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F1 2023

Have Red Bull's rivals closed the gap in Jeddah?

The pace from the top three teams was pretty evenly matched during the long runs in FP2. Could we see a closer race on Sunday?

Leclerc Saudi
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

There was a lot of optimism from Red Bull's rivals after Bahrain that Jeddah would be a much more competitive circuit.

The Bahrain track - which features the season's highest tyre degradation - made it an outlier and tough to judge, according to both Red Bull boss Christian Horner and Ferrari's Frederic Vasseur.

By contrast, the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is much smoother surface, having been laid in 2021 and is reliant more on straight-line speed, something that Ferrari exhibited as the main strength over Red Bull in Bahrain qualifying.

On the face of it, Red Bull are faster than Ferrari in the speed traps, with Sergio Perez setting a top speed of 311kph compared with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz both hitting 307kph.

With 80 percent of the Jeddah lap spent at full throttle, the straight-line advantage will be crucial over the course of a race stint as fuel loads come down.

Red Bull gain more speed throughout the lap compared to both Sainz and Leclerc, particularly between Turns 4 and 8, then later between Turns 25 and 27, although it is expected more speed is to come from Ferrari once they switch up engine modes.

Ferrari show pace as Red Bull split on long runs

Both Ferrari and Aston Martin matched Red Bull during the long runs on the Medium tyre towards the end of FP2.

Over the course of the 10-lap stint on the Medium tyre, Fernando Alonso matched Sergio Perez and set consistent times in the low and mid 1:35s.

By contrast, Leclerc was also close to those times, but was largely hampered by traffic on his runs. The result means the times showed Alonso was two-tenths off Perez's average of 1:35.095, while Leclerc was fourth-tenths off.

On the Soft tyre it was a similar story, with Sainz roughly setting similar lap times to Verstappen before switching to Mediums and setting the same times as Leclerc in the high 1:34s and low 1:35s.

It's worth noting Red Bull were not entirely satisfied with their car setup, with Perez confirming they were looking into a mechanical issue that could bring them more lap time.

But with the difference to Red Bull in long-run pace in Bahrain being 0.537s for Ferrari and 0.594s for Aston Martin, their rivals have certainly closed the gap on them this weekend.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Red Bull was also split on which tyre they would favour during the race, electing to run Verstappen on the Soft and Perez on the Medium in the latter stages of FP2.

This is because the delta between the Soft and Medium is between four- and five-tenths per lap, something that could be advantageous at the start, according to Pirelli Motorsport Director Mario Isola.

"Medium and Soft are both good compounds for the race, you can do a one-stop race using these two," he told media, including RacingNews365.com.

"What is difficult to predict is if the majority is going to start with the Soft or the Medium. If the Soft has low degradation, then that would be preferable at the start, and we know track position here is an important element of strategy.

"But the Soft with high fuel is suffering more than the Soft with low fuel. So it's possible they start with Medium and then move to Soft for the last part of the race."

Getting the decision right for the race will be key, given the high chance of a Safety Car being deployed due to an accident on track.

FP2 Long Run Analysis (C3 and C4)

Lap VER (C4) PER (C3) ALO (C3) LEC (C3) SAI
1. 35.4 35.1 35.1 35.1 34.9 (C4)
2. 35.1 35.4 35.2 35.2 35.2 (C4)
3. 35.0 35.2 35.3 35.5 35.0 (C4)
4. 35.2 35.3 35.2 35.0 35.0 (C4)
5. 35.1 35.4 35.2 35.2 35.5 (C4)
6. 38.2 35.1 35.0 35.6 35.5 (C4)
7. 35.0 34.9 35.4 35.5 35.5 (C4)
8. 35.4 34.8 35.3 37.9 38.1 (C4)
9. 35.6 34.7 35.2 35.2 -
10. 35.2 34.6 35.4 35.3 34.7 (C3)
11. 35.0 35.1 - 35.7 35.1 (C3)
12. 35.2 - - 36.1 35.8 (C3)
AVERAGE 1:35.095 1:35.095 1:35.281 1:35.417 1:35.592

Mercedes and Alpine outliers?

Two notable drivers during the race runs were both George Russell and Esteban Ocon.

The Mercedes driver set similar lap times to Leclerc on the Medium tyre during a short eight-lap stint towards the end of FP2, but was still a second off over a lap.

Russell was still optimistic after the session, but it was clear Mercedes were having another tough day.

"We're not going to find a second overnight, but we need to understand the new direction we're taking as a team," said Russell.

Ocon was also in the mid- and high-1:35s for his 10-lap stint on the Mediums.

Alpine showed quick pace in the speed traps; Pierre Gasly topped out at 313kph while Ocon was 309kph.

Helmut Marko believes the French outfit could be a challenger alongside Aston Martin to the race pace of Red Bull, although their fastest times were likely done with the fuel loads still high with the front runners.

Also interesting:

Join RacingNews365.com journalists Michael Butterworth and Dieter Rencken as they discuss all the key talking points ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

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