Mercedes’ Achilles’ heel

Mercedes locked out the front row of the grid with seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton eclipsing teammate Valtteri Bottas by just over a tenth of a second. 

In the context of the title battle, it couldn’t have come at a better time for the team that has won the last seven drivers’ and constructors’ championships. 

Even before Verstappen’s uncharacteristic mistake at the final corner in Q3, a front-row lockout looked like it was a distant possibility.

On Bottas’ side, a fuel leak ahead of qualifying meant Mercedes was forced to change his power unit and revert back to older components.

Things didn’t get better for the Finn as at the end of Q1, “misfiring” left him stranded at the top of the pit lane, forcing his mechanics to collect his Mercedes and roll him back into the garage.

Hamilton wasn’t at one with his car, with tyre warm-up a prevalent issue for Mercedes and many teams up and down the grid.

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This was highlighted by the fact that Hamilton had to do four flying laps on his medium tyres in Q2 to achieve his top time, while Verstappen only needed the one push lap.

But Mercedes boss Toto Wolff isn’t concerned by the number of laps it took and the potential tyre-life disadvantage going into the race.

“We had that debate but we felt that the tyre was never in the window, we never used it because the temperature was never there so we hope we didn’t use it too much and it will be still good enough for tomorrow,” Wolff said after qualifying.

Red Bull’s quicker tyre warm-up will naturally give it an advantage when pitting and going for the undercut - something Mercedes will have to be wary of.

Conversely, Mercedes’ warm-up issues should be resolved in the race given they will be on higher fuel and able to pound around on the same set of tyres.

Titles on the line

With just two rounds remaining, the drivers’ or constructors’ championship could get wrapped up today.

Verstappen sits eight points clear of Hamilton in standings, while Mercedes is just five ahead of Red Bull.

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For the Dutchman to take the title on Sunday in Jeddah, he will need to outscore Hamilton by 18 points. You can see a full breakdown of the permutations here

Meanwhile, Mercedes will need to pull 40 points on Red Bull in order to claim an astonishing eighth title in a row.

Street circuit chaos

The high-speed Jeddah Corniche Circuit in theory should make for a chaotic inaugural event.

In Formula 2 - F1’s main feeder series - we’ve seen Safety Cars and crashes galore across the opening two races of the weekend. 

Naturally, F1 is a different ballgame given the cars have more downforce, the drivers are more-skilled and there’s no reverse grid element to the races.

Baku has seen its fair share of dramatic and crazy races over the years but its inaugural event was a dull affair - a stark contrast to how chaotic the GP2 races were. 

With the barriers so close and the speeds so high, it’d be a surprise if there wasn’t a Safety Car or two during the 50-lap race.

Finely poised midfield

F1’s midfield remains as tight as ever with just over a tenth separating Charles Leclerc in fourth and Lando Norris in seventh.

Ferrari, McLaren and AlphaTauri look to be evenly matched this weekend with positions in the constructors’ championship still up for grabs going into the final two rounds of the season.

All of the top 10 excluding Norris will start the race on the mediums and with tyre warm-up being a common issue through the field, the McLaren driver could be one to watch off the start on the softs. 

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Ferrari has effectively wrapped up third in the constructors’ championship with it 39.5 ahead of McLaren, but Norris is only one point clear of Leclerc for fifth in the drivers’ championship.

AlphaTauri will be needing a freak race to overturn its 25-point deficit to Alpine, while Alfa Romeo is 13 behind Williams in the race for eighth.