IT'S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Special Contributor

Chris Medland
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The races come thick and fast and, after the season got underway in Bahrain, it’s already time to make the short trip to Saudi Arabia. Ahead of another spectacular show under the lights, we look at some of the talking points heading to Jeddah...

The front-running picture

There are 24 races this season and 24 different circuits that teams and drivers have to perform on. Building a car that can adapt to the characteristics of each circuit requires compromises to be made, leading to stronger and weaker venues for every team.

READ MORE: 6 Winners and 5 Losers from Bahrain – Who started their season in style?

In recent years, Red Bull have regularly been strong in Bahrain and Max Verstappen voiced his belief that it could be one of the tracks the RB20 is best suited to after taking a comfortable victory last weekend.

While Verstappen's might be a comment you take with a pinch of salt given the ongoing Red Bull dominance, it was a view backed up by Carlos Sainz, even if he wasn’t necessarily speaking about Jeddah being a venue that he’s expecting Ferrari to target as their perfect layout.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull

Verstappen got off to a winning start in 2024 with victory in Bahrain

“I think we were at one of their strongest tracks of the season with very high tyre degradation at the rear,” Sainz said. “Hopefully when we go to a more front-limited track and maybe better tarmac, our car will come alive and we will be able to mount a better challenge on Max for the win.

“It’s the first different circuit that we go with these new 2024 cars, so it will be a bit of a surprise for everyone to see where we are. I expect the cars like the McLaren and the Red Bull that, last year they were very good in high-speed circuits, to be competitive there. But you know our car has also improved in the high speed so hopefully we can be also stronger.”

And it’s not just about the gap between Red Bull and Ferrari, but as Sainz says there’s McLaren, plus Mercedes and Aston Martin who have shown they can be strong on certain tracks last season. Jeddah provides the first opportunity to contrast what the relative strengths and weaknesses of each car are, compared to what we saw in Bahrain.

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Can Perez replicate 2023?

If the first race of the season this year felt familiar, that’s because it was Verstappen winning comfortably from Sergio Perez, and a Ferrari that was the closest challenger, just as it was in 2023. On that occasion there was a reliability issue for Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso picked up a podium, but the top two produced the same result.

When it came to Saudi Arabia, Verstappen hit trouble in qualifying and Sergio Perez took pole, converting that into a victory over the race distance and showing the pace to extinguish Verstappen’s hopes of challenging him after a strong recovery drive.

It showed street circuits to be a strength for Perez early last year, with the Mexican also winning in Baku as the two Red Bull drivers split the first four races equally. Given the form Verstappen showed as the year went on, then it would be a huge confidence boost for Perez and make a real statement if he were to challenge for victory again this weekend.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: Second placed Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing talks

Can Sergio Perez repeat what he did last year and win in Jeddah?

Driver tensions at RB

Should there be a fight between the two Red Bull drivers then it would give Team Principal Christian Horner another headache, but his counterpart at RB – Laurent Mekies – is already dealing with one.

In the closing stages of Saturday’s race in Bahrain, RB ordered Yuki Tsunoda to let team mate Daniel Ricciardo through in order for the Australian to try and overtake Kevin Magnussen ahead. 12th place was the prize at the time, but Ricciardo was on soft tyres compared to hards for his team-mate and so had a tyre advantage that might help him find a way past the Haas.

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Tsunoda didn’t immediately adhere to the request, and once he did he was soon on the radio criticising Ricciardo’s pace. But it was his actions after the chequered flag – when he locked up making an eye-catching overtake on Ricciardo into Turn 8 and then the pair came close to contact on the exit of the corner – that really suggested there was a problem that needs addressing.

Whether it was quickly resolved in the post-race debrief or not is likely to be revealed if the pair are running closely on track together again this weekend.

2024 Bahrain Grand Prix: Tsunoda’s frustration boils over post-race after team orders row at RB

Cooling coming to the fore

Bahrain was a surprisingly cool race weekend in terms of the weather, with the ambient temperature comfortably below 20C for the competitive sessions and the wind-chill seeing team members in jumpers and jackets.

Despite that, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said both drivers had to unexpectedly cool their power units from an early stage of the race, and the same was true for the Williams pair who also use Mercedes engines.

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The weather forecast for Jeddah is for far higher temperatures – exceeding 30C in the day and 25C after sunset – throughout the weekend. And that means that even more cooling is going to be required on the power units.

All teams will be spending some of their time preparing for the weekend working out the cooling levels that they expect to be needed, and issues in Bahrain don’t necessarily point to an inherent issue but more likely a set-up miscalculation for that particular event, but it could well be a central topic to performance.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas

The Mercedes drivers had to unexpectedly cool their power units in Bahrain

F1 Academy’s season begins

The Formula 2 and Formula 3 seasons both kicked off in Bahrain, and while F2 moves on with the F1 paddock to race in Jeddah, the support card also sees the start of the new F1 Academy season.

Last year only the final round in Austin was on the same schedule as a Grand Prix, but this year all seven race weekends will be alongside F1, with even greater input from the teams, too.

There are multiple drivers affiliated with F1 team programs on the grid, but 10 of the 15 will also run the livery of an F1 team that is backing them – one from each of the constructors.

On top of that there are official partner cars including from the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Charlotte Tilbury and Puma, and even a wildcard entry in the form of Saudi driver Reema Juffali.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the 2024 F1 ACADEMY season


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