After the first two free practice sessions held on the Jeddah le city circuit forces in the field are not yet well defined. Definitely the the fight for pole position and victory will be between Mercedes and Verstappen’s Red Bull. Between these two teams it is still too early to define who is the favorite as there are still many variables at stake. The track, albeit in good condition, will undergo a very important evolution and being a track unknown to all, it will require additional work by the engineers to put a car with an optimized setup on the track. Despite the work done with simulators, the teams are not yet clear which aerodynamic set-up to choose and for this they have done a lot of comparative tests using low load and medium load wings. The tires were also problematic in optimal exploitation. In the first session, the softer compounds tended to overheat while in FP2 they struggled to bring the front axle to the right operating range. Precisely for this reason, all the riders struggled a lot to improve their time with the soft tires compared to that obtained previously with the medium and hard tires.. Mercedes, for example, has obtained the best times with the averages and Tsunoda even with hard ones.
The Verstappen-Hamilton title fight
If we focus on the title fight we can see Hamilton and Verstappen were very similar in terms of performance. If we compare the ideal lap of both pilots, the gap between the two is less than a tenth of a second. However, it must be said that Verstappen managed to get his best time with the soft while Hamilton with the average. Mercedes suffered from low temperature problems with softer tires as chief engineer Andrew Shovlin admitted to the press: “It was a good start for us. The machine is working fine. We are still struggling with the soft tires. Our riders can’t find the grip they want. We still have work to do in this regard. We have to fine-tune the car for the qualifying lap to be fully satisfied with our work ”. According to Pirelli, if the grip does not increase dramatically compared to that found today, the difference between the two compounds is low and quantified in about 2 tenths per turn.
By analyzing the GPS data between Hamilton and Verstappen no big surprises are seen compared to what we are seeing in these last GPs. The W12 continues to make a difference on the straight on the RB16B despite the Milton Keynes team taking to the track in FP2 with very flat rear wings. The Dutch driver’s car, on the other hand, performs much more on fast corners where he can bring speeds much higher than those of Hamilton and Bottas.
The fight for the role of third force: Ferrari’s Friday
In the struggle for the role of third force, a rather positive moment for the Alpine team and for the Alpha Tauri. Alpine shone on an engine circuit despite the power gap, quantifiable in 30 hp, which separates them from Mercedes. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon set the fifth and sixth fastest time about half a second from Hamilton’s best time. The track, being very smooth, allows them to use a very rigid mechanical setup and this guarantees them to be very competitive in the fast corners. Neither Ferrari nor McLaren shone in the fight for third place in the constructors’ standings. Between the two, the best placed seems to be the Italian Scuderia despite Leclerc’s accident that will force the mechanics to do extra work to fix his SF21..
Regarding the race we can say that, the top 10 will all try to qualify with medium tires to be able to take advantage of them in the first part of the race. Since the gap between medium and soft is very small, it shouldn’t be a problem to succeed even for the mid-table teams. The goal will be to set the race on a single stop with the average in the first stint and the hard in the second. A strategy with medium and soft, according to Pirelli, is very close to the limit.
If we analyze the race pace we can see, without a doubt, the pace he managed to keep Hamilton who was the only driver to go 3 times under the minute and thirty-four barrier. The teammate, with soft tires, paid 1 second per lap as a pace and this makes us understand how much Mercedes prefers the medium compound over the soft one. With regard to Verstappen his times were not representative. His pace was significantly slower than that of the Mercedes and this makes us understand that he has not pushed his RB16B to 100% of his possibilities. In race condition, Ferrari was fast with both compounds and this makes us understand that, with a good qualification, the Italian team has the chance to collect a good haul of points in Sunday’s race.
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The analysis of the free practice in Jeddah