F1’s latest rivalry revs up once again

When Formula One’s new regulations were revealed for the 2022 season, it was with the hope that it would lead to closer, more exciting racing. Two races in, they’ve certainly delivered.

In Bahrain, it was the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc who came out on top as the Scuderia secured a 1-2, after late race breakdowns for both Red Bulls left them pointless. There were no such issues for the reigning champions in Jeddah though, as Max Verstappen kickstarted his championship defence with a hard-fought, and well-thought, victory.

Once again, the top two toyed with each other when it came to using DRS on multiple occasions. Verstappen made the first move into the final corner, but as we saw a week ago, Leclerc was able to instantly fight back on the next straight. Thus began the cat and mouse games that might define this generation of Formula One. Just one lap later, neither driver wanted to cross the all important detection line into Turn 27 first, with the Monegasque driver catching Verstappen napping, and briefly being able to build a one-second lead. When Verstappen got back within DRS range however, Leclerc was powerless to stop the Red Bull driver marching to his first victory, and first points of the season.

The final few laps at Jeddah 2022. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Many expected Verstappen and Leclerc to be stars of the future from the moment they set foot in an F1 car, and it looks like this season will be the first time we get to see them fight consistently against each other at the front. Admittedly, the ‘fights’ have so far been fairly straightforward DRS overtakes. Albert Park, home of the next race in two weeks time, is usually a much tougher place to pass, so might see Max and Charles get closer than they have done so far this season, perhaps even repeating their antics from Spielberg and Silverstone in 2019.

Those previous battles three years ago might be why we’re seeing a tamer Verstappen than we saw last year. He knows that Leclerc isn’t afraid to get his elbows out, whereas Lewis was more likely to try and avoid contact at any cost. It would not be surprising if this year’s top two send carbon fibre flying on more than one occasion throughout the remaining twenty-one races.

The battle between Max and Charles which entertained us all at Silverstone 2019. Image courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

So far, it is one each between Max and Charles, but it could have been so different. Sergio Perez was unlucky with a pit-stop the lap before Nicolas Latifi found the barrier and brought out the safety car, turning a possible victory for the Mexican into a lonely race to fourth. His misfortune promoted Carlos Sainz onto the podium for the third consecutive race, but this was another weekend where the Spaniard looked off the pace compared to his teammate. The battle between the ‘number twos’ could be crucial in determining the destination of both champions this year, especially on any weekend when one team has a clear pace advantage.

The midfield entertained as always, with both Alpines adding many grey hairs to team principals Otmar Szaufner’s head in the opening laps. Kevin Magnussen also pulled off some good moves, but the early safety car meant that anyone that was starting on the hard tyres would be on the back foot when it came to strategy.

This was also the case for Lewis Hamilton, on arguably his most difficult weekend (pace-wise) in the hybrid era. One point will be scant consolation for the seven-time world champion, with George Russell coming home in fifth. Barring any issues for Red Bull or Ferrari, a porpoising fix, or performance found in a ‘reliability’ engine upgrade, it looks like fifth will be the best the Brackley team can manage over the next few races.

The leading Mercedes of George Russell at Jeddah. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Sunday’s race passed without any controversy, which definitely couldn’t be said about last years. Once again though, the track proved to be brutally punishing, with Mick Schumacher and Cem Bolukbasi both missing their races after heavy accidents at Turn 12. These crashes, and the missile strike at the nearby Aramco refinery during Friday practice, will quite rightly raise questions about the wisdom of holding a race in Saudi Arabia.

No matter who you support, perhaps the best news from this weekend is that it is over, and everyone is able to leave safely.

 

Verstappen victorious in Round 2 of Ferrari vs Red Bull

Verstappen wins a good race in Jeddah after a safety car meant Perez dropped positions behind both Ferrari’s.

We started off today one car down with Haas deciding to run only 1 car after Mick Schumacher’s crash in qualifying. Schumacher is ok but they were worried that if he had another crash they wouldn’t have enough parts to go to Australia with.

Just when we thought we would get a 19 car grid Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari had an issue with an hour to go. Fortunately for him they fixed problem and he made to the grid. However, whist on the way to the grid to join Sainz, Tsunoda stopped on track with an engine issue therefore having to miss the start of the race.

Lights out and everyone managed to get away clean. Verstappen got a great start getting down the inside of turn 1 to then sweep around the outside of Sainz at turn 2, putting him in P3. Zhou seemingly had the same problem as Bottas last week with a poor start meaning several drivers past him and into turn 1 he was late on the brakes, tapping the back wheel of Ricciardo but coming out worse off.

Lap 4 and the alpines were locked in a battle between themselves. Alonso had DRS down the main straight, but Ocon made a late defensive move to stay in front. Only a few laps later Alonso did get past but that was not the end of it.

Ocon tried again on lap 8 but had to use the runoff at turn 1 and 2 to keep the place. This meant he had to give the position back he tried 1 more time on lap 12 when Ocon went too deep again, and Alonso stayed ahead.

The Alpines in a battle between each other. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

All the battles at alpine mean that Bottas had closed the gap. When Ocon was told to hold position, he backed off meaning Bottas then had DRS down the main straight into lap 14 and made an easy overtake into turn 1.

At this point Hamilton had made it past Norris into P11, making up 3 places in 6 laps. He was quickly gaining places and on the hard tyre he appeared to be going for a 1 stop strategy.

Lap 16 and Leclerc starts the pit stops with a radio call, but the strategy was do the opposite of Red Bull. Ferrari came into the pit and Red Bull reacted bringing Perez in. Leclerc stayed out and Ferrari seemed to have successfully bluffed Red Bull into a stop.

The Perez pit stop. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Just as Perez came out of the pits Latifi crashed into the barriers and a virtual safety car was initially deployed, playing into Ferrari and Leclerc hands. He now had an almost free stop, coming out of the pit lane still leading the race. However, Verstappen had also stayed out meaning he had to pit during the safety car, gaining places to come out P2.

A full safety car was then deployed when Sainz came into the pits. As he left however Perez was coming down the main straight. Sainz looked as if he got to the safety car line first but Perez closed the door on him to stay in P3.

The lights went out on the safety car to indicate it was going in on lap 20. As it pulled away from Leclerc he was controlling the pack but Verstappen kept moving alongside Leclerc in an attempt to force him to make an error or go early.

On the restart though Verstappen couldn’t keep up with the Ferrari staying in P2. Carlos gained the place back on Perez with but radio messages revealed Perez was told to give the place back to avoid a penalty.

Lap 23 and Hamilton gets past the Haas of Magnussen at the final corner but with DRS down the main straight he got back past. The next lap and this time Hamilton closed the gap but backed off into the final corner to get the DRS down the main straight and late on the brakes overtook into turn 1.

Hamilton makes the move stick. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Hulkenburg was holding his own after the restart however he began to drop back rapidly with Ricciardo, Norris and Gasly passing him on the main straight on laps 27, 28 and 29.

Lap 35 and Alonso was now battle the Haas. He got DRS down the mains straight making a simple pass into turn 1 however it didn’t stick with Magnussen making back past just 1 lap later. This battle quickly turned into a problem for Alonso though when on lap 38 he started moving slowly on track. He reported no power with an alarm on his wheel to say cool the car. The engine had overheated.

Almost simultaneously Ricciardo stopped on track just in front of the pit lane entry when he lost drive coming out of the last corner. Just as that news was being shown Bottas was retired from the race but had made it back to the garage.

The pit lane entry was eventually closed but Magnussen and Hulkenburg had managed to get in and change his tyres before the message. Hamilton just missed the pit lane as the virtual safety car was deployed so couldn’t change his tyres. Hoping that it would end as he came round to the pits again Mercedes were on the radio but unfortunately for Hamilton he had to wait another lap, when he was round the other side of the track and the VSC had ended.

As the VSC ended Verstappen seemed to have gained on Leclerc so the gap was much tighter. On lap 42 Verstappen had DRS into the final corner and took the lead but Leclerc could fight back on the main straight using DRS himself and took the lead again into turn 1.

Verstappen the went too deep and locked up on the inside line into the final corner on the following lap meaning Leclerc could sweep around the outside. This time even though Verstappen had DRS down the main straight it wasn’t enough to keep up with the Ferrari.

At the end of lap 46 Verstappen had learnt to have patience into the final corner and backed out of an overtake to make sure he had DRS this time. He made the move stick into turn 1 but his challenge now was to hold off the Ferrari which had been stronger in sector 1 all race.

Leclerc did close the gap on lap 48 and lined up a move but double waved yellows into turn 1 meant that but couldn’t overtake. Albon and Stroll came together when Albon tried to overtake stroll down the inside. Albon received a grid penalty in Australia for this.

This saved Verstappen from a move, but they were racing all the way to the line. Leclerc lined up a move at the final corner on the final lap, but sadly for him, he wasn’t close enough. Verstappen took with win with Leclerc in P2 and Sainz in P3.

The podium in Jeddah. Image courtesy on Pirelli F1 Press Room

Perez on pole for the first time

Perez finally gets a pole position with an outstanding lap around Jeddah. He beat both Ferrari’s and his teammate to start at the front of the grid tomorrow.

Q1 started as normal but with 11 minutes to go Latifi had a big accident into turn 13 hitting the wall at high speed and causing a red flag. It looked like the back end stepped out and he hit both the front and back of car against the barriers. Thankfully he was ok.

Once going again Tsunoda’s qualifying came to an end early where he had to retire with issues that are fuel related. This was later confirmed to be a cooling system issue which couldn’t be resolved quickly.

The Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton in particular were having speed issues for the whole session. While Russell managed P4 in Q1, Hamilton couldn’t get much faster than P13, ending up being pushed down into the bottom 5, finishing P16. A shock departure for him from qualifying by not making it into Q2 for the first time since Brazil 2017.

The first runs of Q2 and Russell was now the only works Mercedes in the session is also the only driver to come out on the mediums. McLaren have improved from last week putting in solid times and looking to get into Q3 with Russell. At the front, Leclerc still has the upper hand on both Red Bulls but by only 0.04 seconds., but sadly were both out in Q2 in P11 and P12. he just made it through to Q3.

The Haas drivers looked strong today with both drivers setting quick first laps. But with 5 minutes to go though Mick Schumacher was on a flying lap when the back end stepped out onto the curb on the exit of turn 10 which he tried to correct but hit the wall at some speed causing a second Red Flag of qualifying. The speed of the car meant his car finally stopped at the entry of turn 11. Reports were that he was conscious and talking to the doctors but they had to extract him safely from the car and took him to the medical centre by an ambulance. He had spoken to his mum and was taken to the hospital for precautionary scans but was ok.

After a lengthy delay while they fixed the barriers and soaked up the oil, we were underway with nearly 5 minutes left. Those that didn’t have any lap times now needed to nail a lap with almost only 1 shot at it. The Ferrari’s were still on top at the end of the session with Sainz joining Leclerc at the top of the time sheet. 

McLaren sadly couldnt get out of the bottom 5 and were both out in Q2 in P11 and P12. Russell just made it through to Q3 meaning he was the only car with a Mercedes power unit in the top 10.

Daniel Ricciardo on his way to P12. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

Q3, the final 10 and the battle again was between the Ferrari’s and the Red Bulls. Everyone made it through the first runs cleanly with Sainz coming out on top with his teammate right behind. Perez was P3 with Verstappen struggling for grip on fresh tyres.

The Alpines split the Red Bulls with laps 0.5s slower than Perez. Gasly was P7, Bottas P8 and K Mag P9 while Russell came out in the gap between runs. He pulled out a great lap for the Mercedes to split the alpines for P5, closely followed by Bottas who put it P6.

It looked like the fight for pole as they all came back out was between the Verstappen and the Ferrari’s. Sainz couldn’t improve on his time but Leclerc had pace and beat his teammate to provisional pole. Perez was next who was on an absolute flyer. He took provisional pole with only his teammate to stop him. Verstappen came round the final corner and he had not improved his time. It was only good enough for P4 so Sergio Perez is finally on pole.

Pole position for Sergio Perez. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Every person in the paddock was happy for Perez who has worked hard for many years to reach that goal. It will be interesting to see what he can do from Pole.

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