Can Max Verstappen still win?

( – As in 2022, Sergio Perez will start from pole position in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2023. On paper, it looks like an easy race for the Mexican. The Red Bull RB19 is by far the fastest car in Jeddah and its closest rival, teammate Max Verstappen, will only start from 15th place.

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© Motorsport Images

All eyes on Max Verstappen: The Dutchman has to catch up from P15 in Jeddah zoom

However, although the Dutchman will end up further back in Q2 after his driveshaft failure, he could become a serious, and perhaps the only, threat to Perez as the race progresses. Last year in Belgium, Verstappen started from P14 to finally take the lead of the race from his team-mate on lap 12 of 44 before he was able to dominantly bring victory home.

Verstappen should be able to plow through the field fairly easily on Sunday. With plenty of fuel, the Red Bull is three to five tenths per lap faster in Jeddah than the closest pursuer, Aston Martin. The RB19 was also by far the fastest car on the straights, which should make overtaking easier. Compared to Ferrari and Mercedes it is 9 km/h and compared to Alpine and Aston Martin it is 12 km/h.

“Everything is possible on this track,” says Verstappen, looking ahead to the race. “We’ve seen a lot of crazy things, but we also have to be realistic. It’s going to be difficult, but we have good pace. We’ll definitely go up.”

What strategic options does Verstappen have?

It is considered fairly certain that – as in the previous two years – a one-stop strategy from medium to hard will be the fastest variant in the race. In the long runs on Friday, however, Verstappen put in a stint of 14 laps with the soft tire, which was not only incredibly fast, but also the tire management was impressive.

At the end of the stint, the Dutchman was quicker than at the beginning, while some of his competitors were already struggling to match the lap times of the first laps on the medium tyres. The soft tire could therefore be a chance for Verstappen to fight his way through the field faster.


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The predicted course of the race in Jeddah based on the long run data from Friday – Max Verstappen can fight for victory zoom

On the one hand he could start on the soft compound to be able to overtake even faster in the first stint, on the other hand Red Bull could have a big overcut in mind.

While we can expect the first pit stops from lap 15 as in previous years, the Dutchman could do a long first stint on the medium tire to strap on the soft tires around lap 30. After the end of Q2 he still has a few fresh movements in his repertoire.

Who will grab the spot on the podium?

Should the race take place normally without safety car phases and accidents, a one-two for Red Bull should be more than feasible. The big question, however, is: which rider has the best chance of the final podium finish?

Without a doubt, Fernando Alonso has the best starting position. Not only will the Spaniard start from P2, because as in Bahrain, Aston Martin also had the second-best long run pace in Jeddah on Friday. In addition, should Alonso get off to a smooth start this time, he won’t be forced to use strategy to beat the other teams like he did in Bahrain, allowing him to set his full pace right from the start.


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The long runs of the second free practice session: Red Bull ahead of Alonso ahead of Alpine zoom

However, Alonso should break away from his pursuers as soon as possible, as the Aston Martin could become an easy victim on the straights. The AMR23 was the fastest car in qualifying in the twisty first sector, but that came at the expense of top speed. In the speed measurement, Alonso reached 325 km/h, which was 12 km/h slower than the Red Bulls.

Alonso also doesn’t believe Aston Martin has a chance to fight for victory with Red Bull: “I don’t know [ob wir Perez schlagen können] – I don’t think we’re in that position yet,” he said after qualifying. “In terms of raw pace, I think Red Bull are in a different league and I think we need to focus more on the teams behind them focus.”

Why Alpine could stand a good chance in the fight behind

Behind the Spaniard there should be a very close battle between the three teams Mercedes, Ferrari, Alpine and his Aston teammate Lance Stroll. In Friday’s long runs, these three teams were almost level, with a slight advantage for Alpine, who also boasted the best tire management.

Even with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly starting sixth and ninth, the French could become a major strategic threat, as you can use both the undercut and the overcut. If an undercut window forms early in the race, you could force your competitors to stop early or take the chance yourself.

Gasly & Alonso strong: finally opponents for Red Bull?

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With grid position three for George Russell, Mercedes is also confident. “I think that we are on par with Ferrari and Aston Martin when it comes to the long run,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “And I think we can go for a podium.”

How far does Charles Leclerc go forward?

The big unknown is likely to be Ferrari. In the long run, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were initially able to set good lap times, but after about seven laps the tire wear became noticeable again. The long run stints on Friday are also much shorter than a stint in the race, so the problem could get worse on Sunday unless the Scuderia improves with the set-up from Friday to Saturday.

The starting position for Leclerc is extremely unfavorable after the penalty. From twelfth he will struggle to fight his way up as Ferrari’s pace delta isn’t big compared to the other teams before it or you might even be slower with a lot of fuel on board.

“For me it should [von Startplatz zwölf] become a bit more difficult,” says the Monegasque. “Especially as soon as I meet the top cars. The race pace is very similar for everyone. I also don’t know how difficult it will be to overtake other cars on this track. The midfield seems incredibly tight. And when you get on a DRS train, it becomes difficult.”

Who comes out on top in the midfield battle?

It will be difficult for , who is starting from eighth place, to get his first Formula 1 points. On the one hand, Verstappen and Leclerc, two faster drivers, come from behind and on the other hand, the McLaren has a big problem on the straights.

The MCL60 has such immense drag that Piastri was 17 km/h behind the Red Bull in Q3. That makes you the slowest team on the straights, which of course makes it easy to be overtaken.

Looking at the long run data, Alfa Romeo and Haas are likely to go backwards, with the Swiss team showing progress from Friday to Saturday. However, the American Haas team once again had problems with a lot of weight and Nico Hülkenberg also emphasized after the second practice session that the race pace is still the team’s biggest construction site.

On average, Williams and AlphaTauri were a little better, but they are at a disadvantage due to the poorer qualifying positions. Lando Norris in the McLaren is likely to move up from P19, with points looking unreal given the strong pace of the top five teams.

The article is in German

Tags: Max Verstappen win

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