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Other SportsSaudi Arabian Grand Prix 2024: Formula One race preview, how to watch...

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2024: Formula One race preview, how to watch and predictions

The big story

As the Jeddah Corniche Circuit prepares to host the second grand prix of the Formula One season, fans and organisers alike will simply be hoping the main storylines emerge from the race itself.

It would be understating things to say it has been a challenging start to 2024 for F1.

While Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was cleared of allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards a female colleague last week, he subsequently came under renewed pressure as material purporting to be the alleged evidence in the investigation was leaked to several figures in the sport.

That prompted Jos Verstappen – father of world champion Max Verstappen – to say the team was in danger of being “torn apart” if Horner remained in his position.

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Red Bull didn’t let the noise affect their performance at last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix, with Sergio Perez following Verstappen home in yet another one-two for the constructors’ champions.

Another controversy surfaced in the aftermath of the race, however, with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem facing an investigation over alleged interference in the result of last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, while he is also accused of attempting to prevent the Las Vegas street circuit from being certified ahead of its debut last November.

The FIA was forced to acknowledge the existence of a report “detailing potential allegations involving certain members of its governing body” on Tuesday. Amid this concerning backdrop, F1’s powerbrokers will be desperate to refocus minds on racing this weekend.

Unless the civil war engulfing the team has an unforeseen impact, Red Bull’s dominance looks unlikely to be threatened on F1’s fastest street track. The focus of fans, then, will be the battle for the third spot on the podium.

Carlos Sainz took the honours last time out, while Charles Leclerc protected a fourth-place finish despite issues with his brakes as Ferrari marked themselves out as the best of the rest.

Mercedes and McLaren both endured challenging weekends in Bahrain, but the Jeddah track, featuring plenty of the high-speed corners where Mercedes thrived last year, might be something of a leveller.

An early overheating issue thwarted George Russell’s hopes of challenging the Ferraris, but both he and Lewis Hamilton will be targeting a better effort on Saturday.

The subplots

Fernando Alonso is the driver at the heart of the Ben Sulayem controversy relating to last year’s race in Jeddah, with the FIA boss accused of intervening to have the Spaniard’s much-debated 10-second penalty overturned, handing him a podium finish.

Aston Martin were tipped by many to compete with Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren after a promising 2023 campaign, but Alonso said the team were in “no man’s land” after he dropped from sixth on the grid to ninth in Bahrain.

A failure to respond to rivals’ tweaks was Aston Martin’s main issue over the back half of 2023. This weekend’s race looks likely to provide a more accurate picture of the pecking order behind Red Bull, and Aston Martin have work to do if they wish to be involved in the battle for silver in the constructors’ standings.

Elsewhere, it has been a week of change for Alpine after Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly finished 17th and 18th, respectively, in the first race of the year. Technical director Matt Harman, head of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer and advisory engineer Bob Bell have all departed in recent days – how will a newly diversified team handle their first race weekend?

The track

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix made its first appearance as the penultimate race of the 2021 season, with Hamilton recording his most recent win just one week before Verstappen claimed his first world title in controversial circumstances at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The race has occupied an earlier slot on the calendar since then, and no major alterations have been made to the 6.174-kilometre track since last year’s event.

Known for its banked corners and multiple chicanes, the ultra-fast circuit will present a different challenge to that faced in Bahrain, with softer tire compounds coming into consideration.

Some teams opted against looking at Pirelli’s C4 tires in testing entirely, so a few unknowns could play a part over the course of the weekend.

What they said

Jos Verstappen on the unrest affecting Red Bull, to The Daily Mail:

“There is tension here while he [Horner] remains in position. The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode.”

Team principal Toto Wolff on Mercedes’ poor showing in Bahrain:

“We were far off. Max was in a different galaxy. We need to look at ourselves, why we lost so much performance on the harder tyre.

“It’s weird, because we had some pace in the car, and on the hard tyre we didn’t. I think there’s many mistakes we’ve made, but at the end we’re still learning, we have a brand-new car. We’ve seen glimpses of performance but couldn’t materialise any of that, so I’m really keen to look at the data and see what we can do in Saudi.”

Gasly on Alpine’s approach after a difficult week for the team:

“We don’t expect any magic tricks, we won’t have any upgrades on the car but mid- to long-term we know the direction we want to head into and what we want to improve, and patience will be key.”

When and how to watch

F1 fans in the UK will be able to watch every race of 2024 on Sky Sports F1 or via the Sky Go app. The full schedule for the race weekend is as below.

Full schedule (all times UK)

Thursday 7th March

First practice 13:30

Second practice 17:00

Friday 8th March

Third practice 13:30

Qualifying 17:00

Saturday 9th March

Race 17:00

Predictions

Red Bull have had plenty of noise to deal with this week, with Verstappen even being linked with a shock move to Mercedes as Horner’s future continues to dominate the back pages.

However, the world champion was 22 seconds clear of the competition last time out and that gap won’t be bridged on Saturday. Given the Red Bulls’ sheer pace, we’re also backing Perez to make it another one-two.

We do foresee a possible change on the podium, however. Mercedes tend to fare well on this track and an excellent start put Russell second in Bahrain before his engine overheated. Russell’s development has to be Mercedes’ priority for 2024 and we fancy him to battle the Ferraris for third here.

Harry Carr
Harry Carr
Harry is a freelance sports journalist with experience of working for the Racing Post, Stats Perform, Opta Analyst and more, covering major events across all sports but holding a particular love for the beautiful game.
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