Tyres and balls: What we learned from the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen may have been in cruise control for 50 laps in Saudi Arabia but some interesting things happened elsewhere

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Max Verstappen cruised to his second win of the season from pole position, although this time he actually had to overtake a car to do so! The Dutchman never looked in trouble throughout the race and as a result of that, he rarely featured in the television footage before he crossed the line to take the flag first.

Then came Sergio Perez who offered a good account of himself and proved he is more than in the running to retain the seat at Red Bull for 2025 if he maintains the sort of race pace he showed.

Despite losing an early position to Charles Leclerc, he later overtook the Ferrari and swiftly moved on to chase after Verstappen. Without the five-second time penalty, he would have finished eight seconds behind working out at 0.160 per lap. Good enough to be a solid back-up throughout the season.

Meanwhile, Leclerc overperformed in qualifying and in the race managed to hold onto third to extract the maximum possible from his 2024 Ferrari car as he delivered a lonely, but consistent, race with the only overtakes needed to be made being done on the out-of-sync Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris.

Pirelli have to sort their tyres out

This is a conversation that shows up every single year: Pirelli have to fix their tyres. Once again, there proved to be little to no advantage by fitting the soft tyres instead of the mediums or the hards, forcing pretty much everyone onto the same one-stop strategy.

The problem was exacerbated when Hamilton and Norris pitted for softs for the final 10-15 laps of the race and could not make any significant headway into Bearman’s Ferrari. Between them, they have 440 race starts so it isn’t like the lack the experienced needed to use the tyres.

The tyre differential should have been huge considering both drivers held on to the pack quite well and they should have been seconds faster in the final stint, threatening perhaps everybody up to Oscar Piastri in fourth.

Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, leads Oscar Piastri in the McLaren, Lando Norris, and George Russell in the Mercedes at the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP | Aston Martin
Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, leads Oscar Piastri in the McLaren, Lando Norris, and George Russell in the Mercedes at the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP | Aston Martin

If we take the average times of the top seven after Norris and Hamilton pitted for softs on Lap 37 and 36, the problem becomes apparent. Piastri pitted for hards on lap seven, along with everyone else, and only lost 0.350 per lap on hard tyres that were 30 laps older than his rivals.

  • Norris: 1:32.280
  • Hamilton: 1:32.333 (+0.053s)
  • Leclerc: 1:32.448 (+0.168s)
  • Verstappen: 1:32.532 (+0.252s)
  • Perez: 1:32.575 (+0.295s)
  • Bearman: 1:32.596 (+0.316s)
  • Alonso: 1:32.610 (+0.330s)
  • Piastri: 1:32.629 (+0.349s)

Furthermore, the pair holding onto the pack is a problem in itself because mediums shouldn’t last most of the race distance, and it’s not the first time Pirelli have brought tyres that are, to be blunt, pretty much useless.

The entire aim of Pirelli should be that their tyres are never a discussion point at the end of a race. They should aim to be as anonymous as possible.

Aston Martin have some hope

Well, they do in one of their cars anyway. Fernando Alonso delivered a masterful weekend to qualify fifth and finish fifth in the race after a dismal Bahrain GP the week earlier that saw them finish nowhere near McLaren and Mercedes, let alone Ferrari and Red Bull.

It seemed as though the team continued to be baffled as to the development path of their car, something that plagued them throughout 2023 after an excellent start to the campaign. The form even prompted rumours that Alonso could be set to ditch them for Mercedes.

But in Saudi Arabia, Alonso was firmly in the mix as he narrowly beat George Russell’s Mercedes and soundly beat NorrisMcLaren showing that there is promise in the AMR24, at least on the ultra-high-speed tracks like Jeddah.

“Suck my balls” is a thing of the past

Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg, in their younger days, experienced a fierce rivalry whilst at Haas and Renault. It notably peaked at the 2017 Hungarian GP when the German called Magnussen unsporting, and he simply responded by telling Hulkenberg exactly what he should do.

But seven years later, they’ve clearly matured as they cooperated perfectly to deliver Haas their first point of the season, and it won’t be the first point of many. The team is in a tightly-fought battle for sixth best but that means points are rarely at hand.

So when the chance opened up due to Lance Stroll’s Lap 5 crash, Magnussen delivered a fantastic defensive drive to hold up six cars for an endless number of laps. By doing so, he earned Hulkenberg just enough time to overcut the train and go on to deliver the team their first point of the campaign.

The result shows that the pair have left their old thoughts behind and they will now cooperate for the good of the team at their ages of 31 and 37.

The next gen are seriously talented

Oliver Bearman had just one hour to get to grips with a modern Formula 1 car around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit and in that time, he managed to do just that in an excellent job advert for Ferrari in the absence of Carlos Sainz.

The 18-year-old almost made it into Q3 on his debut, being edged out by Hamilton for 10th. Then in the race, he showed good speed and potential to finish seventh – including aggressive overtakes to get himself into the points.

Notably, he showed how quickly he can learn as he figured out to maximise his energy deployment to dispatch Hulkenberg after admitting that the 36-year-old was smarter with how he chose to use it.

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