The 2023 Formula 1 season continued with a relatively mundane affair in Saudi Arabia as Sergio Perez turned the tables on Max Verstappen in another Red Bull 1-2 finish.
But which drivers starred on the challenging streets of Jeddah and who had an evening to forget under the lights?
Max Verstappen – 9
Qualified: P15, Race: P2
Having won the opening grand prix of the year in emphatic fashion, Verstappen looked set to repeat his dominance in the second round when he topped all three practice sessions.
However, a driveshaft failure in Q2 denied him a certain pole and resigned him to starting all the way back in 15th place. But with the fastest car in the field beneath him and a well-timed Safety Car, the reigning World Champion scythed his way back through to an untroubled second.
Unable to replicate his storming drive from Belgium last year to take the victory, scooping the fastest lap on his final tour of the circuit at least retained his slender championship lead.
Sergio Perez – 9
Qualified: P1, Race: P1
Once his team-mate was ruled out of the final qualifying session, Perez had a comfortable run to the second pole position of his career and his second consecutive one in Jeddah.
After losing the lead to Fernando Alonso at the start, the Mexican regained the position once DRS was enabled and looked set to cruise to the end.
While the intervention of the Safety Car threatened to complicate things, Perez built up a five-second buffer at the front, allowing him to masterfully control the gap to Verstappen once the second Red Bull popped up directly behind him.
Further success at yet another street circuit on the F1 calendar marked redemption for Perez after losing out at the same circuit a year ago.
Charles Leclerc – 7.5
Qualified: P2 (Started: P12), Race: P7
A monstrous qualifying effort witnessed Leclerc remarkably qualify second, only a tenth-and-a-half behind Perez’s Red Bull.
Sadly for the Monegasque, a 10-place grid drop for exceeding his Control Electronics allowance meant he would begin the race out of position.
Starting on the Soft tyres, Leclerc was able to make up three places at the start, gaining further places on both Alpines, Lewis Hamilton and then Lance Stroll during the pit-stop phase.
But the Safety Car timing worked against Ferrari, allowing Hamilton to get back ahead, with Ferrari then lacking the pace of the competition on the hard tyres to respond. Reaching the chequered flag for the first time in 2023 provided little consolation to Leclerc.
Carlos Sainz – 6.5
Qualified: P5 (Started: P4), Race: P6
Sainz’s struggles from the opening round continued into this weekend, as the Spaniard failed to extract what Leclerc could from the car in qualifying and ended up a towering 0.5s adrift.
Matters didn’t improve much in the race for the ex-McLaren driver. Like his team-mate, Sainz was substantially hampered by Ferrari’s flailing pace on the harder compound of tyre during the final stint and failed to make any further headway beyond sixth.
Lewis Hamilton – 7
Qualified: P8 (Started P7), Race: P5
Following a fairly comprehensive qualifying defeat to George Russell, Hamilton was despondent in his assessment of his current troubles with the Mercedes W14 on Saturday night.
While the Brit looked set to regret his decision of starting on the hardest rubber, the timing of the Safety Car worked to his advantage and appeared to set him up for a crack at the podium.
However, a failure to make use of the better warm-up on the medium compound and bypass Russell meant he had to accept trundling home fifth on the road.
George Russell – 8.5
Qualified: P4 (Started: P3), Race: P4
Russell strung together a mightily impressive final run in Q3 to put Hamilton in the shade by almost four-tenths, keeping it clean at the start to retain his third position.
Although he lost out to Verstappen after the Safety Car, period Russell resisted the early threat of his team-mate on a step-softer tyre to be classified as the lead Mercedes runner, rounding out a superbly executed weekend on his side of the garage.
Esteban Ocon – 8.5
Qualified: P7 (Started: P6), Race: P8
Following a Sunday to forget in Bahrain, Ocon avoided a repeat of the same teething issues to convert his excellent starting position on this occasion.
Despite flirting extremely close to the barriers on his final run in qualifying, Ocon’s car remained in one piece all the way to the line to notably usurp Hamilton’s Mercedes in the order.
While he lost out to the front runners in the race, the one-time F1 race winner avoided the headlines for the right reasons to endure a quiet run on his way to some valuable points.
Pierre Gasly – 7.5
Qualified: P10 (Started: P9), Race: P9
Hauling his Alpine car into Q3 would have been a huge confidence boost for Gasly after he was embarrassingly eliminated from the opening segment in Bahrain.
Although he was off the pace of his new team-mate over a single lap once again, starting ninth would provide a stable platform for Gasly to secure more points to his name.
Lando Norris – 4.5
Qualified: P19, Race: P17
An exceptionally rare mistake from Norris in qualifying – turning in too sharply to the final corner and hitting the barrier – saw him condemned to failing to progress from Q1 for the first time since his rookie campaign in 2019.
It was then somewhat emblematic of McLaren’s stuttering start to the year that damage on the first lap instantly thwarted Norris’s chances of mounting a comeback and summarised unquestionably one of his worst weekends in a long while.
Oscar Piastri – 7
Qualified: P9 (Started: P8), Race: P15
Even discounting Norris’s qualifying mishap, it proved a testament to his adaptability and speed that Piastri had been on the pace of his highly rated team-mate and then delivered several exquisite laps to progress into Q3 for the first time.
Although he was unsure he could retain his grid position within the points, the Australian would have expected to hold onto his place inside the top 10 longer than the opening lap.
But minor contact sustained from being squeezed by Gasly resulted in an immediate foray into the pits for a replacement front wing, ruining his hopes of collecting his maiden F1 points.
Overtaking Norris in the closing stages and reaching the chequered flag for the first time provided an added bonus for what could be regarded as a hugely encouraging weekend.
Valtteri Bottas – 4.5
Qualified: P14 (Started: P13), Race: P18
From displaying brilliance in Bahrain to producing a shoddy showing in Saudi Arabia, the past weekend will not be one that lives long in the Finnish driver’s memory.
Bottas was continuously lagging behind his less experienced team-mate all weekend and a multitude of pit-stops relegated him to being the lowest classified finisher.
Zhou Guanyu – 6.5
Qualified: P12 (Started: P11), Race: P13
After narrowly missing out on eclipsing Bottas in qualifying last time out, Zhou, now in his sophomore season in F1, beat his well-respected Alfa Romeo partner by two-tenths on Saturday.
The Chinese representative could count himself unfortunate, however, that Alfa Romeo’s performance shortfall in Saudi Arabia meant he was unable to move up the order on race day.
A decision on the pit wall to box early was ill-timed as Zhou was unable to make up the ground he had lost under the Safety Car to threaten the points places.
Fernando Alonso – 8.5
Qualified: P3 (Started P2), Race: P3
The two-time F1 World Champion was hopeful his Aston Martin switch would yield top results but even he wouldn’t have envisaged attaining two podiums from his opening two races in green.
Taking advantage of Leclerc’s grid drop enabled Alonso to claim a front-row slot and the position from which to showcase his magnificent prowess in close combat racing situations to seize the lead from Perez momentarily.
While both Red Bulls breezed past the Aston Martin at varying stages, the sensational race pace and consistency Alonso was able to extract from a beautifully balanced AMR23 car meant the five-second penalty he picked up for a starting grid infringement proved insignificant to his end result, even if it did provide a slight blemish on an otherwise perfect weekend.
Lance Stroll – 7
Qualified: P6 (Started: P5), Race: DNF
A delightful sweeping move around the outside of Sainz at Turn 13 on the opening lap positioned Stroll strongly to support his team-mate in delivering a solid points haul.
But his race began to unravel when Aston Martin’s decision to pit early to avoid the threat of the undercut exposed him to the overcut from both Ferraris. His evening’s work would come to a complete stop shortly after when mechanical trouble forced him into a premature retirement.
Aside from committing an unforced error at the start of the third sector in qualifying – potentially denying him a front-row starting berth – Stroll was largely faultless and deserved more.
Kevin Magnussen – 7
Qualified: P13 (Started: P12), Race: P10
Such was Haas’ problems with tyre degradation in the season opener, Magnussen must have been fearing the worst when he qualified down in 13th place.
But a calculated start from the Dane and Stroll’s retirement opened up the possibility of a solitary point on the table for one of the sport’s lower midfield-operating outfits.
Magnussen sensed an opportunity and eventually overcame the obstacle of Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri with a nicely constructed move to snatch Haas’ first point of the season.
Nico Hulkenberg – 6.5
Qualified: P11 (Started: P10), Race: P12
Hulkenberg continued to demonstrate his ability to unlock searing speed over a single lap has not disappeared since he last competed in F1 full-time three seasons ago.
But arguably the element of rustiness that was anticipated has come to light in race trim in the two races he has conducted since his comeback.
Losing out to his team-mate at the start would be the decisive undoing of his failure to convert another top 10 starting berth into points.
Yuki Tsunoda – 7
Qualified: P16, Race: P11
Having profited from the timing of the Safety Car to be propelled into an unexpected points position, Tsunoda was left hugely frustrated when Magnussen made a move stick late on.
Although points marginally evaded him again for the second race running, Tsunoda has already shown promising signs that he can establish himself as a competent team leader within the AlphaTauri ranks during a critical year for his racing future.
The talented Japanese driver was three-tenths clear of his team-mate in qualifying and was never threatened by the sister AlphaTauri car at any stage during the race.
Nyck de Vries – 5.5
Qualified: P18, Race: P14
A second successive anonymous weekend for de Vries was not aided by having to completely sit out the final practice session due to a Power Unit change.
Considering the limited track time, he did a steady job in the circumstances. Nevertheless, the pressure will be on the Dutch incumbent to match Tsunoda’s speed in the coming rounds.
Alex Albon – 6
Qualified: P17, Race: DNF
Williams’ promising practice pace from Friday went missing once qualifying arrived and Albon was subsequently unable to replicate his miraculous efforts from Bahrain.
His team-mate’s complications on Saturday masked that he was the slower of the two Williams drivers over a single lap, with a brake failure bringing an end to a subdued run in the race.
Logan Sargeant – 6
Qualified: P20, Race: P16
Having missed out on Q2 by the virtue of setting the exact same lap time second to Norris in Bahrain, Sargeant could count himself highly unfortunate to not make the cut in Saudi Arabia.
A slight encroachment of the pit lane entry line witnessed his opening run – that would have been good enough for 13th place – controversially get deleted. A spin at Turn 22 in pursuit of matching his previous erased effort left him without a representative lap time at the end of the session.
The race was a much quieter affair for the American rookie, although he did receive television time for his dice with the two McLarens in the closing laps.
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