The runaway winner in Bahrain two weeks ago had handled the practice sessions cleanly and finished the three hour race with a cumulative lead of 1.3 seconds.
However, after topping Q1 by an imperious 0.483s over teammate and eventual polesitter Sergio Perez, his RB19 ran into trouble exiting Turn 10, failing on the right rear.
That forced the defending champion into Q2, his earliest qualifying exit since he opted not to drive at all in Sochi in 2021 when he was hit with grid penalties for an engine change.
But as last season’s Belgian and Italian GPs emphatically proved, Verstappen is more than up to the task of making an amazing comeback in this era of F1’s ground effects.
And judging by his upbeat demeanor when addressing the media right after the collapse on the Jeddah Corniche circuit, he believes another amazing recovery is quite possible.
Where Red Bull excels on the streets of Saudi Arabia
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Verstappen clinched his first of a record 15 Grand Prix wins last season thanks to a DRS-inspired triumph over Charles Leclerc at the Saudi venue, with the top-end punch of the rebuilt Honda engine proving crucial over the agile Ferrari when the Red Bull preceded the Blitzer.
But those qualities had apparently been swapped for the Bahrain round earlier this month.
The lighter-for-2023 RB19 proved quick in lower-speed acceleration zones, but eventually out of breath compared to the low-drag SF-23 when going north of 180 mph.
That high-speed habit, and exiting the extremely abrasive Sakhir tarmac that exposed Ferrari’s tire degradation problems, should in theory have favored Leclerc and Carlos Sainz for this weekend. But GPS data from Saturday in Saudi Arabia shows the breadth of the Red Bull’s capabilities, with the RB19 having legs above its red-painted rival on the flowing roads.
Even Verstappen’s best lap in Q1 of 1m28.761s (which would still have put him third in Q3, with Perez leading the pack at 1m28.265s) still had him close to the top of the speed traps. The Dutch rider hit 206.3mph before hitting the brakes at Turn 1, which compares to 204.4mph for Perez, while Leclerc is doing 202.6mph to finish George Russell very close in to cast the shadow. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso in the initially sluggish Aston Martin AMR23 reached a top speed of 320 km/h.
Interestingly, Aston, Ferrari and Merc swap places at Turns 4 through 10 as the RB19 is hampered by the faster, downforce driven turns.
However, it’s then able to stretch its legs significantly on the backstretch to max out at 210mph – that’s 4mph better than the Ferrari and 6mph above the Merc and Aston.
While Perez sets the pace at the tricky Turn 22 on his pole lap, the RB19 seems to pay a price in the next sequence as Ferrari and Aston come to the fore.
Likewise, Red Bull is unmatched in the sprint into the final corner, with Perez carrying most of the speed to the apex before failing to catch Alonso during slow acceleration.
How these characteristics translate to race strategy
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60 and others practice their starting procedures at the end of FP2
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
With Verstappen’s driveshaft failure, Saudi GP organizers and F1 bosses will be rubbing their hands in trying to complete a hat-trick of thrilling Jeddah races.
An opening race brought shame to the repeated struggles and collisions between Verstappen and bitter title rival Lewis Hamilton to leave them level on points ahead of the Abu Dhabi showdown.
Last season’s edition acted as part two of the recognition duel between Leclerc and Verstappen DRS.
This time, all eyes will be on Verstappen’s recovery – albeit with hopes he may need longer than the 12 laps it will take at Spa 2022 to climb from 14th to first place.
Unlike the progress made at the famous Belgian venue, Verstappen will certainly need to take more time on the narrow Corniche track lined with concrete barriers. While Verstappen is a precise and astute passer, the focus will be on his ability to guess afterwards where his rivals will place their cars to avoid any manoeuvring.
Likewise, he may need to watch and allow the first round to unfold if there is a melee in front of him in the middle of the field where he could otherwise be collected.
But once the first stint settles in, the RB19’s set-up will be ideally suited to its recovery mission – albeit that tweak is rather incidental as none of the Red Bull crew initially planned for Verstappen to be eliminated so early in qualifying.
Once DRS is engaged, overtaking assistance is combined with the Red Bull’s already superior top speed to allow for seemingly easy overtakes on the straights, or draw Verstappen level with any opponent before penetrating every braking zone.
Source : www.autosport.com