When Mercedes driver George Russell got out of his car two weeks ago after the first race of the Formula 1 season, he already declared the fight for the title to be over. Red Bull cars are just too fast.
“They sewed this championship,” Russell said. Red Bull, he predicted, could win every race.
That prediction could eventually prove correct: after all, Red Bull again had the fastest car in qualifying on Saturday night as Sergio Pérez took pole position ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday. But a mechanical breakdown that hobbled Pérez’s teammate Max Verstappen back into the garage will remind us that nothing is a lock when it comes to fragile cars, tricky systems and tight corners.
Verstappen starts 15th on Sunday. The race for the title continues at least for a day.
how to watch
Time: Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix begins at 1pm EST 8 p.m. local time in Jeddah.
TV: Watch on ESPN in the US. For a full list of Formula 1 Broadcasting Rights Holders, click here.
Starting lineup on Sunday
Verstappen broken driveshaft put him on the grid and a pre-race penalty will do the same for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Leclerc was second fastest in qualifying but will start 12th.
Mercedes (with Russell) and Ferrari (with Carlos Sainz) will be pleased to see two of their drivers just behind the leaders. Staying there will be the hard part. “Red Bull,” Leclerc said, “is on another planet.”
This week’s storylines
Are Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin real? A third place finish at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix was a wonderful surprise for 41-year-old Alonso and a fantastic start for his new team Aston Martin. But Alonso was in no mood to examine the nuances of split times and speeds. “I have no idea,” he said when asked if the team had learned anything from a strong week of training. “I just drive the car and then in qualifying I can see where I stand.” After qualifying he was on the front row alongside Pérez from Red Bull.
Good news, bad news for Red Bull. How fast was Verstappen in his season-opening win in Bahrain? Fast enough that his team told him to slow down late in the race, a request that irked Verstappen and ended with a Red Bull engineer pleading, “Just do it, please.” It’s not clear if the order was given to spare Verstappen’s engine or the honor of the field, but the sudden loss of power that ended his qualifying bid on Saturday wasn’t the jolt his team needed and it spoiled spirits even when Pérez relented fastest lap. “Now it’s going to be a bit more difficult to get up front,” said Verstappen about 15th place on the grid. “Anything is possible on this track. But let’s be a bit realistic: It’s going to be tough.”
Ferrari’s power problem. It could hardly have gone worse for Leclerc and Ferrari in Bahrain. Running with the leaders, Leclerc was forced out of the race after his power unit suddenly failed. (If you don’t know why a powerplant quits, don’t fret: Ferrari’s engineers don’t seem to know either, and that’s a considerably bigger problem for them than it is for you.) The specter of more power, however, hung on the fret all week on Ferrari: It seemed like it was running its cars at less than full speed just to be on the safe side.
Mercedes wants a new edition. “That was one of our worst days in racing,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff after a miserable start to the season in Bahrain, where Lewis Hamilton finished fifth and Russell seventh. The mood hasn’t improved. Wolff is still grumbling, Russell is still fighting and Hamilton is still stewing. “I just don’t feel the car under me,” said Hamilton. “I don’t really know what I’m going to do about it.”
last time out
Results and standings after the first race of the season, the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 5th:
What you say
“Anything is possible on this track. But let’s be a little realistic: It’s going to be tough.” — Verstappen on his chances of winning after dropping down to 15th on the grid.
“I think Red Bull is in a different league in terms of sheer pace. I think we need to focus more on the other teams.” — Alonsowho starts in the front row but is already looking over his shoulder.
“We need the Red Bulls not to finish the race, the Ferraris not to finish the race and maybe now the Astons not to finish the race so that we are winning right now.” — Hamilton presents Mercedes with the extremely problematic path to victory. In his defence, knocking out half a dozen of the fastest cars would be very helpful for any mid-range team and that’s what Mercedes seems to be doing at the moment.
2nd of April: Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit.