It's only the second race of the 2023 Formula 1 season, but one gets the feeling that if things don't go better for Mercedes-AMG F1 at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, it will be a long, long season for the Silver Stars. For the second year in a row they have badly missed on their car to start the season. With Red Bull Racing and Ferrari picking up pretty much where they left off at the end of 2022, and Aston Martin looking much improved, Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will be crossing their fingers that the changes they are rolling out at Jeddah — said to be substantial and noticeable — are what they need to start moving forward on the grid and not backward.
Hamilton was particularly critical of the team after the season opener at Bahrain, and said on the BBC's "Chequered Flag" podcast that he was ignored during development of the 2023 car, in a heat-of-the-moment reaction to the opener.
"I mean, in hindsight, I think looking back, it wasn't necessarily the best choice of words," the seven-time F1 World Champion conceded to formula1.com. "I still have 100% belief in this team, it is my family, and I've been here a long time, so I don't plan on going anywhere else. But we all need a kick, we all need to get on. The proof is in the pudding, we've seen where the performance is and how people are extracting the performance. We've got to now start making some bold decisions, some big moves, in order to close the gap to these guys."
These guys, in this case, likely means Red Bull and Ferrari, but two-time World Champion Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in particular.
"I mean, they will run away with it most likely this year, unless Ferrari can probably stop them. We'll wait and see," Hamilton said. "We're hopeful we might be able to close the gap. At that point it will be probably too late in terms of fighting for a championship, but we can still turn some heads, hopefully."
How to watch the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia
- Date: Sunday, March 19
- Location: 3.87-mile (6.175km), 27-turn Jeddah Corniche Circuit - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
- Time: 12.55 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN, ESPN+
- Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
What to expect
Expect Pirelli to bring tire compounds similar to what we saw at Bahrain, so strategy may play out similar to the Bahrain GP, with the frontrunners opting for a two-stop strategy, but a three-stopper is not out of the question.
There will once again be three DRS zones (the first starting at Turn 19 and ending at Turn 22, the second from just before Turn 25 and ending at Turn 27, and the third just after the hairpin at Turn 27 down the front straight to Turn 1).
Yes, there are 27 turns at Jeddah, but it is considered a relatively high-speed track thanks to a series of wrist-flicking right-left benders, particularly from the exit of Turn 2 through Turn 12.
Around the paddock
Aston Martin: Lance Stroll told formula1.com that he is still "not 100 percent" but that he was definitely improved compared to how he felt ahead of the Bahrain race.
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc faces a 10-spot grid penalty at Saudi Arabia, thanks to the Scuderia being forced to install a new electronics power unit (the other one failed at Bahrain, resulting in Leclerc's DNF), and while the Monegasque conceded it was not the best way to start a season, the team just needs to deal with it.
"This weekend we are starting from the back foot, but our target is to try and do something special," Leclerc told formula1.com. "I like this challenge of starting a little bit more on the back foot and trying to do something special and come back to the front as quickly as possible."
McLaren: If Mercedes and Ferrari are troubled by how they've started 2023, McLaren must be in full-blown crisis mode, right? A disastrous pre-season testing period resulted in problem-filled race at Bahrain and left Oscar Piastri with a DNF and Lando Norris making six pitstops on the way to a forgettable finish. Norris has brushed off comments about the team being in crisis and is confident they can catch Alfa Romeo and a few others for the lower points-paying spots on the grid.