Off the track there remain many questions about Formula 1 having a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix but it is here to stay until at least 2030, whether you like it or not.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit was only meant to host two or three events, before alternating with a new purpose-built track in Qiddiya. However, there is yet to be an announcement about the latter being built for F1.
This weekend will see the third event in Jeddah and if it’s anything like the 2021 or 2022 races, we should be in for a cracker.
In 2021, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen had an all-out battle, which included contact and some arguably over the limit moments, to set up a title decider at Abu Dhabi a week later. We all know what happened then.
For 2022, the race was moved from December to March and Verstappen was involved in a big fight for the lead once again, this time with Charles Leclerc.
Is it a coincidence that the first two races have produced thrilling lead battles or is there something about the track?
A proper driver’s challenge
A much-talked about topic in modern F1 is track limits and no matter what the FIA impose, there generally seems to be a corner or two at the majority of current venues which cause lap time deletions.
There are no such problems around the 6.174 km (3.836 miles) Jeddah venue because it’s a street circuit and there are walls everywhere.
Many of the corners are blind and very high-speed to being pinpoint accurate is incredibly difficult.
The magnificent aerodynamics and change of direction from the current F1 cars are really tested but it’s the risk versus reward that a driver is willing to take, particularly through the sequence of corners from Turn 4 to Turn 12.
Turn 12 was the destination where Mick Schumacher has a massive qualifying crash that put him out of the Grand Prix as he lost control of the rear of his car.
Riding the exit kerb there is so difficult and you really do need plenty of confidence to keep the throttle pinned. It is just so so quick leading up to that corner.
A medium speed, banked Turn 13 is next, before Turns 14, 15, 16 and 17 require more bravery in what is a similar section to the high-speed part in Sector 1, just a bit shorter.
The final corner might be one of the slowest on the circuit, but you can throw your lap away by braking a touch too late or going wide, just like Verstappen did in 2021.
Verstappen’s near Lap of the Gods
Speaking of that lap from Verstappen at the end of Q3 in 2021, well near-complete lap, it could have been one of the best qualifying performances in F1 ever had not crashed.
It was the penultimate qualifying of an already controversial season and Hamilton had just gone to the top of the timing sheets in Q3 to take pole position.
Verstappen began his lap after Hamilton finished his final run and my word he was right on the limit. You rarely see modern F1 cars moving around, such is the downforce and grip, but you could visibly see how hard Verstappen was pushing.
He was right up against nearly every wall, with just millimetres to spare, to set two purple sectors going into the final part of the lap.
Such was the speed Verstappen was carrying, he braked at the same point as he did in his first Q3 run at the final corner, but went too deep because his top speed was higher.
The Red Bull driver tried to rescue it by standing on the throttle to get the car around, but hit the wall and came to a halt. Nevertheless, it was so good to watch.
Does the track contribute to good racing?
The long straights, or flat out sections because some of the straights are curves, mean the following car can slipstream the driver in front and three DRS zones also help the racing.
In fact, the DRS is so powerful that we have seen games being played between the leading drivers to not be first after the last corner, if they are close.
This led to contact between Hamilton and Verstappen in 2021, whilst Leclerc initially outfoxed the Dutchman in 2022 by getting the DRS games spot on, before being overtaken.
The reason the drivers do this is due to the DRS zone down the home straight, so if you don’t have a significant advantage after the last turn, you are a sitting duck.
There is very little tyre degradation at Jeddah too, due to the smooth surface, so the drivers can push hard and really go for it.
Does this mean the 2023 Saudi Arabian GP will be exciting?
Not necessarily. Two races is not a big enough sample to say Jeddah is like Silverstone or Interlagos, where you almost certainly get a great Grand Prix.
In 2021, a red flag put Verstappen in the lead and without that, Hamilton likely would have dominated the race.
Last year, the performance between the Ferrari and Red Bull was very similar which contributed to the thrilling battle.
If the season-opening Bahrain GP is anything to go by, Red Bull will have a clear advantage so you can’t expect the same amount of drama again 12 months on.
That said, there is no doubt the high-speed challenge and long straights make Jeddah one of the best circuits on the 2023 calendar for racing and that can only be a good thing.
It’s arguably the most demanding track to extract the maximum from as you want to carry every ounce of speed through the corners, so the risks are always high and that brings with it lots of excitement.