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Saudi GP Takeaways: A predicted outcome, a new talent, and other stories

Saudi Arabian GP Takeaways: Predicted outcome, new talent, other stories

Saudi GP Takeaways: A predicted outcome, a new talent, and other stories

The start of the 2024 Formula 1 season has been perfect so far for Red Bull Racing with a clean sweep across the first two races as Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez delivered another one-two in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Well not totally perfect because Charles Leclerc did deny Verstappen the fastest lap honor in Jeddah to take an extra point, something that must have irked the Dutchman, but that is the extent of it, a minor inconvenience after two consecutive poles and wins.

Also keep in mind the far-from-perfect circumstances everyone at Red Bull are operating under, the Christian Horner saga refusing to die out, with Helmut Marko also becoming part of the fiasco, the only positive being the absence of Jos Verstappen, probably only missed by his son.

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While Sakhir and Jeddah Corniche are two very different tracks – in terms of downforce requirements and track abrasiveness – the pecking order did not change at the top, Red Bull fast regardless with Ferrari doing their best to chase.

Behind them though, there was a slight change as McLaren emerged as third best, with Aston Martin, Fernando Alonso just behind them, on a night Mercedes bombed.

Oscar Piastri beat Alonso to fourth, while Lando Norris’ gamble by staying out under the Safety Car did not pay off, same applied to Lewis Hamilton, but Mercedes has other problems to deal with at this point.

Again, the racing was far from exciting, and it seems that, barring any surprises, it is the trend we have to get used to this season.

However Oliver Bearman was a breath of fresh air, and while the circumstance in which he got his F1 break were unfortunate – Carlos Sainz undergoing surgery for appendicitis – the young Briton impressed and gave us something to follow during last Saturday’s race.

So on with our Takeaways from the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Nothing seems to be affecting Red Bull?

Red Bull delivered another faultless race against the odds and amid controversies afflicting them even before the start of the season.

And not only has the storm refused to die down, it has kept increasing in intensity, with every day delivering a new twist to the embattled squad and its leadership.

But much to the irritation of Toto Wolff and Zak Brown, Red Bull are showing no signs of weakening with their drivers delivering on track, their engineers, mechanics, strategists, and all the other staff doing the business at the pit wall and in the garage with the utmost professionalism.

Now we do not know who takes credit for this united front at Red Bull, but a team that has been enjoying such strong form for years, even when the cars were not winners, will naturally require more of a battering before it falls apart, which is an outcome that we hope does not materialize.

Hopefully Red Bull sort their problems out soon, a good thing for them and F1 – maybe not their rivals who have to get their act together – as it is a pity for such a squad to disintegrate and especially for reasons like the controversies that have hit them.

Bearman shines through on a tricky weekend for Ferrari

bearman ferrari f1

First of all, we have to send our best wishes for Sainz, and it was great to see him in the Ferrari garage less than 24 hours after his surgery; but the silver lining was Bearman making his F1 debut at the Saudi Arabian GP.

The young Ferrari driver was thrown in the deep end with only FP3 available for him to get ready for qualifying, but boy did he deliver.

In qualifying, he missed out on Q3 by the slightest of margins, while in the race he delivered a mature drive, keeping Sainz’s SF-24 in one piece while starting in the midfield, a tricky task in a treacherous territory even for an experienced driver.

In the end, he kept his head down, executing a clean race, some impressive overtakes and keeping Norris and Hamilton – on fresher rubber in the end – at bay on his way to seventh at the chequered flag.

Bearman has been hailed recently as the next upcoming talent, and in Jeddah, he proved the hype surrounding him was not unsubstantiated.

And what makes his performance even more impressive is that he delivered all that in a Ferrari, not any car, with the Scuderia bigwigs in the background watching (John Elkann was there) and under the extreme pressure of the media.

In a weekend that was marred yet again with controversy and with the outcome of the racing already known, Bearman’s debut was simply refreshing.

What is going on at Mercedes?

Mercedes brought a newly designed car for the 2024 F1 season, one that has normal sidepods and a with a seating position that Hamilton is happier with.

And while there were positive vibes about the W15, Wolff claiming it felt like a car compared to its dreaded predecessors, that positivity has not translated on track.

Now George Russell seems to be more comfortable in the car, but Hamilton is struggling with it, and despite now sitting further back in the car, he is still unable to tame it.

And guess what, the W15 is a bouncy one, a horrible trait Mercedes would have been hoping to leave behind with its 2023 and 2022 machines.

In Jeddah, the Silver and Black cars struggled to match rivals in the high speed sections, something Hamilton was vocal about while trying to chase down Norris, and it seems now that the car has a big issue, which Wolff labelled as “fundamental” and cannot be sorted by setup changes.

And while the Austrian said early on that the aim was to give Hamilton a decent Mercedes on his final season with the team, the W15 is a far cry from being such a car, and while the seven-time F1 Champion’s motivation may naturally be waning with the Ferrari move being less than a season away, it doesn’t seem this final year of marriage would be enjoyable for him or Mercedes.

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Quick Hits

  • Lance Stroll ended his race in the wall at Turn 22, a corner he stubbornly insisted on flirting with over the course of his three days in Jeddah. He got away with it in practice with only a damaged suspension, but his luck ran out in the race. He finished just behind Alonso in Bahrain, a glimmer of hope for the Canadian, but Jeddah showed yet again that his 42-year-old teammate is in another league.
  • While Horner’s off-track decisions are indeed questionable, his decision to bring back Daniel Ricciardo at the expense of Liam Lawson is an unforgivable mistake. The Australian has been out-qualified by Yuki Tsunoda so far, the latter hardly a benchmark. Ricciardo’s race in Jeddah was sad to watch, and he ended it with what he used to call a “Seb Spin”, a joke he came up with referring to the series of mysterious spins Sebastian Vettel suffered in his final days in F1, at Ferrari to be precise. Well we all know what Karma is, but the Honey Badger is way past his sell-by date.
  • There was some interesting stewarding in Jeddah. They gave Norris a free pass after jumping the start, while all commentating pundits insisted he should’ve been penalized.
    Then came the generous time penalties, now being dished out in ten-second doses. Not defending Kevin Magnussen’s driving by any means here, but 20 seconds?