Charles Leclerc at the Italian GP 2019
Charles Leclerc at the Italian GP 2019 | (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Formula 1 | F1 2022 | Saudi Arabian Grand Prix preview | Scuderia look to seal desert double in Jeddah

By Neil Leverett

  • Round 2 of the new Formula 1 season rolls into Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend
  • Ferrari lead pack after 1-2 finish in Bahrain last time following late double retirement for Red Bull
  • Mercedes continue to play catch-up in pace; Silver Arrows chances played again down in desert heat
JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – After a dramatic conclusion to last weekend’s F1 season opener in Bahrain, can Ferrari serve up a desert double in the Saudi Arabian GP?


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Three months out from the conclusion of last season’s epic 2021 tale, it appears the same Formula 1 scriptwriters have not missed a single beat.

As Ferrari took a 1-2 in last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, The Prancing Horse were trotting round the paddock with glee in Sakhir, killing two birds with one stone as it were, their first GP win and 1-2 finish for the first time since September 2019.

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But the drama was again on-song from that seen last term, as Red Bull suffered a catastrophic blow to their hopes of starting strongly, by way of a fuel-pump issue late, late on in Bahrain. 

As a still scorned and dethroned Lewis Hamilton overtook both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez on the final laps, the irony of last season’s controversial denouement was not far from view, indeed Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff was left grinning like a Cheshire Cat at parc ferme, as Hamilton and George Russell – on debut for the Silver Arrows – swooped to pick up the pieces and claim a top-four double.

With Haas roaring back and debutante Zhou Guanyu taking P10 and a point in his first F1 race also, Bahrain did not disappoint in its now accustomed status as season curtain-raiser.

So what does F1’s latest chapter in the desert have to tell?


Ferrari eye double

So the pre-season noise around Ferrari was not all hype, or so it seems.

Having not won a race since Sebastian Vettel took the chequered flag in Singapore three seasons back – a fortnight after then teammate Charles Leclerc had sealed back-to-back wins at Spa and Monza – Scuderia were back to their rightful perch at the top of the podium, and again it was Leclerc who rose.

Negotiating a tactical cat-and-mouse in the pits, the Monagasque was followed closely home by his brother in arms Carlos Sainz, to complete a dream race for on-looking Mattia Binotto.

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Some 54 months on from The Prancing Horse’s last 1-2 finish, last weekend’s result was more down to fortune – and Red Bull’s lack thereof – but it nevertheless made an emphatic statement on opening weekend.

As the paddock rolls across the Middle East to Jeddah this weekend then, Ferrari’s goals will not be modest ones in looking to maintain their early grip on both World Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships ahead of a first trip to Australia in three years on the second weekend of April.  


Leclerc vs. Verstappen?

The chief proponent of such hopes will lie with an ever-enthused Leclerc, a driver now having seen what his new car can do will surely be reinvigorated also ahead of the Saudi GP.

For champion Verstappen, meanwhile, day 1 on the throne ended in bitter disappointment forcing somewhat a violent shudder back to earth and it has served to pose the question: Will Leclerc be the man to push the Dutchman this season?

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The two drivers are almost identically matched in terms of sheer talent and will to win, but whilst Leclerc has been forced to sit in the shadows and bide his time with occasional podiums and P4 and P5s, the 24-year-old, winner of the F2 title in 2017 has all the attributes to prove this could be his season to shine.

What’s more, the two have history.

What we saw between Hamilton and Verstappen evolve from respect to a real needle match, could become a rather more spicy mix in 2022. 


Can Mercedes bridge gap?

That same mix Lewis Hamilton will be bent of being a key ingredient but for now that reality seems a distance off.

Indeed, for large portions of opening weekend Mercedes looked on course to to finish well off the pace at the top, but after Red Bull’s dramatic fall from grace last time out, their rivals’ Bahrain spoils were far richer than expected.

But the cracks are there for all to see.

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Struggling to get to grips with the W13’s new venturi tunnels, Hamilton in particular laboured with the new and thorny issue of porpoising – the violent bouncing motion of the car on its suspension on straights – and it is not a problem set to disappear on Jeddah’s rapid waterfront circuit.

Mercedes are targeting a improvement for not only Melbourne Park but looking ahead the first European leg of the season. By then, the hopes are that they could become serious contenders once more.

For now however, Jeddah may just be another case of damage limitation and fortune this time around may not ride to the rescue.


Haas keen for consistency in ‘good car’

In relative terms, the 2022 season for Haas has begun in stunning fashion.

Not only did Kevin Magnussen make light work of a season out of the driver’s seat taking P5 behind Ferrari and Mercedes, teammate Mick Schumacher narrowly missed out a first-ever points finish in F1, but still made it a top 11 double for the American manufacturer.

If we consider the same team failed to register a single point last term, the new campaign has started with huge promise going in the face of any previous hopes of competing having been shorn.

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For Team Principal Guenther Steiner, the events of last Sunday were a huge fillip after promising so much during the early stages of the 2020 season and as he told last weekend, is just happy that the pieces appear to have come together.


“A very good day for us today, it’s good to be back for the whole team. They’ve done a fantastic job, not just today but for the last two years. Everyone kept their head high and just got ready for the moment that we would have a good car. When that moment came, everyone did their part and I’m very proud of them, and they can be proud of themselves.”


The task now in the midst of such a competitive grid however, is being consistent. That will surely be Haas’ next task, beginning this weekend.


The 2022 Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix takes place this weekend, at Jeddah Corniche Circuit


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