Mark Hughes: A bleak picture emerges for Mercedes and Ferrari

What we see in Friday’s numbers in Jeddah looks like outright confirmation of the competitive order of race day in Bahrain at the front with Red Bull comfortably Aston Martin’s fastest Formula 1 car of 2023.

The Red Bull is fast everywhere, the Aston can match it in the corners, but has a lot more resistance to do so. Alonso split the Red Bulls on a one-lap pace, but if Bahrain is any guideline, that was probably achieved with a slightly lower fuel load. Red Bull’s advantage seems at least as great as in Bahrain, but the Aston looks poised to consolidate its position as second best.

Red Bull, like most teams, split its long runs between the medium (C3) and soft (C4) tire for what looks to be a nominal one-stop race. The medium seems to be the tire of choice for race stints and Sergio Perez used it to set the fastest long run of all, with Max Verstappen on the soft a few tenths slower.

“It was a positive day,” said Verstappen, “but there’s still work to be done, things we can do better. The long runs seem pretty close, but that’s because everyone is just managing the tires and the grade is lower here than in Bahrain, you don’t see such big differences.

Alpine had a great day at the office, vying with Mercedes for third fastest car over a lap and possibly faster on the long runs. Pierre Gasly’s run on the soft tires was extremely impressive and Esteban Ocon’s on the medium tires was just 0.1 seconds off Alonso’s Aston on the same tyre.

Director Soft Medium
Perez 1m35.096s (12 laps)
Hamilton 1m35.194s (4 laps)
Verstappen 1m35.217s (12 laps)
Alonso 1m35.281s (11 laps)
Gasly 1m35.293s (8 laps)
Sainz 1m35.296s (5 laps)
Ocon 1m35.350s (9 laps)
Russell 1m35.449s (9 laps)
Leclerc 1m35.488s (10 laps)
Hamilton 1m35.565s (3 laps)
Strolling around 1m35.676s (9 laps)

Mercedes had a very difficult day. Lewis Hamilton’s long-time position on the medium has been greatly flattered by the fact that he completed just four laps on it, compared to 16 laps each for the Red Bulls and 12 for the Alpine drivers. Hamilton retired from his initial soft run after overheating the rear wheels, the Mercedes had a very difficult balance on both tyres.

Hamilton and Russell were on different programs and the team was desperately trying to go through as many different set-up options as possible. It was noticeable that Russell’s time over Hamilton was taken by the interconnected sweeps of sector one, where confidence is essential – and that’s something Hamilton clearly lacked in the car.

He was in a calm mood afterwards and said: “We struggled in both sessions. We’re just getting into the details to improve the balance. It’s a difficult car to drive.”

Russell was only slightly more optimistic. “We learn a lot of things, but we’re not going to find a second one overnight.”

2 GP Saudi Arabia F1/2023 Friday 17/03/2023

Ferrari seemed to use its power unit very conservatively, hence its poor result in the one-lap comparison. Expect qualifying to be much improved, but probably not enough to satisfy Charles Leclerc or Carlos Sainz.

But the long runs weren’t great either, with a similar pace and high level of degradation (even at medium) to the Mercedes. However, the suggestion is that the Mercedes had a higher engine tuning, which made the picture even bleaker for the black cars.

Motor Racing Formula 1 World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Practice Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Nico Hulkenberg was as quick over a lap as Alpine or Mercedes, but the pace of the Haas on long runs was disastrous in his hands as well as Kevin Magnussen’s and even AlphaTauri and Williams’s.

Practice 2 results

Pos Name Car Best time gap leader
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1m29.603s
2 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin Mercedes 1m29.811s +0.208s
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1m29.902s +0.299s
4 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault 1m30.039s +0.436s
5 George Russell Mercedes 1m30.07s +0.467s
6 Peter Gasley Alpine Renault 1m30.1s +0.497s
7 Lance walk Aston Martin Mercedes 1m30.11s +0.507s
8 Nico Hulkenberg Haas Ferrari 1m30.181s +0.578s
9 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1m30.341s +0.738s
10 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1m30.592s +0.989s
11 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m30.599s +0.996s
12 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes 1m30.721s +1.118s
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri – Honda RBPT 1m30.776s +1.173s
14 Alex Albon Williams Mercedes 1m30.81s +1.207s
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1m30.82s +1.217s
16 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1m30.837s +1.234s
17 Nick deVries AlphaTauri – Honda RBPT 1m30.921s +1.318s
18 Sergeant Logan Williams Mercedes 1m30.959s +1.356s
19 Oscar Pistri McLaren Mercedes 1m30.964s +1.361s
20 Valttery Bottas Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1m31.052s +1,449s

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