After the first race of the Formula 1 season two weeks ago, Mercedes driver George Russell declared the title race was already done as he got out of his car. He claimed that Red Bull’s vehicles were too quick.
Ultimately, Sergio Pérez’s win for pole position in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday, in which Red Bull had the fastest vehicle once more, may prove that forecast accurate.
The fact that Pérez’s colleague Max Verstappen had to hobble back to the garage due to a technical issue, though, will serve as a reminder that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to light vehicles, finicky systems, and tight bends. On Sunday, Verstappen will line up fifteenth. For at least one day, the title race has resumed.
How to See? Time: The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will begin on Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern at 8 p.m. in Jeddah. Watch on ESPN if you’re in the US. Here for a complete list of Formula 1 broadcast rights holders worldwide.
Don't miss LIGHTS OUT on Sunday! ⏰👀#SaudiArabianGP @ROLEX pic.twitter.com/It45gwB3t4
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 18, 2023
Verstappen’s fractured drive shaft caused him to fall down the grid, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will experience the same fate due to a pre-race penalty. Leclerc qualified second fastest but will start twelfth.
Two of their drivers are right behind the leaders, giving Mercedes (with Russell) and Ferrari (with Carlos Sainz) encouragement. Staying there will be the hard part. “Red Bull,” Leclerc said, “is on another planet.”
Are Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin for Real?
It was a pleasant surprise for the 41-year-old Alonso to finish third in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, and it was a great start for his new team, Aston Martin. Alonso, meanwhile, was not in the mood to delve into the specifics of split times and speeds.
“I have no idea,” he said when asked whether the team had learned anything from an intense week of practice. “I just drive the car, and then in qualifying, I see where I am.” Where he was after qualifying was alongside Red Bull’s Pérez on the front row.
How Quickly Did Verstappen Race to Victory in Bahrain to Start the Season?
Quick enough, his team instructed him to slow down toward the end of the race. Verstappen resented the order, and the Red Bull engineer eventually begged Verstappen to comply: “Just do it, please.”
Verstappen’s unexpected loss of power on Saturday that halted his qualifying attempt was not the jolt his team needed, and it ruined the mood even if Pérez turned in the quickest lap. It is unclear whether the directive was given to preserving Verstappen’s engine or the honor of the field.
Verstappen said of starting 15th:
“Now it’ll be a little bit more tricky to get to the front. Anything is possible at this track. But let’s stay a little bit realistic: It’s going to be tough.”
In Bahrain, things for Leclerc and Ferrari could scarcely have gone worse. Running alongside the leaders, Leclerc was forced to exit the race after his power unit abruptly failed. Ferrari, though, was dogged by the possibility of further power issues throughout the week since it seemed to be driving its vehicles at a lower speed than necessary to be safe.
“That was one of our worst days in racing,” the Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said after an abysmal start to the season in Bahrain that saw Lewis Hamilton come home in fifth and Russell in seventh. The mood has not improved. Wolff is still grumbling, Russell is still struggling, and Hamilton is still stewing.
“I just don’t feel the car underneath me. I don’t really know what I am going to do about that.”
Australian Grand Prix on April 2 at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit. The Times hired Andrew Das in 2006. He assists in overseeing coverage of soccer, the Olympics, and international sports as an assistant editor for Sports.
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