Verstappen expects a tougher time in Jeddah: Everyone will be closer in race pace

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Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

It is now the third year the Jeddah Corniche Circuit plays host to a Formula One Grand Prix and neither of the previous two outings were lacking in drama both on and off the circuit, with Verstappen’s sudden end to what looked to be an epic qualifying lap in 2021 and the race itself having two red flags before Hamilton claimed victory even after running into the back of Verstappen’s RB16B.

2022 saw a missile strike on a nearby Aramco depot and huge plumes of black smoke in the background during Practice. Sergio Perez would be the pole sitter on that weekend but ultimately it was Verstappen and both Ferrari drivers who would stand on the podium after a great late battle between Leclerc and Verstappen following a virtual safety car.

The circuit – as is usually the case with street circuits – doesn’t allow much margin for error, and makes for thrilling viewing as well as a challenging race for those on track, but how does Max Verstappen feel about what challenge lies ahead for him this year?

In the post race press conference following the Bahrain Grand Prix, in a response to a question about Ferrari’s strong straight line speed he pointed out that “Jeddah is going to be quite different again…I think Ferrari is quite quick on the straight which in Jeddah, of course, is very nice to have, let’s say like that.”

Throughout the conference the Dutchman continued to manage expectations about the upcoming race and repeatedly stressed how different a track Jeddah is to Bahrain, along with how they felt Ferrari and everyone else, would be a lot closer:

“Saudi is quite a different track to this one. You have a lot more like straights, fast corners, and a lot less deg. And I think here we were particularly good on the deg. So I do expect in terms of race pace that everyone is closer in Jeddah.” (Though Charles Leclerc’s grid penalty will leave Ferrari with a lot of work to do to end up closer to Red Bull come Sunday).

Overall, the two-time World Champion was confident about being able to consistently fight to retain his package throughout the year.

“I think we have a good race package. I mean, of course it will depend a bit, race to race, but we can definitely fight with this.”
Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking this week in the lead up to the Grand Prix, Verstappen once again kept his comments positive but downplayed the possibility for another lonely race out in front.

“After a great start in Bahrain I don’t expect it to be an easy task in Jeddah, it is a completely different circuit and needs the car to be quick.”Nevertheless, with the high-speed corners, I do believe we can have a strong car around this track. The track changes that have been made are mainly for visibility, so hopefully it has improved things a bit for us drivers, as it was definitely dangerous in some areas.”

The changes the Red Bull driver is referring to are the moving of a number of walls around the circuit, at Turns 8, 10, 14 and 20. Rumble strips have also been added at the last 2 corners to aid in keeping the drivers within track limits.

Though Leclerc’s penalty may deny Verstappen a proper battle at the front, the Dutchman is still looking forward to the prospect of returning to the circuit he has been quick at in the past.

“It’s a really cool street circuit, with quite a lot of grip, so I always enjoy going back there to race.”

It will be interesting to see who, if anyone can keep the 25-year-old off the top step of the podium this weekend and if Ferrari’s much talked about straight line pace can be enough to deter the flying Red Bulls.