Just a few days after Scuderia Ferrari's one-two finish in the opening round of the season in Bahrain, the Formula 1 World Championship is back in action with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix taking place less than three months on from the first ever running of this event. Last December, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished seventh and eighth on the Jeddah Corniche semi-street circuit. Still in the Middle East therefore, but Formula 1 has moved from the Arabian Gulf to the shores of the Red Sea.
The 6.174 kilometre circuit owes its name to the fact that much of it runs alongside the sealine, adopting the French term "corniche," which is very popular in the Middle East. It is the second longest track on the calendar after Spa-Francorchamps and boasts the most corners, but unlike other street circuits, it is fast and flowing, without the usual right angle turns and it features many high speed sections. Last year, cars got up to 330 km/h with an average lap speed of over 250 km/h. There are three DRS zones and several overtaking opportunities, while the race is run over 50 laps. The track has been modified since last year, with barriers moved back at turns 2, 3, 14 and 21 to improve visibility. At a further four places – turns 4, 16, 22 and 24, in order to improve safety, concrete barriers have been replaced with the metal type used in Monaco, which reduce the force of the impact and are more forgiving if drivers brush them. Finally, the width of the track has been increased by 1.5 metres on the right hand side after the last corner, turn 27, where a few cars had ended up in the barriers last year.
The race takes place at night, with all sessions running later in the day, with a similar timetable to that first used in Singapore. The first hour of free practice takes place on Friday at 17 local (15 CET) with the second at 20 (18 CET). The final hour to fine tune the cars starts at 17 (15 CET) on Saturday, in preparation for qualifying at 20 (18 CET). The second Saudi Arabian Grand Prix gets underway at 20 (19 CET).
Personally, how does it feel to be starting your 15th season in Formula 1?
Xavi Marcos: Race Engineer to Charles Leclerc: "The first race of the season is always special, because it's the start of a new adventure. This time however, it's even more special because there are many new factors to take into account and I'm keen to find out, if everything we have done in terms of processes and procedures is taking us in the right direction and delivering the benefits we are expecting. Of course, we used the test sessions to do a sort of general trial run, but it's only on a race weekend, with its pressure and expectations, that we can really judge how well we have prepared. Those pressures and expectations can lead to mistakes and we have worked with the entire team so as to be calm in managing all the various aspects of the weekend. We must concentrate on ourselves and work with confidence."
The cars are completely new: from a technical point of view, what do you think could make the difference on track this weekend?
XM: "I think that, putting to one side the different car designs, whoever has done the best job in preparing for the season down to the smallest detail, will have a competitive advantage at the start. There are so many new elements involved and whoever has understood the new format better, especially the limitations involved, could have the edge for at least the first third of the season. When I say format, I mean the whole package: the completely new car, the little time available to work on it, the 18 inch tyres and also the fact the drivers must modify their driving style to suit it. All in all, whoever understands the limitations and opportunities of this more compressed weekend format, will have an ace up their sleeve on track."
And looking at the long term, given this is the first of 23 races, what factors could be key over the course of the season?
XM: "Car development will clearly be the main element, but there are other key factors such as on-track organisation, which is my responsibility. Let's not forget we are embarking on the busiest season ever in the history of this sport, so I think that now, more than ever, it's the smallest details that can count when it comes to making every task more efficient. One of the aims will be to expand the flow of information between the engineers and the team at the track and those back in the factory."
Ferrari in Saudi Arabia
GP entered 1
Debut 2021 (C. Leclerc 7th; C. Sainz 8th)
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0
Total podiums 0
Facts & Figures
1. The percentage of Saudi Arabian land that is arable. The country is predominantly desert, with the population of just under 30 million inhabitants living mainly along its two coastlines with the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf and in the capital, Riyadh.
5. The number of appearances from the Safety Car in the only edition of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to date. Last year, 16 laps were run behind it.
27. The number of passing moves at the Jeddah Corniche track lasts year. Carlos Sainz topped the list with four overtakes and Charles Leclerc managed two.
32. The maximum average temperature in degrees Celsius in Jeddah in the month of March, while the minimum is 21. Humidity is usually very high, while the average annual figure is 35. The highest temperature ever recorded in the city was an impressive 52 degrees on 22 June 2015.
336,6. The highest speed ever seen at the Jeddah Corniche circuit. The record was set three months ago in the penultimate round of the 2021 season, by Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo.
At Ferrari 75 years ago
Work is proceeding apace in the Maranello factory on building the second 125 S chassis and its 12 cylinder engine. In the meantime, Enzo Ferrari is studying the national racing calendar, looking for a suitable event at which his new creation can make its race debut.