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5 Talking points from the 2023 F1 Saudi GP

While there was somewhat more controversy and drama in Saudi, we ended up with the exact same result as Bahrain. We discuss what’s most important below.

2PFPGA1 Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 18th Mar, 2023. Circuit atmosphere – air display. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Saturday 18th March 2023. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Credit: James Moy/Alamy Live News

1) Has Red Bull brought back the 2000s Ferrari dominance era?

2PG0ABG Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 19th Mar, 2023. #11 Sergio Perez (MEX, Oracle Red Bull Racing), F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 19, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by HIGH TWO) Credit: dpa/Alamy Live News

With Sergio Pérez dominating the Saudi grand prix for the majority of the race and Max Verstappen coming from p15 (driveshaft failure in Qualifying) to P2 and 17 seconds away from Fernando Alonso in P3, most are leaving the Middle Eastern nation saying the new Red Bull car is the fastest they have ever seen.

This is extremely concerning as the main point of last year’s rule changes was to tighten the battle for the title, and it appears to now have had the opposite effect. This is extremely similar to the Ferrari 2000–2004 years in which no team (bar 2003 with McLaren and Williams) could touch the team and beat them.

Hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself and with time and upgrades the rest of the pack will catch up. Otherwise, we are in for another two/three years of Verstappen or Pérez titles.

2) When will the FIA stop being bone idle and incompetent when it comes to its penalty system?

2PFYG90 Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 19th Mar, 2023. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team celebrates his fourth position on the podium. 19.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Race Day. Photo credit should read: XPB/Press Association Images. Credit: XPB Images Ltd/Alamy Live News

When Fernando Alonso came across the line to take P3 on Sunday, there were heavy whispers that Alonso would lose his podium as a mechanic touched his car with the rear jack during the previous five-second penalty at the first round of pit stops.

While he did lose the podium to the Mercedes of George Russell and all seemed to be well, the main question at this stage was why wasn’t the penalty given during the race which then would allow Russell to celebrate on the podium rather than during the team’s pack down?

This was due to some behind the scenes stupidity between the Stewards, the ROC (FIA VAR) and Race Control who decided mid race all was legal only to suddenly switch to a penalty right at the end. This led to Aston Martin protesting the penalty and presenting evidence to the FIA at a post race meeting.

The team successfully argued that the stewards were wrong to believe there was an emphatic agreement in place that the jack touching the car did indeed constitute working on it. As evidence, Aston Martin presented minutes of the latest sporting advisory committee meeting and “video evidence of seven different instances where cars were touched by the jack while serving a similar penalty to the one imposed on Car 14 without being penalised”.

It is understood that these related to the front jack rather than the rear. Nonetheless, the team argued this proved it was incorrect to assert there was an agreement that “touching the car in any way, including with a jack, would constitute “working” on the car”.

This was excepted as new evidence and the stewards finally at around 10pm reversed the penalty and the result was back to square one.

This along with the Japanese grand prix screwup last year and the infamous mess that was Abu Dhabi in 2021 just shows that the FIA must pull its socks up or upset F1 and its commercial rights holder to the point where we could have a repeat of the FISA-FOCA war of the 80s.

3) Have McLaren returned to the Painful Honda years?

2PG0ACD Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 19th Mar, 2023. #4 Lando Norris (GBR, McLaren F1 Team), F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 19, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by HIGH TWO) Credit: dpa/Alamy Live News

McLaren finished once again as the worst team on Sunday after losing both of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri front wings right at the start of the race. While Piastri did get into Q3 on Saturday, another horrible finish for the team along with a very draggy car is raising questions have they ruined all the progress they made between 2019-2021?

There is hope the car will be upgraded in Baku in five or six weeks time, but the car seriously must pick up the pace or Norris who has been trusting the team for all of his F1 career will likely be looking to move up the grid.

Otherwise, he will be risking his career being like drivers such as Nick Heidfeld who finished on the podium but were never given the car to win titles therefore like Lando wasting some of the best young talent of their generation.

4) Do Ferrari need another Jean Todt 1993 style revolution?

2PFJ6FG Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 17th Mar, 2023. Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Friday 17th March 2023. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Credit: James Moy/Alamy Live News

With both cars coming home in sixth and seventh, Charles Leclerc already breaching his control electronics allocation therefore being penalised 10 places in qualifying and the team reportably running the engines turned down for most of weekend. Most are asking is Ferrari in for an even more traumatic season than last year?

While the strategy was okay in Saudi and the team ran a solid race. Questions must be asked if their new team principal Frederic Vasseur going to hopefully get the team into shape towards the end of this year and next year? Personally I think that can only happen with another Jean Todt style leadership in which the Board in Maranello allow Fred to do whatever it takes without interference.

They also, in my view, must start courting grid leaders such as Lewis Hamilton (who is perhaps on the verge of leaving Mercedes) and legendary designer Adrian Newey if they are ever to win a world title again.

5) Mercedes not as bad as last year’s start but still they are desperately in need of a return to form.

2PFT3AH #44 Lewis Hamilton (GBR, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team), F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 18, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by HIGH TWO)

With the team finishing in fourth and fifth in Saudi compared to last year with Hamilton only finishing 10th, Mercedes are in a better place but still nowhere near they need to be. With some extreme upgrades on the way in Imola, it is certainly hoped the team will pick up pace, otherwise the warnings coming from team leader Toto Wolff this weekend that he wouldn’t be upset if Hamilton left in two or three years will come true.

However, the last two years could be seen as growing pains for a team that has lost several people on the power unit side to Red Bull’s new powertrain division and who has a new design chief in Mike Elliott.