Checo Wins 5th Grand Prix!

The stage was set in the days leading up to the race.  First, Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari was forced to replace his electronic control unit for the third time this season.  This cost him 10 grid spots from where he qualified.  Second, Max Verstappen had to change his gear box during the practice sessions.  During qualification, it appeared his transmission failed again, and he could not get out of Q2[1]. He started the race 15th.  Third, Toto Wolff admitted they will have to change the side pod design of their car because they are not competitive enough.  Lastly, Aston Martin continues to impress.  Both cars made it to Q3 with Fernando Alonso earning the third best time and a first row start since Leclerc’s penalty knocked him from 2nd to 12th.


This is the third time Formula 1 has raced at Jeddah.  The race features the second longest race of the year with the most turns of the year at 27.  Race speeds can reach over 205 miles per hour, and several of the turns can be taken at speed.  It is a street race, which is where Sergio Perez has come alive over the last few years.

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico steers his car during the Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah corniche circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, March 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

The race started off with a bang as Alonzo got off to a better start than Perez heading down the main straight into turn one.  Alonso skittered around Perez between turn 1 and 2, holding the line and taking the lead on Perez as they headed down the track towards turn three.  Oscar Piastri’s car was hit by an Alpine as he came out of turn 2.  Piastri qualified ninth and was looking to give McLaren some much needed points on the day.  He had to pit at lap two to change his front wing.  This unfortunate incident put Piastri at the back of the grid and he never recovered.  At the end of lap 1, Leclerc had improved his position to ninth, while Verstappen had moved up to 13th.  As lap 1 came to a close, Alonso was notified that he had to take a 5 second penalty for not being in the right starting position.  This unfortunate error would come back to haunt team Austin Martin.

Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso of Spain steers his car to lead into the first corner during the Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah corniche circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, March 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

As the early stages of the race continued to unfold, Perez overtook Alonso in-between turn one and turn two during lap four and never looked back.  Perez stayed in the lead the remainder of the race, taking home his 5th Grand Prix first place trophy.  Though Perez won the race, Max Verstappen was the driver of the day.  By lap ten, Verstappen was in tenth place.  On lap twelve Verstappen blew past Lewis Hamilton on the main straight heading into lap thirteen.  He worked himself to eighth position.  This is notable because the cars ahead started making their pit stops.  Ferrari outwitted Austin Martin making them believe Carlos Sainz was going to pit on lap 14, however Lance Stroll pitted and Sainz stayed on track.  A few laps later Sainz and Leclerc pitted on consecutive laps.  Ferarri stops were so fast that they managed to come out ahead of Stroll.  Unfortunately, for Ferrari, the car was not set up well for the hard tire.  Leclerc was fast on the soft compound tire, but the hard tire only allowed him to drive status quo the remainder of the race.  Sainz and Leclerc finished sixth and seventh.


A double yellow flag waved during Lap 17.  Lance Stroll was told to stop the car and get it off the track by his team.  It is unclear why.  There was no audible or visual indication that the car suffered from any mechanical failure.  However, thanks to the yellow flag, most of the teams took advantage of the cheap stop.  Alonso served his time penalty and was still able to come out second on the grid after his pit stop.  Unfortunately, his team let him down, and during the 5 second penalty, the rear jack was touching the car.  The top four drivers was reset to Perez, Alonso, George Russell and Max Verstappen.


Green flag racing resumed at lap 21 and it was a clean restart.  On the next lap Hamilton managed to overtake Sainz for fifth position.  At the start of lap 23, Verstappen overtook Russell on the back straight for third position and immediately started putting pressure on Alonso.  Two laps later, Verstappen overtook Alonso on the main straight and started to chip away at Checo’s[2] blistering lead.  The top three drivers were set to the end of the race, however there was still drama unfolding with the rookies.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car past Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso of Spain during the Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah corniche circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, March 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

The Haas drivers maintained 11th and 12th throughout most of the race.  Haas as a whole had a much better showing for race two.  Still, during laps 29 thru 31, rookie Williams driver Logan Sargeant (the only American driver in Formula 1), was putting the pressure on 12th place Nico Hulkenburg.  Unfortunately for Sargeant, the Williams car was wearing out the medium tires slowly taking him out of contention.  By lap 42, Zhou Guanyu overtook Sargeant.  At this point in the race Sargeant was leading a rookie DRS[3] train, followed closely by Nyck De Vries and Oscar Piastri.   De Vries overtook Sargeant in the next lap.  All three rookies stayed together until the end of the race with Piastri overtaking Sargeant during lap 49.  All three rookie drivers are gaining valuable experience as they managed to finish the race in one piece.  For Haas, Kevin Magnussen put the team into the points as he overtook Yuki Tsunoda during lap 46.  Haas earned their first race points of the season.


Six teams scored points in Saudi Arabia.  Both drivers for Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine finished in the top ten.  While Fernando Alonso drove his Austin Martin to third place, he suffered another time penalty due to the jack touching the car during his first penalty.  (Update!  Alonso’s podium finish was reinstated!  The stewards could not agree if there was indeed a violation!) George Russell was moved to third position for his first podium finish of the season.  Kevin Magnussen’s Haas rounded out the top ten.  Finally, Max Verstappen used lap 50 to earn the fastest lap in the race, allowing him to remain ahead of his teammate in the drivers championship standings.


The Constructors Championship standings are a big surprise.  Ferrari is sitting fourth behind Mercedes and Aston Martin respectively.  McLaren is dead last and has yet to score a point.  It will be interesting to see how the teams continue to improve as the season unfolds.  Red Bull is the team to beat, and it seems that the only team that can beat them is themselves.   On to Australia!

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico steers his car during the Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah corniche circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, March 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)


[1] Q2 is short for Qualification Stage 2.  There are three stages to Qualification and the shorthand is Q1, Q2, and Q3.  Top fifteen cars make it to Q2.  Top ten cars make it to Q3.

[2] Checo is Sergio Perez’s nickname.

[3] DRS stands for Drag Reduction System.  Every track has DRS zones wherein the rear wing of the car opens giving it extra horsepower to pass a car in front of them.  The wing only opens when the trail car is within one second of the lead car.

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