Red Bull took home a 1-2 this weekend at the 2023 Saudi Arabian GP, thanks to a stellar performance from Sergio Perez, but there were some worries about the car, particularly Verstappen’s. The only problem was that there wasn’t anyone there able to take advantage of it, the closest being Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin. You would’ve expected a recovery drive from Verstappen to be exciting, but instead he moved up to P2 with no real fight whatsoever, so strong is their pace.
Mercedes, particularly Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff, have been complaining loudly about their car’s shortcomings, promising improvements over the next seven races. They did change a few things on the car in Saudi Arabia and found some solid race pace as a result. But even so, they still can’t even touch the Red Bulls, but then again, it seems no one can.
By lap 30, the race was essentially decided. Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso knew they weren’t racing Red Bull, they were racing Mercedes. Not Ferrari, Mercedes. And who could blame them for that decision? Ferrari had a good stint on the medium and soft tyres, and a great strategy call that put both cars ahead of Aston Martin’s, Lance Stroll. But with a stroke of bad luck, Stroll was forced to retire triggering a Safety Car that ruined Ferrari’s advantage. From there, they had nothing. Just stuck in P6 and P7, racing themselves, the hard compound not doing the car any favours.
Hamilton had started on the hard compound tyres and believed that they were rubbish, however, his teammate, George Russell, thought they were fantastic as did Alonso. Hamilton did improve his performance once he changed to the medium compound, but still couldn’t overtake his teammate.
The W14 is a car that Hamilton has stated he just doesn’t understand. After qualifying he understood that there is performance in the car because Russell was able to get up on the second row, but he said that he doesn’t “feel connected to this car.”
“No matter what I do, no matter what I change, I can’t get confidence in it,” said Hamilton.
“Yeah, I’m just at a bit of a loss with it.”
Now Red Bull did have a few issues this weekend, it’s just that pace wasn’t one of them. There were issues with Verstappen’s car in qualifying and during the race he complained about his driveshaft. There are cracks appearing in the unblemished façade of Red Bull, but when you look at the rest of the grid, who can take advantage of situations when something does go wrong at Red Bull?
Aston Martin took home P3, and by lap 45 there was a 17s gap between P3 and Verstappen in P2. Behind Alonso, Russell was 4.6s. So even if something went wrong for Red Bull, there’s still a huge gap to close.
Even with the upgrades Mercedes don’t have the pace, and Aston Martin have better pace, but even Alonso can’t realistically beat the pace of the Red Bulls. Ferrari are in the middle of nowhere – well ahead of Alpine but struggling to stay ahead of Mercedes. The only saving grace for Ferrari was that they didn’t screw up the strategy and their car didn’t blow up.
So while there are cracks in Red Bull’s armour, there is no one to challenge them and punish them for it.
For more, read why Ferrari team principal, Frederic Vasseur, doesn’t think the criticism of his team is fair.