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The five big questions heading into the F1 Saudi Arabian GP

Charles Leclerc leads the F1 World Championship for the first time in his career as the sport heads to Saudi Arabia for the second time in just over three months.

The new F1 season continues this weekend with the teams and drivers having made the trip across the Middle East from the island of Bahrain to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the coast of the Red Sea. The venue played host to last season's penultimate round but, just over three months on from that dramatic fight, the sport is back. The Bahrain Grand Prix provided plenty of answers to the big pre-season questions, but it has also offered up plenty of fresh ones with Ferrari flying, Mercedes struggling and Red Bull leaving empty-handed.

Have Red Bull cured their Bahrain issues?

The Bahrain Grand Prix was a disaster for Red Bull, even if the team appeared to demonstrate that they have the pace to fight for this season's championship. Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both retired during the final laps of the race, handing second place to Carlos Sainz and third to Lewis Hamilton. The problem in both cars was caused by a fuel pump issue, say the team , but with Pierre Gasly also retiring when the engine in his AlphaTauri caught fire, the only retirements during the opening race were Red Bull/Honda-powered cars. Even if the team feel confident they have fixed their problems, Sunday's race will be a step into the unknown, with the free practice sessions simply not long enough for Red Bull to complete a full race distance all in one go – something they are yet to do.

Are Mercedes heading for two steps back?

George Russell describes the progress that Mercedes were making in Bahrain as one step forward and two steps back – and he may be on course to be proven exactly right in Saudi Arabia. Unless Mercedes have found a way to extract new-found performance from their W13 car, without any upgrades, then they could be left with a mountain to climb in Jeddah. On paper, the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is far from a track that suits the new Mercedes, which appears most comfortable in slow-speed corners and not on Saudi Arabia's 160mph average speed layout. Hamilton may have stood on the podium in Bahrain but it will be interesting to see if Mercedes can find a way to keep Haas, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri and perhaps even Alpine behind them during the Saudi Arabian GP. One thing is clear: the team will be stripping back their car for this weekend's Grand Prix as they look to improve their top-end speed, with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff having confessed his desire to "take a chainsaw" to their rear wing .

Do Ferrari and their customer teams hold the winning formula?

The battle to win F1's engine race is certainly too close to call at this stage. Ferrari look to be the paddock favourite, but the Renault and Red Bull/Honda (which must first prove that theirs is reliable) engines are hot on their heels. For now, it appears that Mercedes, which saw plenty of their engineers prised from them by rivals Red Bull, are lagging behind. However, with customer teams McLaren, Williams and Aston Martin all seemingly struggling to tame their cars, it is far too early to rule them out just yet. Nonetheless, with Ferrari-powered teams looking so strong in Bahrain , Haas and Alfa Romeo will be confident that they can build on their impressive start to the season. Kevin Magnussen, who placed fifth for Haas as he returned to F1, has not stood on the podium since the opening race of his career, all the way back in 2014. At a high-risk street circuit like Jeddah, which witnessed two restarts and a Safety Car in 2021, could this be a golden opportunity?

Can Sainz close in on teammate Leclerc?

Sainz was not as happy as he should have been with his second-place finish in Bahrain, as Ferrari scored their first 1-2 finish since 2019. The Spanish driver was forced to watch Charles Leclerc, faster than him all weekend long, dance away into the distance both at the start and after the late Safety Car restart. If Ferrari take another 1-2 in Jeddah, Sainz will be desperate to ensure that he leads it home, or risk playing second fiddle to his younger teammate, and friend, for the remainder of a long season. Sainz admitted that he had "plenty of homework" to do after Bahrain and will be looking to score some early confidence points during Friday's practice sessions.

How will the new track changes alter the Grand Prix?

There are a number of new changes coming to Jeddah's track this weekend that promise to make the 2022 event different to last year's. Many of the track's blind corners are no longer so, with some barriers having been moved away from apexes to allow drivers to see beyond them. Meanwhile, a number of other corners have been adjusted - by request of the drivers - so cars can skim them as they pass, much like in Monaco. The track has also been widened in some areas, including at the exit of the final corner where Verstappen crashed during last season's qualifying session to hand pole position to title rival Hamilton. The changes all point towards a track on which drivers will feel more comfortable pushing their cars to the limit and, with the new 2022 machines performing well in high-speed corners, it could well mean lap times eclipsing that of last season's event.

RESULTS 2024 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix - Free Practice 3