If Bahrain left us with quite a bit to unpack after the finish — Ferrari's pace, Red Bull's reliability, Mercedes really is off pace — then the Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia should help us figure out where everything goes on the shelf.
This is a quick return for the F1 circus to Jeddah. It will be a little over 100 days or so since F1 opened its account at the 3.836-mile, 27-turn street circuit, and it was Lewis Hamilton who took the first checkered flag on that day in December.
How to watch the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia
- Date: March 27
- Location: Jeddah Corniche Circuit - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
- Time: 12.55 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
What to watch for
While you can never count him out, as Bahrain's surprise third-place finish showed — it is unlikely that Hamilton and his teammate, George Russell, will be in the mix at the front unless something happens to the guys in front of him. Friday's practice sessions once again had Ferrari and Red Bull Racing at the top, although Charles Leclerc was complaining about porpoising on Jeddah's hard surface, and late in FP2 actually brushed the wall slightly at Turn 4.
The other interesting thing to take from those times is that Max Verstappen may have only been second-quick, he did so running the hard-compound tires while Leclerc and most of the top runners were on the softs
Jeddah is considered a very high-speed street circuit, and the organizers have only helped that perception by making a few sections of the track wider than it was back in December. Also, with the cars now 5-percent heavier than the previous edition due to changes to the front and rear wings, undercarriage, safety modifications and tire size increase (from 17 inches to 18), it will be interesting to see if driver fatigue plays a factor toward the close of the event.
Bahrain showed that the new nose and rear wing designs, combined with new underbellies, did indeed help the cars draw up on a each other, and it did equate to more passing opportunities. But it's never easy to pass another car in this series, as Yuki Tsunoda proved while frustrating Valtteri Bottas, and those areas where the circuit has been made wider are outside of the normal racing line and more for allowing the drivers an opportunity to save the car before striking the barrier.
On the back foot
Alpha Tauri: The talk is that Pierre Gasly's problem at Bahrain is different from what happened to the Red Bull cars of Verstappen and Sergio Perez, but we'll see.
Alpine: Esteban Ocon out-paced his teammate, Fernando Alonso, in the second practice on Friday. Alonso is on a new power unit from Bahrain but will not pay a grid penalty for it, apparently, as it comes out of his quota for the season.
McLaren: Struggled at Bahrain, but look improved during Friday's practice at Jeddah. Now they need to translate that into race pace.
Williams: Still stuck in reverse.
Running in place
Aston Martin: Nico Hulkenberg will once again in the seat for the COVID-ailing Sebastian Vettel.
Haas: Kevin Magnussen surprised the field with a points finish at Bahrain, but Haas has come back to earth at Jeddah.
Mercedes: Hamilton said they may spring a surprise or two in the early part of the season, and that podium finish at Bahrain was certainly a surprise. But in all seriousness, it fell in their laps. Once again, Hamilton and Russell were complaining of porpoising at Jeddah, and it also appears they don't have as much straight-line speed as the Ferraris and Red Bulls
Best foot forward
Alfa Romeo: Definitely have improved speed, and it appears reliability will not be as big an issue a thought.
Ferrari: Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. seem poised to continue their success at Bahrain. Leclerc did have a moment in FP2, where he drifted just a bit too much and brushed the wall, and both drivers also said they were fighting porpoising at times, but it didn't stop them from putting up incredible times. They are the leaders in the garage until Red Bull or another team prove otherwise.
Red Bull: The talk of the pits was how the problems at Bahrain were caused by third-party parts in their fuel system, and certainly they looked quick and confident around Jeddah on Friday. Verstappen did have one oopsie-doodle moment in the first practice, where he radioed back to ask if the wind had changed direction (you know, because it simply can't be that he got a little ahead of himself on the track), but he and Perez look strong and are obviously hoping to open their account on the 2022 season in Jeddah after missing out on points at Bahrain.