Formula 1 is back, and its return did not disappoint with the season-opener in Bahrain. This time, we go into the second round at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and these are the five things we learned.
1. Ferrari is fighting an uphill battle. Charles Leclerc’s reliability issues in Bahrain didn’t end there as he had to take a third control electronics unit, along with a 10-place grid penalty for that. To make things worse, Mercedes-AMG and Aston Martin have now caught up, and—in some ways—even surpassed the Scuderia. If the team doesn’t get its drivers, its cars, and its strategy sorted out, it might not be able to rise beyond fourth in this year’s constructors’ standings.
2. Aston Martin isn’t a one-hit-wonder. The Silverstone-based team made headlines in Bahrain with Fernando Alonso in P3 and Lance Stroll in P6. But whether this was a fluke or not is a different story. Saudi showed that wasn’t the case as the Spaniard scored another podium—his 100th, actually—after starting at the front row in P2. Stroll was doing well, too, until he lost out to Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) due to bad strategy, before retiring from the race.
3. This year’s Saudi Grand Prix was relatively clean. When the Jeddah Corniche Circuit was first unveiled, people knew an accident was waiting to happen with its high-speed layout, tight corners, and little-to-no-room for error. That was what happened in 2021 and in 2022. But this time, no one crashed into the barriers, with the only race retirements being Stroll and Alex Albon (Williams), who suffered from car problems.
4. McLaren is the new Williams. After suffering from reliability issues two weeks ago, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri found themselves at the back of the pack this time. First-lap contact resulted in both McLaren drivers needing a front-wing change early in the race. Toward the end, the two were in a scrap with each other as well as with Logan Sargeant (Williams) of all people. And this ended with the Australian rookie in P15 and his teammate in P17, behind the American driver.
5. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile still needs to straighten up its act. Alonso was handed a five-second penalty for being off-position at the starting grid. But when he came into the pits to serve it, the rear jack made contact with the car before the five seconds were over. Thinking the team failed to serve the penalty, the stewards handed Alonso a 10-second penalty.
As expected, the team protested by requesting a review by the FIA. Apparently, there is precedence as others did the same in the past and were not penalized for it. So, the governing body reinstated the Spaniard’s podium. While it isn’t perfect, did the authorities have to wait until after the race to judge an incident on Lap 19 out of 50?
Two rounds into the 2023 season and Max Verstappen (Red Bull) leads the drivers’ standings ahead of teammate Sergio Perez by one point. Meanwhile, Alonso is ahead of both drivers of Ferrari and Mercedes, with Aston Martin tied with the latter for second place among the constructors.
The next race will be held all the way in Melbourne with the 2023 Australian Grand Prix on April 2.