According to Martin Brundle in his Jeddah race review on Sky F1, “Team Verstappen” underestimated 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix winner Sergio Perez, ambushed by the pace the Mexican had to fend off hard-charging Max for half the race.
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been a walkover for Red Bull, as the RB19 turns out to be one mighty machine that has everyone chasing far behind and is going to be hard to beat, in fact, unbeatable for now, unless force majeure intervenes. As it did in Q2 on Saturday.
Easy favourite for pole, Verstappen’s Red Bull broke a driveshaft broke during a hotlap in Q2 during qualifying on Saturday, meaning he started the race from P15 with Perez doing so from top spot on the grid.
As expected with what he has at his disposal relative to his rivals, Verstappen was through to second (aided by a Safety Car spell) by lap 25, the halfway mark, whereupon he began his relentless pursuit of Perez five seconds ahead.
Jeddah lap charts show that no matter what Max threw at Checo, the veteran retaliated by matching a lap later; the pair trading fastest laps like ping-pong. But the gap never went below four seconds, hovering around five for most of the time, in the end 5.53s separated the Blue cars when they crossed the finish line.
Perez had it pegged all the way, no matter what his radio was telling him. He stuck to his own lap time delta, and kept it like that as he has never done before, prompting Brindle’s comment in his post-race analysis: “Team Verstappen were perhaps surprised that Perez could match their pace.
“They were no doubt annoyed that it was ultimately the qualifying issue that prevented Max from setting a new record of 16 victories in 21 races,” ventured the Sky F1 senior pundit.
There was guaranteed to be some movement with Verstappen and Leclerc out of position
Sunday was a mighty show of force from RBR, their rivals trailing in their wake as they slugged it out in a game of cat and mouse at the front, a second or more (!!!) per lap adrift of their rivals on race pace, which Brundle acknowledged: “In the end, it was another show of total domination by Red Bull in Jeddah.
“I have to be honest and say that when Max Verstappen had a driveshaft problem in qualifying, meaning that he would start 15th on the grid, I was quietly pleased, relieved, and energised. Nothing against Max and his incredible talent, but at least we would have something to look forward to on race day.
“With Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari also somewhat shockingly taking a grid penalty in just the second round of a 23-race season – for exceeding electronic control unit allowances – and starting down in 12th, there was guaranteed to be some movement.
“Perez secured pole position despite not getting his second run together, but Verstappen wasn’t around to highlight that. Leclerc was outstanding for Ferrari until his 10-place grid drop.
“And then came Fernando Alonso, who looks so determined at the moment you wouldn’t even want to get in his way as he walks through the paddock.
Perez out front matched whatever his teammate Verstappen could muster speed-wise
“He duly won the race in fine style, his fifth victory, four of which have been on street circuits but more significantly his first victory when Max was second.
“Verstappen stole the fastest lap championship point on the final tour and that clearly annoyed Perez, who was surprised the team didn’t call off the fight when they had a one-two easily in the bag and he was suffering with a longer brake pedal, and unbeknown to him, Max was feeling a vibration in his transmission.
“Red Bull’s dominant speed has put many teams and their key personnel under big pressure, not least Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren. I’ve rarely witnessed such a broad challenge across so many teams.
“And so, as we watch the tensions between the drivers at Red Bull, we patiently await the rest of the field to find some speed. In fact, lots of speed,” concluded Brundle.