Red Bull will start as favourites again in Saudi Arabia on Sunday but this time Sergio Perez hopes to keep double Formula One champion team mate Max Verstappen off the top step of the podium.
The Mexican started from pole position last year at Jeddah’s Corniche circuit and had the floodlit night race seemingly under control until a pitstop and unfortunately-timed safety car wrecked his chances.
Perez was runner-up to Verstappen in the Bahrain season-opener on March 5 with some predicting Red Bull could win all 23 races this year such was their domination.
Sunday will give another indication of just how big an advantage they really enjoy, and whether Perez can be anything more than a support act for his Dutch team mate.
“It will be very interesting to see how everyone performs in Jeddah this week, it is a very different track to Bahrain,” said Perez.
“I was very unlucky last year with the timing of the safety car while leading the race so hopefully it can be my turn to win.”
Jeddah will also provide further insight into whether Ferrari can get back in the fight on straight-line speed and what Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin can do next.
Alonso’s third place for his much-improved team was the emotional story of the Bahrain race with the 41-year-old Spaniard emerging as closest rival to the Red Bull pair.
“I am curious to go to Jeddah and Australia. Very different circuits…high-speed corners, very little degradation,” said Alonso after that podium performance.
“I think in Bahrain, we were strong in things that maybe we don’t find in Jeddah and Australia. So, if we are strong in the next two races, I think we will have a very good 2023.”
The hopes of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc — runner-up in Jeddah last year — have taken a hit with the Monegasque facing a 10-place grid penalty after the team needed to change the electronic control unit on his car.
The race could also add to the cloud of gloom hanging over Mercedes, after seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton and George Russell had only the fourth best car in Bahrain.
“This weekend in Saudi Arabia we will learn more about W14, its characteristics and its limitations. It provides a very different test to Bahrain, and it will be interesting to see how the car reacts,” said team boss Toto Wolff.
“We are bringing some small developments to the car: they won’t be game changers, but they can start moving us in the right direction.”
The midfield battles will also be closely watched for signs of an emerging pecking order, with McLaren eager to get their first points on the board and Renault-owned Alpine yet to perform to expectations.
“Bahrain showed we have some good race pace so a points finish is very much a possibility,” said McLaren’s Lando Norris.
The fast and flowing 6.1km Jeddah layout puts much more emphasis on straight-line speed than Sakhir, where tyre degradation was a big factor.
The safety car has been deployed in both races held in Jeddah with the first in 2021 twice stopped due to accidents.
Safety improvements have been made since last year, with walls pushed back to provide better sight-lines for drivers.
Security has also been ramped up for the race after last year’s attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis on an oil facility near the circuit.