Need to know ahead the third Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Saudi Arabia, Jeddah Street Circuitsa

Located adjacent to the Red Sea, Jeddah Corniche Circuit is set to host Saudi Arabia’s third Formula 1 race today. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó picks out some key areas to keep an eye on at round two of the 2023 F1 season.

With the pace advantage he had shown in practice sessions, Max Verstappen looked on course to secure an easy pole position in yesterday’ qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but a driveshaft issue in Q2 meant that the reigning world champion has now a high mountain to climb. However, the reigning champion has shown plenty of times in the past that he is far from being shy of such a challenge, having won last year’s Hungarian and Belgian Grands Prix after starting from the mid-pack.

Newest track - Jeddah is the fastest street circuit of the year. The track was designed three years ago and has been continually improved since then. The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is run at night, against the breath-taking backdrop of the Corniche alongside the Red Sea, around 30 kilometres from the city centre.

The highest number of turns - The Saudi Arabian GP is held on a very high speed track: the Jeddah Corniche Circuit has 27 corners and is an adrenaline rush for the drivers as they complete the track at an average speed of about 250 km/h, pretty similar to that at Monza.

Long track – The track not only features the highest number of corners, but it is the second longest circuit after Belgium’s iconic Spa race course with a length of 6.174km. Drivers will complete 50 laps today to complete the race distance of 308.450km.

Track numbers – There is an offset of 250m between the start and finish line. As for the pitlane speed limits, drivers need to adhere to a maximum of 80kph in all sessions of the weekend.

DRS zones – There will be three DRS zones. The first one has a detection point placed on the exit to Turn 17 with the activation zone located on the exit to Turn 19. The second zone has its detection point on the entry to Turn 22 with the activation zone lying on the exit to Turn 25. The detection point of the third DRS zone is found on the exit to Turn 27 with drivers permitted to activate their DRS 170m after this very same corner.

Lap record – Lewis Hamilton not only claimed the win in the inaugural Jeddah race, but he also set the best lap in 2021 which is still the official lap record around the 6.174km track. The Mercedes driver posted a 1m30.734 as his best lap on course to claim victory in the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Last year saw Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc set the fastest race lap with the Monegasque posting a 1m31.634 on course to take P2 following an intense fight with Max Verstappen for the race victory.

The fastest ever lap – Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for the 2021 Jeddah race with a time of 1m27.511s which is still the best ever lap around the fastest street track in F1. Last year, Sergio Perez went on to claim his first career pole after setting the benchmark with a 1m28.200s. With the early exit of his team mate in qualifying, the Mexican continued his impressive form in Jeddah, securing pole position yesterday with a time of 1m28.265s.

Middle range - For the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, C2 is the P Zero White hard, C3 is the P Zero Yellow medium, and C4 is the P Zero Red soft.

Strategy - The track surface provides a decent level of grip, but without being too abrasive. Considering the tyre performance shown on the longer runs completed during the practice sessions, a one-stop tyre strategy is the most likely to be picked by the teams.

Safety car – However, pre-race strategy calculations could be quickly thrown out of the window when safety car makes an appearance in the race. And the Jeddah Corniche Circuit has proved to be a track where safety car and virtual safety car usually make an appearance.

In fact, there have been plenty of Safety Car and VSC periods in Jeddah Corniche Circuit’s two appearances on the Formula 1 calendar so far. In 2021, the safety car was deployed two times with the VSC also deployed three times.

The Safety Car made a single appearance in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, as the result of a crash for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi on the 17th lap. The virtual safety car was also deployed a single time after Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren car came to a halt near the entry to the pit lane.

Front limited - The circuit offers a medium level of grip but the sand blown onto the surface can influence this on the low-abrasion asphalt. The track, which overlooks the Red Sea, is not especially demanding in terms of traction and braking, with lateral forces predominantly affecting the tyres.

Changes - This year, there are some new rumble strips on the escape roads while some of the kerbs have been smoothed. A number of the walls have been repositioned, such as those at Turns 8 and 10 (to improve visibility on entry) and Turn 23 (to slow the corner down).