The second round of the 2023 Formula 1 season gets underway this weekend, with the Jeddah Corniche Circuit playing host to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen took a commanding race victory in Bahrain to open up his campaign in strong style, following on from his dominant title-winning year in 2022.
But with a new race weekend comes a fresh track and fresh opportunities to deliver. So what are the key questions ahead of the second round of the 2023 season? Motorsport Week asks.
Was Aston Martin a fluke?
One of the biggest talking points throughout the season-opening Bahrain weekend was the pace of Aston Martin, with the AMR23 threatening the top of the timesheet all through practice.
Although Red Bull flexed its muscles as the weekend went on, Aston Martin walked away with a podium finish and a legitimate claim to having the second-fastest car in the field.
Aston Martin’s step forward from 2022 has been seismic and watching Fernando Alonso compete at the head of the pack once again was enjoyable.
The team has been aggressive with its construction of the car as it looked to start the year on a high point, which it has achieved. All eyes will be on the Silverstone-based squad for the second round of the year as it looks to replicate its pace from Bahrain and pose a challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari.
Will Perez offer Verstappen a challenge?
The Bahrain Grand Prix earlier this month had a familiar echo of 2022 about it as Verstappen ran away with the win while Perez followed behind.
Although it’s too early to predict just how the 2023 title fight could play out, Red Bull’s imposing speed in Bahrain suggests that it has the package to beat this year, creating a danger that it once again could ease its way to the championship.
Therefore, it may be that the strongest prospect to give Verstappen a battle is his team-mate Sergio Perez, who enters his third season with the Milton Keynes-based outfit. Up until now, Perez has been unable to consistently match Verstappen.
With the Dutchman growing in experience and comfort, he will only get stronger – and if Perez wants to realise his dream of becoming a World Champion, he will have to nip Verstappen’s momentum early – perhaps starting with this weekend’s event in Jeddah.
Where will Mercedes place?
Mercedes’ disastrous 2022 season saw it enter the 2023 campaign with fresh hope as it looked to draw a line through the uncompetitive year that saw it take just one grand prix victory.
The team looked lost after Friday practice in Bahrain but things improved slightly for qualifying. However, lapping six-tenths of a second off pole position and being unable to contend in the race was signal enough that it has a mountain of work ahead of it.
In the race, it looked to be the fourth-fastest team by the end of the race, with Red Bull stretching away, while Ferrari and Aston Martin gave it a run for its money.
In Saudi Arabia, it will look to restore some of its pride as sitting as the fourth fastest outfit will not do for the team that dominated the first years of the turbo-hybrid era.
Mercedes has promised “visible changes” to the W14 in the coming races – but any notable improvements will likely take time.
Can Ferrari right their wrongs?
Bahrain was a disaster for Ferrari – it once again witnessed Red Bull leaping off into the distance, suffered another in-race reliability-related DNF through Charles Leclerc and was booted off the podium by Aston Martin amid Alonso’s late charge.
As season-openings go, it was bad, and a huge contrast to the maiden race in 2022 when it walked away with a 1-2 while both Red Bull drivers retired.
However, as the 2022 season will tell you, the opening round of the campaign does not decide the title fight and there is ample time for Ferrari to mount a comeback.
Still, there are rumblings of unease within the Maranello-based squad with key engineer David Sanchez departing the team and suggestions that he may not be the only one on the way out.
Above all, Ferrari must ensure its car is reliable, which wasn’t the case last year. From there it at least has a stable platform to grow and re-establish itself as a title-contending F1 squad.
Can Williams continue its momentum?
Ahead of the first round of the year, Williams was many people’s pick to make up the root of the pecking order. Even its driver Alexander Albon admitted it was “likely” it was the 10th fastest team after pre-season testing.
But Albon escaped the Q1 drop zone and rookie team-mate Logan Sargeant missed out on advancing after setting the exact same lap time as Lando Norris, but was forced to drop out as he set the lap time second.
Williams displayed strong race pace and Albon claimed a point on the FW45’s debut – marking the first time since 2017 that Williams has scored points at the opening round of an F1 campaign.
It’s unlikely that points will be a regular feature for the Williams squad this year, but if it can score early, it may go a long way towards keeping it off the bottom of the standings in 2023.
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