We’re only one race into the new season and the pessimists are out in force: Red Bull and Max Verstappen won the opening Bahrain Grand Prix with such ease that even his closest competitors think the championship is over already. Boo.
Fear not, because F1 heads to Saudi Arabia this weekend and perhaps a different track and different conditions will lead to a different outcome? Who knows. Don’t forget the last time F1 visited Jeddah, we got a sensational race…
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And it’s not like there isn’t plenty else to get excited about beyond who takes the checkered flag. Can Fernando Alonso and the resurgent Aston Martin repeat their sensational podium from Bahrain? Can Lance Stroll score yet more points with two broken wrists and a broken toe?
Oh, and can Ferrari get to the end of a grand prix without its engine breaking? It’s stuff like this that’ll keep you glued to the action until the very last lap.
The rest of the grid looks closely matched, too, so competition for points will be fierce between all 10 teams.
Continue scrolling for everything you need to know ahead of the race.
What time is the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix? And what time is qualifying?
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will start at 1am Philippine time on Monday, 20 March. It’ll be preceded by qualifying the day before, which gets underway at the same time.
If you’re the type who also likes to tune in for the practice sessions beforehand, FP1 begins at 9:30pm on Friday 17 March, followed by FP2 at 1am on Saturday. FP3 commences at 9:30pm on the Saturday, a few hours before qualifying.
What’s the weather going to be like?
Hot and dry, basically. At the time of typing Jeddah is expecting highs of 31 degrees Celsius and lows of 21, and given the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is a night race, expect something in the middle of those two extremes.
If you’re hoping for rain to intervene to make the race a bit more unpredictable, we’re afraid you’re going to be disappointed. Pirelli will of course take a full complement of wet weather tyres to the grand prix, but it’s unlikely they’ll make it out of the *cellophane wrappers.
*We know F1 tires aren’t transported in cellophane.
Where is the Saudi Arabian GP taking place?
The Saudi Arabian GP will be held at a street circuit in Jeddah, which sits on the west coast of the country overlooking the Red Sea. The circuit was imagined as a temporary venue until a brand new track is completed on the outskirts of Riyadh, but the grand prix is expected to remain in Jeddah for at least the next few years as work continues on the project.
Billed as the fastest street circuit on the F1 calendar, last year Sergio Perez grabbed pole position at an average speed of 251.97kph. A number of changes have been made for 2023 on safety grounds, in a bid to approve visibility around some of the circuit’s faster corners.
The 2022 edition of the race almost didn’t happen, as a nearby terrorist attack prompted the drivers to consider boycotting the grand prix only after hours of talks were they persuaded to race as planned.
How many laps is the Saudi Arabian GP?
The Saudi GP will take place over 50 laps of the 6.174km circuit, which amounts to just over 300km of racing; the standard distance for a grand prix. Last year’s race was won by Max Verstappen in just over one hour and 24 minutes, although if the safety car or virtual safety car aren’t needed this weekend, we could see the race completed in even less time than that.
Who’s going to win the Saudi Arabian GP?
If form and the universal consensus of just about every pundit and commentator blessed with the gift of sight is anything to go on, Max Verstappen is going to win. Red Bull coasted to a 1-2 finish in Bahrain, and the world champion’s pace advantage over his Mexican teammate means it’s difficult to see how Perez can win without luck falling on his side.
Ferrari unexpectedly challenged for pole in Bahrain but its struggles with tire life (and more fundamentally, reliability) make it unlikely we’ll see Charles Leclerc or Carlos Sainz take the win. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell face problems of their own in a Mercedes package that’s lacking downforce.
The second-fastest car on the grid last time out was that of the Aston Martin, which grabbed third place at the hands of Fernando Alonso. Could the 41-year-old go a step further and take the fight to Verstappen? Failing that, how d’ya like the sound of a maiden victory for Lance Stroll? Stranger things have happened.
What’s the Top Gear view on the Saudi Arabian GP?
We’ve had two editions of the Saudi Arabian GP so far and we’ve watched both from behind the sofa: not because our heart rate couldn’t keep up with watching Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen go toe to toe in 2021, but because the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is genuinely terrifying. Some of those corners are taken at frighteningly high speeds, and given the drivers can’t see much around the barriers it feels like a big accident is never far away. Here’s hoping everyone emerges unscathed.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.