Has the Jeddah Corniche Circuit shown us a significantly different competitive order among the Formula 1 teams than the opening round in Bahrain? Not entirely.
Indeed, the top four teams concluded qualifying in the same order as they were two weeks ago: Red Bull fastest followed by Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes. With Williams bringing up the rear again, the only differences in the hierarchy were found in the midfield.
There, Haas fell from being fifth-quickest in Bahrain to seventh behind Alpine and Haas. And unlike at the opening round, Alfa Romeo out-paced AlphaTauri.
But while the numbers show Red Bull’s margin over their closet rival was smaller in Jeddah than it had been two weeks earlier, the reality is likely different. Max Verstappen set the pace throughout the weekend until his car let him down in Q2. His margin over eventual pole-winner was half a second in final practice and again in Q1, and with Perez admitting he could have gone quicker had he perfected his final lap in Q3, it’s hard to imagine Verstappen wouldn’t have found a few tenths more.
That’s the view of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “If Max would have finished qualifying, [the gap] would have been even bigger,” he acknowledged.
For Wolff, the second race of the season reaffirm the gains made by “two teams that made massive steps.”
“I was just looking at last year’s qualifying and everyone is pretty much where they were but Aston Martin and Red Bull just made an unbelievable step forward.”
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That is undoubtedly true of Aston Martin. Having produced a two-and-a-half second year-on-year gain in Bahrain, they’ve ‘only’ picked up a second and a half in Jeddah. However the tightening of turn 22, which has knocked around 40kph off cornering speeds there, has gone some way towards limiting the gains for all competitors.
While the entire field lapped the Bahrain International Circuit quicker than they did the year before, this weekend the field is split into to halves: Those who are quicker than they were last year and those who are slower. Red Bull is surprisingly in the latter camp, though again, that would likely not be the case if Verstappen had still been running in Q3.
But with the two quickest teams in qualifying lapping slower than they did last year and Williams at the back gaining half a second compared to last year, the field has closed up once more. As…
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