Verstappen’s chance of redemption

It was a disappointing start to his title defence in Bahrain for Max Verstappen after he was forced to retire with three laps to go.

A suspected fuel pump problem was the reason for his early retirement which also affected Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, spinning the Mexican out of the grand prix on the final lap.

Up until that point, Verstappen did his best to contend for the victory against the quicker Ferrari, overtaking Charles Leclerc on three separate occasions before being re-overtaken again.

While it wasn’t an ideal start to the season, Red Bull has still started the season competitively and will be confident of a strong performance in Jeddah.

The RB18’s straight-line speed performance was impressive in Bahrain and with engine power being important in Saudi Arabia due to the long straights, Red Bull will be fancying its chances.

Verstappen will also be eyeing redemption.

The Dutchman will be hoping to get his season back on track as he already trails Leclerc by 26 points in the title race.

It’s also been three months since the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the scene of Verstappen’s breathtaking qualifying lap which unfortunately ended up in the barriers at the final corner.

Without that mistake, Verstappen’s lap would have gone down as one of the best in recent F1 history.

He’ll have a point to prove this weekend as he looks to right the wrongs of the first race in Bahrain and last year’s dramatic first outing in Saudi Arabia.

A test of Ferrari’s title credentials 

Ferrari returned to the top step of the F1 podium in Bahrain for the first time since 2019 as Leclerc won ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz.

It has been a long time coming for F1’s most successful constructor, enduring its worst season in over 40 years in 2020.

2021 was a positive step forward for Ferrari, finishing third in the constructors’ championship but that grand prix victory still alluded it.

After a positive pre-season campaign, Ferrari’s pace seems to be genuine and it remains the early favourite in the opening phase of the season.

With the development rate of this new generation of cars expected to be rapid, Ferrari will need to make the most of its current advantage as Red Bull improves its reliability, while Mercedes tries to get on top of its own issues.

This weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is an early test to see whether Ferrari’s title credentials are genuine or if Bahrain was potentially a one-off given its advantage over Red Bull and Mercedes.

Will Mercedes join the lead fight?

It was damage limitation for the reigning constructors’ championships as it came away with a third and fourth in the season-opener.

Given its poor pace in testing and Friday practice, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was understandably satisfied with the big points haul in Bahrain but in terms of pure pace, it lacked at least half a second to Ferrari and Red Bull.

Porpoising has dominated the F1 media headlines since the start of pre-season testing in February and it is understood to be the main cause of the W13’s lack of competitiveness.

Even with an entirely different track configuration and smoother track surface, Hamilton doubts Mercedes will be in a better position to challenge for victory this weekend.

“No, I don't think so,” Hamilton said when asked if Mercedes will go better this weekend. “But of course, we've learned a lot from this week. Their [Ferrari] straight-line speed as well as the Bulls were very quick in a straight line and their performance through corners is quite a bit different to us. 

“So the car was very hard to drive but it could always be worse. So I’m hoping for the next race we manage to find some improvements but it's a fundamental issue that’s going to take a little bit longer I think to fix.”

Mercedes will no doubt turn it around but it's probably too soon to expect either Hamilton or George Russell to win on pure performance.

More joy for Haas?

Haas enjoyed its best weekend since 2018 as Kevin Magnussen finished a remarkable fifth in Bahrain.

The American outfit’s decision to write off last year in a bid to focus on F1’s new generation of cars has proved to be a masterstroke as it led the midfield pack.

Haas has benefitted from Ferrari’s significant power unit upgrade so it was no surprise to see Alfa Romeo also up there in the hands of Valtteri Bottas.

Both Haas and Alfa Romeo were the best of the rest behind the top three teams, and they will be hoping to continue that trend at Jeddah.

Behind them, Alpine and AlphaTauri will be hoping to find a couple of tenths to move them ahead of the aforementioned Ferrari-powered teams, while McLaren and Aston Martin will be needing a miracle based on their disappointing performances on Sunday.

Potential for chaos under the lights 

With F1’s regulations for the year making the cars even heavier and reducing visibility with the introduction of wider tyres, we could be set another chaotic Saudi Arabian GP this weekend. 

The inaugural race in Jeddah was a memorable one with two red flag stoppages and an action-packed duel between the two title contenders. 

Ahead of the season, many drivers already expressed concerns about visibility at street circuits with the new rules set for another test this weekend.

Verstappen commented: “With the tyres as well, they’re quite a bit bigger, so visibility is a bit different. I think on a track like [Barcelona] this is less of a problem. When you go to street circuits, it’s going to be a little bit more challenging.”

Fernando Alonso also believes it will be “a new challenge for everyone”.

“In some of the street circuits, maybe it’s a challenge because we don’t have the same vision from the cockpit, and the front tyres are bigger and you have that thing on top of them. We’ll see. I think it’s a new challenge for everyone.”

F1 could be set for another dramatic race under the lights.