Verstappen expects much closer F1 Saudi Arabian GP

Red Bull Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen expects rivals to be closer in the next race in Saudi Arabia after he dominated the 2023 season opener in Bahrain.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Polesitter Verstappen appeared unimpeachable at the Sakhir circuit as he pulled out of DRS range of the chasing Ferrari of Charles Leclerc by the end of the opening lap.

Despite his 2022 chief championship rival starting with fresher tyres, Verstappen then stretched his soft Pirellis a lap longer than Leclerc and managed a rear axle locking issue when downshifting.

Once Leclerc retired with a Ferrari engine failure on lap 39, Verstappen could cruise to an 11.9s victory over team-mate Sergio Perez, while podium finisher Fernando Alonso was a further 26.6s adrift.

With Mercedes driver George Russell 'betting' that Red Bull would every single race in 2023, Verstappen has rebuffed suggestions of a whitewash and instead predicts a far more hotly contested round awaits in Saudi Arabia on 19 March.

The two-time champion said: "Saudi is quite a different track to this one. You have a lot more like straights, fast corners, and a lot less degradation.

"And I think here [in Bahrain] we were particularly good on the deg. So, I do expect in terms of race pace, that everyone is closer in Jeddah."

The RB19 excelled in Bahrain partly due to its superior acceleration out of low- and medium-speed corners, while Red Bull fared far better than Ferrari when it came to managing tyres on the particularly abrasive asphalt.

Pole sitter Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Pole sitter Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

But the more flowing Jeddah street track and its less course surface should in theory favour the top speed advantage enjoyed by the SF-23, a factor that enabled Verstappen to win at the venue in 2022 when the car characteristics were seemingly reversed.

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Verstappen added: "Jeddah is going to be quite different again.

"Our car seems quite strong in high speed, but I think Ferrari is quite quick on the straight, which in Jeddah, of course, is very nice to have.

"Time will tell. It's really hard to know. "We've only really driven these cars here in Bahrain, so we just have to wait and see.

"We'll, of course, try and get there in the best shape possible and then we'll find out throughout practice [in Saudi] where we are exactly."

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