It may have only been three months since Formula 1 last raced in Saudi Arabia, but the sport is back for what organisers hope will prove to be an equally dramatic event. Lewis Hamilton claimed victory at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in 2021, putting him tied on points with Max Verstappen as the pair headed towards the season finale in Abu Dhabi. There was plenty of controversy post-race, with the two championship rivals coming together on track after Verstappen was punished by race stewards for passing Hamilton off it. This year, the race is much earlier in the calendar as the second round of the 2022 season, with the Sunday race set to take place on 27 March, following on from the opening weekend in Bahrain. But as the track prepares to host only its second-ever F1 Grand Prix, the organisers, Saudi Motorsport Company (SMC), provided RacingNews365.com with a statement highlighting the many alterations that have been made to the track over the winter break. Here are the five big changes that fans, drivers and teams should look out for on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Visibility to be increased through high-speed sections
The sheer speed of F1's high-performance machines tackling the circuit was enough of a spectacle on its own, even without the thrilling and unforgettable inaugural race enjoyed by spectators back in December. However, in some corners, drivers were sent pushing through high-speed sections blind to what may lay around the bend due to the close trackside barriers. The barriers were at their narrowest between Turns 2 and 3, and Turn 14 and Turn 21 – and all four corners have seen their barriers widened for 2022. Those barriers have been moved to between one-and-a-half metres and two metres away from the edge of the track, allowing for better sightlines through the corners. The move should help to make the venue a safer place to go motor racing for drivers, stewards and spectators.
Drivers being given Monaco-style apex barriers
Following the 2021 event, conversations with drivers resulted in a number of F1's stars requesting a change to the apex barriers across the circuit. The drivers were keen for the track to adopt Monaco-style metal barriers that would be easier for the cars to brush against as they pass by, allowing them to push with more confidence in search of the perfect lap. As a result, the barriers on the apex of Turns 4, 16, 22 and 24 have been changed for the 2022 event. The new steel plate barriers "effectively wrap around the concrete barriers", say SMC, giving them a smooth surface for drivers to lean on.
Artist drafted in to give track a fresh look
It may only have been a matter of months since F1 was first introduced to the new Saudi Arabian GP circuit, but it has already been given a fresh look. SMC have drafted in the 'Saudi Banksy', Rex Chouk, to decorate the tarmac run-off areas. Last season, the track's run-off areas were painted green, with the event's sponsors also lending a hand to its colour scheme. Chouk's artwork often "combines pop culture and Arab influences", say SMC, "to produce hugely innovative creations that are both edgy, eclectic and symbolic of a modern, vibrant culture that beautifully epitomises contemporary Saudi Arabia".
New start time, earlier than last season
Last season's event proved an aesthetic hit with the cars twinkling under the lights in Saudi Arabia as F1 added yet another night race to its calendar. This season, the race will remain in the evening but the start time has been changed slightly in a move that the organisers hope will allow more fans around the world to watch along live. Instead of lights out at 20:30 local time, a start time that stood out on last year's calendar, the race will now begin on the hour at 20:00. But the earlier start time does not mean that this season's event will now be a sunset race that will transition to night during its early laps, as the sun will set in Saudi Arabia on race day at 18:06 local time, nearly two hours prior to the race start.
Track widened on corner that robbed Verstappen of mighty lap
Verstappen looked on course for a remarkable against-all-odds pole position at the track back in December when he ran just wide on the final corner, making contact with the barrier as he looked to power down the straight. That impact ruined his lap, leaving him forced to settle for third on the grid on race day, behind the two Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. But should he manage to produce a carbon copy of that lap during qualifying of this year's event, he may well end up snatching pole. That is because the final corner has been widened, offering an extra 1.5 metres of track for drivers who, like Verstappen did, run wide. The move will allow cars to carry more speed through Turn 27 while leaving fans wondering what might have happened had the change been made to the circuit just four months earlier.