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Analysis | Qualifying data shows Verstappen has a good chance from P15

Analysis | Qualifying data shows Verstappen has a good chance from P15

19 March - 07:29 Last update: 07:30

Red Bull's dominant performance in Bahrain left the Formula 1 World shocked. Other teams hoped that on a different track the advantage would be less, often pointing to the difference in tarmac abrasiveness. Friday practice in Saudi Arabia proved this wasn't the case, with both Red Bulls leading the way and hopes of a title challenge for Ferrari and Aston Martin slipped away even at this early stage. 

But during qualifying, a small glimmer of light opened everyone's eyes. Max Verstappen lost all power and had to limp home in the second qualifying session. Red Bull suspected a driveshaft failure on Verstappen's car leaving him stranded in Q2. The Dutchman will start from 15th on the grid. His teammate, Sergio Perez claimed pole position but with a front-row start for Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin will be hoping to put some pressure on. After all, Perez got off the line badly in Bahrain and did it the harder way to get P2. 

What chances does Verstappen have? 

During the long runs on Friday, Red Bull Racing were the best. Perez had the fastest time on the medium tyre and Verstappen was two-tenths down on a tyre a step softer. Though it was clear on Friday that Verstappen was managing a transmission issue and they swapped the gearbox overnight. Red Bull claim they were just trying to add more parts into their pool. 

A strong long run time would normally make them favourites for the Grand Prix. Whilst the gap wasn't as big compared to Bahrain, the lack of tyre degradation is intersting. When zooming in on their stints, Red Bull managed to stay at the same pace throughout suggesting they've got more push room or the tyres just don't fade away at all on the smooth Jeddah surface. The table shows some of the laps recorded.

Lap Verstappen (soft) Perez (medium)
1 1:35.420 1:35.182
3 1:35.049 1:35.285
5 1:35.027 1:35.435
6 1:35.198 1:35.157
8 1:35.054 1:34.977
10 1:35.669 1:34.856
12 1:35.024 1:34.648

It is really remarkable that Verstappen and Perez were both able to complete the best time on lap 12 of the long run stint in FP2. Verstappen was also very quick on lap eight and Perez continously improved so it wasn't just an end of stint push. Despite the tyres becoming really old, there wasn't any significant ware that stopped them getting faster. Of course, fuel reduces as the laps go on. This same result didn't happen as consistently for other drivers. There was often a single quicker lap towards the end of some stints but nothing as consistent as the Red Bulls. 

This long run data probably means that Red Bull have a lot of push room left. They can also be a little bit more aggressive with their strategy again. There isn't any delta between the soft and medium tyre. We might see Verstappen using the softs quite a lot.  

Speed trap times qualifying 

Driver Qualifying Speed trap (km/h)
Perez 337.8
Verstappen 337.5
Zhou 335.8
Magnussen 335.4
Hulkenberg 334.8
Leclerc 332.8
Sargeant 332.6
Sainz 332.6
Russell 330.0
Alonso 327.8

Once again, Red Bull are in a league of their own when it comes to the speed trap as well. Both Red Bull drivers are a full 2km/h faster than the rest of the field and nearly 8km/h faster than Russell who posted the 11th fastest speed trap time. Alonso, Perez's closest rival on the grid, 10km/h down. Verstappen will have to do some overtakes even just to get into the points but a speed delta like this will be very helpful. He will also be given a slipstream and the DRS helping him throughout. This also provides some good chances for the Dutchman. 

The Jeddah track is the fastest street circuit that Formula 1 visits. Average speeds in qualifying are over 250 km/h with drivers climbing above 310 km/h on three separate occasions during a single push lap. Over 80% of the lap is spent at full throttle and many of the corners can be taken flat-out given the soft angle.

Historical data

Verstappen has started from P15 on the grid twice before. Once for Toro Rosso in the 2015 Bahrain Grand Prix, and once for Red Bull in the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix. Verstappen failed to finish both of those races due to mechanical issues. 

Verstappen has started outside the top ten on ten occasions when wearing Red Bull colours in Formula 1. The Dutchman won one of these races (Belgium 2022) and finished on the podium in half of those races. He always scored points when starting outside the top ten for Red Bull except on one occasion where he recorded a DNF. There's no doubt that Verstappen knows how to work his way through the field. 

However, most of these feats were done on circuits where the chances of an overtake are much higher. Whilst still mightly impressive, Spa is known to be a good overtaking venue. China and Austin also provide a good amount of overtaking oppourinties. This is something that the Saudi Arabrian Grand Prix doesn't have. The nature of the steet circuit with the walls and high volume of corners makes the challenge that little bit harder.

During Verstappen's most dominant period in the second-half of 2022, he found himself out of place in the Singapore Grand Prix. Whilst nowhere near as bad (started in P8) and in wet conditions, Verstappen couldn't move through the field as well as he would've hoped. He even had to use the run off zone at one point. All in all, Verstappen finished this race in 7th place. Though he did advance again from 13th after the mistake. Another comparable event was the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix. Starting 19th, Verstappen advanced to P9. 

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is only two events old so historic data is hard to come by. Despite all of the drama and choas, the winners have come from P1 on the grid, and P4 on the grid. Again, not really in the Dutchman's favour. In conclusion, Verstappen certainly has the car to come back and win. But it's doubtful whether he has the circuit to do so. If he manages even a podium result, it could be one of the best performances of his career. There will be a lot of trouble on this circuit and it's all about whether Red Bull make sure he takes advantage of it. 

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