Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Preview
Just a week removed from the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, the Formula 1 paddock will take a short hop west this weekend for the second-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The 50-lap race around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit was first held in December 2021, when Lewis Hamilton won a championship-implicating showdown with eventual world champion Max Verstappen, the latter receiving two penalties.
Situated on Saudi Arabia's western coastline, the roughly 3.8-mile street circuit features 27 corners and three drag reduction system (DRS) zones. In 2021, it averaged the second-highest average speed of any track on the F1 calendar, behind only Italy's Monza Circuit.
The race is one of the few on the schedule to be held at night, a distinction it shares with those in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Singapore.
Although wind appears in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, the seldom-rained-on area should not be affected by weather throughout the week.
Scuderia Ferrari enters the weekend with a full head of steam. Both its drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, gave the team its first 1-2 finish Sunday since the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix.
The duo qualified on pole and third position, respectively, at Bahrain, showing a much higher improvement in pace in 2022 compared to the previous two seasons.
If this form can be duplicated at Jeddah, the podium could be just as red, with either Leclerc or Sainz taking the checkered flag.
Despite winning the race last December, Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team appear to have much to overcome to return to the front, after Hamilton and teammate George Russell qualified in fifth and ninth position, respectively, for the first round. This improved to third and fourth by Sunday's end, albeit with both Red Bull Racing cars retiring.
Russell admitted after the race he thought his team was "a long way behind" its rivals, so a similarly off-pace weekend could be ahead for the silver arrows.
Current world champion Max Verstappen will also look for a bounceback effort, after his night in Bahrain went south with steering and apparent power unit issues.
Still, his Red Bull car was competitive with Leclerc's in the season opener, and the pace he showed around Jeddah three months ago, combined with his established racecraft should put the Dutchman right back into contention Sunday.
For good or bad reasons, McLaren is another team to watch. The team's drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, both scored top-10 finishes around Jeddah in December.
However, after the duo finished 14th and 15th in Bahrain, with a qualifying effort similarly lackluster, the Woking-based marque will also look to re-find its pace from recent seasons.
The Haas F1 Team enters the weekend with some much-needed momentum.
Kevin Magnussen, who rejoined the team after it released Nikita Mazepin earlier this month, finished fifth in Bahrain, a strong result for the American team that was mired at the back of the grid for most of 2020 and 2021.
Haas' other driver, Mick Schumacher, nearly scored a top 10 of his own Sunday, but his 11th-place effort showed this year's Haas could be one of the midfield's better outfits for the season's second round.
Also looking to build on strong results are the Alfa Romeo and Alpine teams, after both of which scored double-points finishes.
Ahead of lights out on Sunday, Leclerc and Sainz appear to be tough to beat, but after both Red Bull cars failed to see the checkered flag in Bahrain, Verstappen and Sergio Pérez should be eager to play spoiler to the Scuderia's newfound speed.
Without a clear midfield favorite thus far, the "best of the rest" could be in for a feisty Sunday night showdown as well.
Logan Groeneveld-Meijer is a second-year majoring in journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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