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F1: Lights Out - What to look for in Saudi Arabia GP

There's no time to relax for the Formula 1 competitors as they make the short hop from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia for round two of the 2022 season this weekend.

The Jeddah Corniche Circuit threw up one of the most dramatic races of the campaign when making its debut on the F1 calendar in 2021 and hopes are high of more wheel-to-wheel action after an enthralling start to the new season.

Having gone into the Bahrain Grand Prix relatively blind following the comprehensive overhaul of the rules, the lay of the land is now a little clearer for race fans.

It's become apparent that Ferrari finally have a competitive car and Charles Leclerc is 11/8 to win back-to-back races to start the season. Red Bull are also quick but may have reliability issues, while Mercedes have been left playing catch up, resulting in Lewis Hamilton being made a 10/1 chance to follow up his win in Saudi Arabia in 2021.

Mercedes in a tough spot

Last year's race in Jeddah - which officials claim is the world's fastest street circuit - came in the penultimate round of the season when the title fight was in the balance. What unfolded was one of the more controversial events of the year featuring three restarts after a series of incidents.

Hamilton and title rival Max Verstappen were engaged in a fierce duel for the lead which boiled over at times, the Dutchman crashing into the back of the Brit, who branded the Red Bull driver "crazy". Hamilton would eventually come out on top to set up the unforgettable winner take all showdown in Abu Dhabi but expecting him to repeat that Saudi success might prove fanciful

Hamilton was well off the pace in Bahrain but was gifted third place thanks to both the Red Bull’s being forced to retire with team mate George Russell also profiting as he was promoted to fourth. Both Hamilton and team boss Toto Wolff says there’s no quick fix to the issues with this year's Mercedes, which lacks the downforce of its rivals.

Given the high-speed nature of the Jeddah circuit, downforce is critical and it's likely that Mercedes will be scrapping it out for points, barring any helping hands from their rivals again.

The Silver Arrows also appeared to be lacking in race pace in Bahrain and weren't alone in that regard with those teams using Mercedes' power unit noticeably struggling. We shouldn't expect the likes of McLaren, Aston Martin or Williams to be in the mix for points this weekend with those three teams having filled the bottom six positions of those drivers that finished in Sakhir.

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Raging Red Bull

The quick turnaround from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia gives those teams with issues little time to make adjustments but also allows those who would rather forget the season-opener to move on quickly.

Red Bull are top of the list of those teams looking to put Bahrain behind them after both Verstappen and Sergio Perez were forced to retire in the closing stages. Perez's retirement came in agonising circumstances on the very last lap after he suffered the same power issue that had forced Verstappen out with three laps remaining as Red Bull left empty-handed.

Reigning world champion Verstappen was furious with the outcome which ruined what had been a frustrating race for him, stating that these kinds of issues shouldn't occur. It leaves Red Bull already playing catch up to Mercedes and Ferrari already and we can expect an aggressive Verstappen to take to the track in Jeddah.

The Dutchman is 6/4 to pick up his first win of the season in Saudi Arabia and although Ferrari looked to have a slight edge on Red Bull in Bahrain, the gap was minimal at best.

Ferrari need to push on

The speed trap figures from Bahrain indicated Red Bull do have a marginally quicker car in a straight line, but Ferrari's aerodynamics appear superior at this stage thanks to extensive time in the wind tunnels in testing.

On paper, there shouldn't be much to separate the two teams in Saudi Arabia if both can generate the required levels of downforce and race fans hoping to see more wheel-to-wheel racing between Leclerc and Verstappen could be in luck.

It's about time Ferrari were competitive again and the one-two finish in Bahrain showed they have the drivers with the skill to put a strong car to good use. The Scuderia look set to dominate the early part of the season and they need to maximise their point haul now before Mercedes and Red Bull close the gap.

Those two teams have a strong track record of mid-season improvements so Ferrari need to be aggressive early if Leclerc, who is 15/8 to win the drivers' title this year, wants to stay at the top of the standings.

Alpine and Haas ones to watch

Part of the thinking behind the technical overhaul to the cars in F1 this year was to shake up the established order and based on Bahrain, it appears to have worked to a point. Ferrari are competitive again and Mercedes are no longer the big bully in the playground. It's also opened the door to some teams that have found themselves at the back of the grid previously to climb up the standings.

Haas were unfortunate not to record a double points finish in Bahrain as Kevin Magnussen took seventh, while Mick Schumacher was 11th. The speed figures suggest Schumacher was actually quicker than his team mate and that the Ferrari power unit should mean the American based team stay in the mix for points in Saudi Arabia.

Alpine will also expect to remain towards the top of the order having looked very impressive on race day. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon produced a couple of strong performances last year, most notably when Ocon won in Hungary, and they posted some impressive speed figures which suggest they could be in the mix for the podium again at some stage this year.

The numbers suggest Alpine and Haas can sustain their good starts to the year, alongside AlphaTauri, and that should make for some interesting racing this weekend if they get closer to the struggling Mercedes.

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