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Is Red Bull’s advantage as big as it looks? What next for Mercedes? Five key questions ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Is Red Bull's advantage as big as it looks? What next for Mercedes? Five key questions ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

The second race of the Formula One season takes place in Saudi Arabia this weekend, and it promises to reveal more details about the competitive order in 2023. Red Bull dominated the season-opener in Bahrain, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be the case in Jeddah, where different track characteristics could shake up the order. Ahead of the second round of the 2023 season, here’s a look at some of the big questions ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Is Red Bull’s advantage as big as it looks?

There’s a strong argument that Max Verstappen’s performance in Bahrain actually underplayed his true advantage over the rest of the field. The reigning champion cruised to victory with a 39-second advantage over his nearest non-Red Bull rival — Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin — and there’s little doubt he could have gone even faster if he’d been under pressure.

The counter point for anyone hoping for a more competitive race in Saudi Arabia is that the Bahrain International Circuit played to the strengths of the RB19 and exposed weaknesses of its main rivals, Ferrari and Mercedes. Red Bull’s two traditional rivals struggled with tyre management throughout the race in Bahrain, which is among the most extreme circuits for rear tyre degradation on the calendar.

Saudi Arabia, which has a much smoother track surface and faster, flowing corners presents a different type of challenge, which could help the entire field close the gap to Red Bull. What’s more, GPS data from Bahrain indicated Ferrari held a top speed advantage over Red Bull, which should translate to more performance relative to the RB19 in Jeddah.

Given the size of Red Bull’s advantage in Bahrain, it still seems foolish to bet against Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez this weekend, but there are genuine reasons to believe the gap over the field could get smaller.

Can Aston Martin challenge for victories?

Fernando Alonso stole the headlines in Bahrain with his brilliant drive to the podium for Aston Martin. The result wasn’t a complete shock for anyone following preseason testing, but in the context of Aston Martin’s seventh place finish in the 2022 constructors’ standings it was still a remarkable result. The question now is whether it can be replicated, or perhaps bettered, at a different circuit.

Much like Red Bull’s advantage, one of…

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