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Ex-F1 champion predicts closer fight in Jeddah

Ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Mika Hakkinen expects to see a closer fight for the win than was seen in Bahrain.

Former F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen says he expects the chasing pack to be much closer to the pace-setting Red Bulls at the second round of the 2023 F1 season in Saudi Arabia. Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez cruised to a 1-2 finish in the curtain raiser in Bahrain, prompting downbeat assessments from other teams and drivers about Red Bull's projected dominance throughout 2023. Red Bull themselves have sought to play down the significance of their Bahrain cakewalk, with Perez saying the particular characteristics of the Sakhir circuit exacerbated the gulf between the drinks-backed squad and their rivals. While Hakkinen says Verstappen will make it two wins from two in Jeddah, the Finn added that Red Bull would have to work to maintain their advantage from Bahrain, with Ferrari and Aston Martin pushing the drinks-backed squad hard. "Bahrain showed us that Red Bull’s advantage from 2022 has been maintained into this year," Hakkinen told Unibet . "I don't think the gap will be as large in Jeddah, so Red Bull will have to work hard if they want to lock out the front row of the grid. "Max Verstappen is on top form, so we should expect him to dominate, but Charles Leclerc will be much more competitive in the Ferrari in Jeddah and Fernando Alonso will be on maximum attack to give Aston Martin a second podium."

Hakkinen predicts Safety Car disruption

Hakkinen also talked up the challenge posed by the high-speed Jeddah Street Circuit, with its sweeping turns and unforgiving barriers, and the Finn said team strategists would be especially cognisant of Safety Car deployments which could change the course of the race. "If I was still racing in Formula 1, I think I'd really enjoy the Jeddah circuit," said Hakkinen. "It is a super quick, flat out circuit, and it could not be more different from the first race in Bahrain. "If you make a mistake in Bahrain, there is plenty of space, but the Jeddah track is a street circuit and any mistakes are punished. "The first time F1 raced here [in 2021] we saw two red flag stoppages and four Virtual Safety Cars. That tells you a lot about how easy it is to make a mistake. "Based on what we have seen in 2021 and 2022, we are going to see a lot of action, close racing and definitely some Safety Car periods. This is something all the race strategists will be planning for."

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