Verstappen wins the Saudi Arabia GP
You know you just experienced something amazing when you're up late with a smile on your face, puffy eyes and all.
Now you might be thinking I had the typical male adventure and late-night escapade, but hold your thoughts right there. I'm referring to how the first two races of the Formula One season turned out.
Previously, I ended the Bahrain Grand Prix writeup to remind F1 fans to “make sure you can come to work after staying up late on a Sunday night” as the start times of the first two races won't give Filipino F1 fans plenty of sleep ahead of a new work week. The Bahrain race started at 11:00 PM, while the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix started at 1:00 AM. Now, most people would just watch the highlights the day after because of this, but not us.
We had a great feeling this year is gonna be an exciting season, and staying up late to watch the races live would be worth it. Indeed, the race in the Jeddah Corniche Circuit brought another interesting side to F1's new era. Needless to say, it was puyat racing at its finest.
Max Verstappen scored a thrilling victory over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, as Red Bull made up for the last race's double retirement by finishing 1st and 4th on an otherwise eventful race weekend. After the action was done and dusted, here's what we've learned from the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix.
1. F1 cars are extremely safe
Mick Schumacher had a heavy shunt during Saturday's qualifying session that forced him to sit out the Grand Prix. The German driver was doing 270 km/h on a hot lap when he lost control and slammed his Haas sideways to a concrete barrier. The resulting impact totally ripped off the VF-22's rear section and brought an hour-long red flag session to clear up the track of debris.
When crashes like these happen back in the 90s, drivers would get seriously injured. Or in worst cases, even lead to loss of life. However, F1 has come a long way to making cars safer, to the point that Mick Schumacher was able to tweet hours later and do interviews on track the day after suffering a 33 g crash.
Things like the halo, the HANS, the side crash structure, and the F1 survival cell have all done their job to protect the driver from getting hurt, and that's the most important takeaway for this race. However, the massive crash also leads us to the next thing:
2. Jeddah Corniche Circuit is still a very dangerous track
It's really fascinating to see how the FIA has managed to make F1 cars safer, but take the opposite way when it comes to track design. The Jeddah circuit features a lot of quick direction changes with not a lot of run-off areas, which of course could spell trouble when drivers lose control of their car just like what happened to Mick Schumacher.
In the first two races it hosted, we've seen a lot of safety car periods and red flags due to the high-speed nature of the street circuit catching drivers off-guard, and the recent changes barely made an effect. It's a good thing no one got seriously hurt in the past two years, but the FIA should not wait for tragedy to happen to realize the dangers of racing on this track.
3. Surprising car failures spice up the race
Together with safety, F1 cars have come a long way when it comes to reliability. However, because of the new rule changes, many teams are suffering from teething problems early in the season. We saw it in Bahrain, and now it's happened again in Saudi Arabia. While it's bad for the teams involved, the surprising failures somehow give an interesting twist as reliability plays a factor in the outcome of the races.
Alonso, Ricciardo, and Bottas retiring on the same lap reminded me of a scene in Cars 2 where vehicles fueled with Allinol catch fire when hit with an EMP pulse. Guess what, F1 cars also use alternative fuel these days. See the connection there? Maybe we should find that cameraman with the EMP. Just kidding.
4. George Russell's Mr. Saturday antics could help this year
Mercedes-AMG's form in Saudi proved something is so not right with the German team this year. Lewis Hamilton had his worst qualifying since 2009, and the W13 simply looked lost on the track, together with its strategists.
However, the Silver Arrows' other driver, George Russell, proved he still knows how to make pigs fly, just like how he brought his former Williams F1 car to higher grid places than it normally would. Mr. Saturday qualified 6th, and later on, finished the race in 5th. Russell's ability could give Mercedes valuable points for the championship while they are still trying to figure out how to make the best out of the W13.
5. The unluckiest drivers of the Saudi Arabia GP
Sergio Perez qualified 1st, and in the process, broke the record for the most races entered before taking his maiden pole position. While it was a sensational performance from the Mexican, he suffered poor luck in the race when he pitted a lap earlier before Nicolas Latifi crashed his Williams and brought out the safety car. This eventually swung back the momentum to Ferrari, with Perez dropping to 4th and finishing the race in that position.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was also one of the unluckiest drivers in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, as his charge to P7 was halted when the triple retirements of Alonso, Ricciardo, and Bottas left him unable to enter the pits and change tires. He eventually finished 10th and scored a single point. It's a consolation prize for what was otherwise a weekend to forget for Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG.
6. Haas remains impressive
The Haas F1 Team continues to be a revelation in the 2022 Formula One season. Pace-wise, the team exhibited great midfield pace and was well on its way to bringing both cars into Q3 until Mick Schumacher crashed.
Despite this, Kevin Magnussen still managed to finish P9 and make it two out of two races with points for the American team. For Mick Schumacher though, his first points in F1 may have to wait until the next race in Melbourne. But nevertheless, Haas for me is the most improved team in F1 so far this year.
7. Red Bull RB18 vs. Ferrari F1-75: Battle of two design philosophies
In recent years, Red Bull Racing relied mostly on their superior chassis design to compete at the sharp end of the grid, while Ferrari used powerful engines to blow the competition away. This season though, it seems to be the other way around.
So far, the Red Bull RB18 appears to have a top speed advantage over the Ferrari F1-75, but the red car is more planted in the corners. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have different track characteristics, and both races exposed both teams' strengths and weaknesses. It's going to be interesting if this trend continues throughout the season, as momentum would surely swing back and forth between the two teams.
8. The fight for the DRS detection zone
The first two circuits in the calendar feature two consecutive DRS zones. As it turns out, the one that gets DRS on the second zone gets the upper hand in the battle for position. That seems to be a growing trend on the exciting on-track battles we're seeing this year.
It's a great thing to see that cars could very much follow each other on track without losing too much performance, and the DRS battles are being played intelligently by the drivers across the grid. This leads me to my next point...
9. Charles Leclerc's racing IQ was on full display
World champion Max Verstappen has a more aggressive rival this year who is also very clever with his racing tactics. Charles Leclerc was able to outsmart Max Verstappen in Bahrain by utilizing the second DRS zone to keep himself ahead of the Dutchman, and nearly managed to do the same in Jeddah.
First, he and Ferrari were able to call a bluff to force Red Bull's Sergio Perez into the pits, which turned to their advantage when the safety car came out a lap later. And then, at the closing stages of the race, Leclerc deliberately slowed down before the DRS detection zone in the last corner to get DRS on the main straight. Eventually, Verstappen read the Monegasque driver's intentions, and the world champion was able to take the lead.
Max may have won the race, but Leclerc's calculated moves prove that he's already playing the long game, and is willing to settle for 2nd to maintain his gap in the championship. In the process, Ferrari has also built a 40-point lead in the constructor's championship thanks to both cars finishing on the podium for the second consecutive race.
10. Formula One wins
This new era of Formula One has its fans tuning in even in the late hours of a Sunday night. What used to be a snoozefest is now turning out to be a game of chess between F1 teams at 300 km/h. The Verstappen-Leclerc rivalry is heating up, while the rest of the field brings a lot of surprises to the table. So who's gonna be the winner here? Definitely, Formula One.
The next race in Melbourne starts at 1:00 PM, which is more forgiving for those who have work on a Monday. But even if it starts at the same time as the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, people like me will still probably watch the race live, considering all the exciting racing action happening across the grid. After all, I can always have myself a nice cup of coffee at work to get through the rest of the day. Thanks boss!