Bull and Ferrari, as the bottom five qualifiers were running Mercedes power.
Team manager Toto Wolff underlined that their new machine is temperamental to set up. This was demonstrated by the vastly differing fortunes of drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. Russell was the best performer behind the two leading teams. Meanwhile Hamilton suffered his worst qualifying performance since Brazil 2017 and had to chase his young teammate. Russell soldiered to a solid fifth place, while his illustrious teammate managed to glean the last point on offer.
Alpine team management will want to have a word with their drivers after this Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon squabbled for position early in the race, almost taking one another out at one stage, allowing the leaders to break away. The team was looking good for a double points finish until Lap 37 when Alonso coasted into pit lane.
His car stopped at entrance, along with that of Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren-Mercedes). This resulted in a Virtual Safety Car – which drivers could not take advantage of, as pit lane had to be closed to move the stricken vehicles. Ocon managed to sneak past Lando Norris (McLaren-Mercedes) on the final lap to snatch sixth position, while Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri), Kevin Magnussen (Haas-Ferrari) and Hamilton rounded off the top ten finishers.
A land down under
The F1 circus moves to the third round of the season at Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia. It will be the first Australian Grand Prix in three years. The opening event of 2020 was abandoned with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be a welcome return to Australia, however, more of the same is to be expected. As an “away” race, the teams do not have much time to exchange parts and upgrade vehicles…