Formula 1 Racing

What the GPS data reveals about how Verstappen must approach Saudi GP

What the GPS data reveals about how Verstappen must approach Saudi GP

The runaway winner in Bahrain a fortnight previously had taken a clean sweep across the practice sessions, ending the three hours of running with a cumulative advantage of 1.3s.

However, after topping Q1 by an imperious 0.483s over team-mate and eventual polesitter Sergio Perez, his RB19 hit trouble with the right-rear failure as he emerged from Turn 10.

That forced the defending champion out in Q2, his earliest qualifying exit since electing not to run at all at Sochi in 2021 when he was loaded with grid penalties for an engine change.

But as the Belgian and Italian GPs of last season proved emphatically, Verstappen is more than up to the task of mounting an astonishing comeback in this ground-effects era of F1.

And judging by his upbeat demeanour when addressing the media straight after breaking down on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, he believes another stunning recovery is eminently feasible.

Where the Red Bull excels on the Saudi streets

Verstappen scored his first of a record 15 grand prix victories last season courtesy of a DRS-inspired triumph over Charles Leclerc at the Saudi venue, with the top-end punch of the rebadged Honda engine proving decisive over the agile Ferrari as the Red Bull headed the speed traps.

But those traits had seemingly been swapped for the Bahrain round earlier this month.

The lighter-for-2023 RB19 proved rapid through lower-speed acceleration zones but was eventually out of puff compared to the low-drag SF-23 when heading north of 180mph.

That high-speed habit and leaving behind the extremely abrasive Sakhir asphalt, which exposed Ferrari’s tyre degradation woes, should have favoured Leclerc and Carlos Sainz for this weekend, in theory. 

But the GPS data from Saturday running in Saudi reveals the breadth of the Red Bull’s capabilities, with the RB19 having the legs over its red-painted rival on the flowing streets.

Even Verstappen’s Q1-topping lap of 1m28.761s (which still would have put him third in Q3, with Perez leading the order with a 1m28.265s) still had him near the top of the speed traps.

The Dutch driver hit 206.3mph before slamming on the brakes for Turn 1, which compares to 204.4mph for Perez as Leclerc clocks 202.6mph to very narrowly eclipse George Russell.

Fernando Alonso in the initially draggy Aston Martin AMR23, meanwhile, reached a peak of 198mph.

Interestingly, the Aston, Ferrari and Merc trade places from Turns 4 through to 10 as the RB19 is compromised through the…

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