Formula 1 Racing

Perez can get payback for 2022 as Verstappen and Leclerc join the midfield melee · RaceFans

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023

For three hours, 23 minutes and 33 seconds of green flag running across three practice sessions and a full phase of qualifying in Jeddah, Max Verstappen looked as imperious as he ever has at the wheel of a Formula 1 car.

But in the blink of an eye as Verstappen exited turn 12 in Q2, all that work he had done to go quickest across all four timed sessions up to that point was suddenly at risk of amounting to nothing.

And so, what appeared to be one of the most easily predictable races of recent times is now harder to call than it had been before the start of qualifying. From the first row to the last, there is genuine intrigue across the grid heading into the second Sunday of the season.

Perez’s to lose?

For the second Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in a row, Sergio Perez has the honour of leading the field off the line from pole position. Last year, he made excellent use of that advantage to leap out into the front and lead the first 14 laps of the race – only for a poorly-timed Safety Car to drop him down to fourth where he remained for the rest of the evening.

At that time Red Bull were locked in a tight battle with Ferrari, who were their genuine equals in performance. But while Charles Leclerc did get within two tenths of Perez’s pole time, he will not line up alongside him on the front row – Fernando Alonso will. With Alonso being almost half a second slower than Perez in qualifying and an average of around two tenths of a second slower than Perez’s long run pace on Friday, Perez is confident about his chances in the race.

“I think we certainly have a good race car,” Perez said. “It’s where probably we are a little bit better than the competition. Our car, our race pace, was very strong on Friday, so we’ll see.”

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Alonso joins Perez on the front row

For Alonso, equalling his best starting position since coming out of retirement, a front-row start makes the prospects of a second consecutive podium to start the season a serious possibility. However, the Aston Martin driver does not believe the AMR23 has quite enough performance yet to allow him to dream of the top step of the podium just yet.

“I don’t think so,” Alonso admitted. “I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but if we see the pace the whole weekend in free practice – if we see the Bahrain race – we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a little bit ahead of everyone. So that’s not the target tomorrow, to fight for the win with Checo.”

With second to…

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