Max Verstappen had a frustrating qualifying at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as a drivetrain failure denied him a likely pole position in Jeddah.
Verstappen will start the second Formula 1 race of the year from 15th place but the win is still a possibility, given how fast Red Bull have been this weekend compared to the rest of the field.
Sergio Perez will start the race from the front row alongside Fernando Alonso, who has played down his chances of victory.
You might be thinking Alonso is just doing the usual not fully honest F1 driver talk about how they really feel, however, some number crunching shows Red Bull should get a double podium and maybe even another 1-2.
Can Verstappen really win the Saudi Arabian GP?
You only have to look back at the 2022 Belgian GP, when Verstappen started from 14th and was in the lead after Lap 12, to say yes, the championship leader can still win from the seventh row.
Red Bull are much further ahead than they were in Bahrain, dominating the speed traps and have plenty of grip in the corners to much it.
In the hands of Verstappen, the car has looked so easy to drive around Jeddah and considering how challenging the track is, that bodes so well for the Milton Keynes-based team for the rest of the season.
With the DRS open, Red Bull‘s straight line speed advantage increases significantly so Verstappen should come through the field relatively easily, but it will be harder than his win at Spa last year.
He just needs to stay out of trouble on the opening laps and hopes his drivetrains issues, which were also prominent in pre-season testing, are resolved.
Let’s get to the strategy part. If all goes well for Verstappen, he should be at least in the top five when the first pit stop phase arrives after Lap 10.
The C2 hard tyre has been slightly better than the C3 medium on heavy fuel, but there has been little in it with both compounds showing very little tyre degradation.
It will almost certainly be a one-stop race on Sunday, unless there is a late safety car, and the speed of the Red Bull means Verstappen should simply try to run the fastest race, not having to worry too much about traffic.
Perez will need to drive very well to keep Verstappen at bay and will be hoping there are not safety cars that bunch up the field.
In a straight line, Alonso and Lance Stroll were 10kph slower than the Red Bulls in qualifying with the DRS open, so if Verstappen is behind the Aston Martins, they will be a sitting duck.
Second place is certainly possible for Verstappen and if Perez isn’t able to build a good lead in the early stages of the race, the Red Bulls will find themselves fighting for the same part of the track at some point. You would have to back Verstappen if that happens.
Who will be on the podium in Jeddah?
The low tyre wear should help Ferrari‘s chances and it will be interesting to see how far Charles Leclerc can move up, after his 10-grid place penalty for going over the limit of two control electronics, puts him 12th.
Ferrari were only 5kph slower than the Red Bulls on Saturday, so Leclerc should try to do everything he can to keep Verstappen behind when the pair inevitably get close.
If he can do some spectacular defending, like he did 12 months ago against Verstappen in their epic battle for the win, don’t rule out Leclerc being in the mix for a top five result.
Carlos Sainz has been off the pace of his Ferrari teammate all weekend, so needs to at least stick with Alonso during the opening stint.
It’s possible Alonso may have a train of cars behind him, that include George Russell, Lewis Hamilton and the Alpines, ahead of the first pit stops, so this is where we could see the undercut and overcut games being played.
Going for the overcut means you could ride your fortune with a timely safety car when you haven’t pitted, but your rival has, so expect some teams to split the strategy to take this gamble.
Asked whether he could fight for the win, Alonso said: “I don’t think so. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but if we see the pace the whole weekend in free practice, we see the Bahrain race, we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a little bit ahead of everyone.
“So that’s not, let’s say, the target is to fight for the win with Checo. But as I said before, Formula 1 is not exact mathematics, anything can happen and no one of us will put Verstappen P15, you know, but these things happen sometimes.”
Aston Martin having two cars in the top five could be significant and their slightly better race pace gives Alonso a small advantage over the others in the battle for the podium.
We are talking fine margins though and if the last two Saudi Arabian GP are anything to go by, there will be a few curveballs to deal with.