(Jeddah) Two weeks after flying past the opening round of the season in Bahrain, Red Bull advances as favorites at the Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia this weekend against Ferrari, already in bad shape and handicapped moreover by a penalty inflicted on Charles Leclerc.
The reigning world champion team, which had monopolized the front row on the grid then achieved a double with the victory of Max Verstappen ahead of Sergio Pérez, seems to have a big head start on its competitors and can drive the point home on the fast city circuit of Jeddah.
“Red Bull have already folded the championship, I don’t think anyone will be able to fight with them this season. I expect them to win all the races this season, ”said George Russell (Mercedes), fatalistic, after the first GP of 2023.
“After a good start in Bahrain, I don’t expect it to be easy in Jeddah, which is a completely different circuit and where you will need the car to be fast,” said Verstappen, the two-time champion. world title. “However, with the very fast corners, I think we will have a competitive car on this circuit. »
The Dutchman, who has suffered from stomach aches in recent days, “feels better” but “had to delay his flight for a day” and will only be present in the paddock on Friday, the day of the first free practice, he said. he stated Thursday on Twitter.
Ferrari will be rightly expected at the turn in Saudi Arabia after a very disappointing first GP marked by the retirement of Charles Leclerc and the fourth place of Carlos Sainz.
But the weekend does not come under the best auspices since the Monegasque driver will be penalized ten places on the starting grid after the replacement of an electronic component during the Bahrain GP.
The prancing horse brand is already seeing the specter of reliability problems that had ruined its 2022 season reappear.
“We saw in Bahrain a first glimpse of the strengths and weaknesses of our car, and areas for improvement. We are doing a lot of teamwork to get the best out of our car […] and I am confident that we can have a better weekend here,” said Italian team boss Frédéric Vasseur. .
One of the attractions of the weekend will be the behavior of the Aston Martins, which have impressed since the start of the season. The podium for veteran Spanish Fernando Alonso (41) and sixth place for Canadian Lance Stroll, who suffered an injury to his right wrist, in Bahrain confirmed the good impressions of pre-season testing.
“In Jeddah, the challenge will be completely different from Bahrain where we had two weeks to familiarize ourselves with the circuit. But I think we’ll have to wait for Australia to know better what the overall performance level of the car will be,” stressed the “Asturian Bull”.
As in 2022, Mercedes seems far from being able to compete with Red Bull after eight years of unchallenged domination. If both drivers scored points in Bahrain, with Lewis Hamilton finishing fifth and Russell seventh, they will be hard pressed to fight for victory, even if their boss Toto Wolff proves to be combative.
“Our performance in Bahrain was not what we expected. Since then, we have had discussions to put in place a plan to get back to the top. In the short term, by neglecting no detail in the search for performance. And in the long term focusing on the development of the car,” explained the director of the “Silver Arrows”.
On the French side, Alpine, which had a contrasting first GP with the fine comeback of Pierre Gasly, ninth after starting last, and the abandonment of Esteban Ocon after several errors, will also try to bounce back.
“We know the A523 has potential. We have not yet been able to exploit everything to the fullest and we have work to do to achieve this. It’s a long season, we started with points and we have to keep pushing as a team,” insisted Otmar Szafnauer, the boss of the French team.
Compared to last season, which was marked by a big crash for Mick Schumacher in qualifying, changes have been made to the Jeddah Corniche circuit to improve visibility and driver safety.