This weekend marks the third iteration of the Saudi Arabian Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. I’m not a fan of street tracks per se, but I’m looking forward to this one primarily because it should indicate whether Ferrari has a shot at competing with Red Bull in 2023 or not.
Bahrain was an acknowledged Ferrari disaster, and the subsequent consulting of recently deceased avian entrails in the press will have done nothing to change the situation. However, Jeddah may turn out to be a phoenix from the ashes moment for the Maranello-based team.
Can I have a new set?
The Prancing Horse seems to have carried over some of its 2022 baggage into 2023. Namely, its propensity to shag tyres faster than any other car at the front of the grid. Unfortunately for them, that list now includes Aston Martin. The tyre-shredding curves of the Sakhir circuit then, were always going to produce a shit show race for the SF-23.
However, Jeddah is smooth and pretty much balls out for large parts, so putting reliability aside, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Ferrari et al may get a proper go at that elusive top step. Not least a front-row lockout in qualifying! Well maybe not the latter now. Whatever Charles does he will be at least five rows back from the front at the start!
Ferrari’s twenty-first team on the grid
Unfortunately, Ferrari has another competitor beyond AMR to deal with – themselves. Not inside the team of course, but in the Marques’ senior management. It seems that the recently arrived Fred Vasseur is Team Principal with a small ‘p’. And that Ferrari’s CEO – Formula 1 and motor racing virgin – Benedetto Vigna, is holding the reins.
At this point, I would like to tender some advice to Mr. Vigna: polish up your CV. This isn’t Fred’s first rodeo with a CEO who thought he knew more about running an F1 team than he did. Ask Mattia Binotto.
The other notable prancing horse story is the departure of David Sanchez, Ferrari’s Chief Aerodynamicist. Responsible for the F1-75 and its 2023 iteration. I’m not convinced this is such a loss.
The Ferrari aero concept seems to suffer in a similar fashion to Mercedes’, i.e. it doesn’t seem to work as well as Red Bull’s. Yes, their bar is higher, but they may find soon enough it doesn’t work as well as the Aston Martin either!
I like him, he’s nice…
I watched Drive to Survive season five with my wife recently. As a recently baptized F1 fan, the series has converted this disinterested party into someone who now reminds me what time FP1 kicks off.
In this manner, she represents the legions of new F1 followers who were initially sucked in through the cult of personality rather than an understanding of the skills and technical requirements of the game.
For me, it was all a bit vacuous. It was clear that Max Verstappen’s inclusion in the series was so staged managed that he may as well not be in it, together with Lewis Hamilton, who really had nothing to say. The same went for McLaren’s noob – Oscar Piastri, who made a perfect impression of a rabbit caught in car headlights.
In fact, it was more focused on the Team Principals, with the Smirker-in-chief himself – Christian Horner crying about being victimized as a cheat for breaking the budget cap and then found out to be guilty as charged.
Can I have my talent back, please?
All this while Guenther Steiner is giving shade to Mick Schumacher. I may not have been too kind to him myself last year, but I came away from the series feeling that a genuinely nice guy had been mismanaged. Mick looked into the abyss and, in Azerbaijan, fell into it while the team stood by. The fact that he managed to partially pull himself back out was a testament to his character.
In the Alpha male world of F1, there is normally no room for a guy like Mick, and I understand that Guenther and Haas are not a team that has the time or money to wet nurse a driver.
However, Mick’s heritage could be very useful for a team further down the grid, and he did enough to show that when confident, he can bring home a few skins. A World Championship, probably not, but podiums, yes. He just needs the right Team and management behind him.
What we learnt
Anyway, Mick Schumacher’s story is on ice for the moment and for the rest of it, I now know that; you shouldn’t ride in a car with Yuki Tsunoda if he’s eaten curry the night before; Otmar Szafnauer is the silent assassin; Zak Brown shoots from the hip, but unfortunately doesn’t get the gun out of his holster before he blows his own toes off. Oscar Piastri has the personality of a traffic sign. Thank you, Netflix.