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Why Saudi Arabian GP could deliver one of F1’s most "unpleasant" races

The Formula 1 pack face “a very unpleasant race” in the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, with the considerable physical and mental demands placed on the drivers by the Jeddah layout.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

That’s the view of Red Bull driver Sergio Perez, but it’s echoed by his F1 peers.

It all centres on the 3.84-mile street track having an average speed of 155mph, with the close-proximity walls requiring additional levels of concentration and precision.

The circuit is also an anti-clockwise configuration, one of eight on the 2024 schedule, and its comparatively smooth surface means the drivers will not back off as much from their ultimate car potential pace over the longer race stints because they do not have to worry about excessive tyre degradation.

That all adds up to why Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc says: “I think physically it’s definitely the most or one of the most difficult races of the season.”

On the mental challenge of the 50-lap Jeddah race, Leclerc adds: “The fact that it's a street track, but with so many fast corners, you are obviously on the limit of the car and every little bump has an effect on the car and when you lose the rears at those speeds it's not a nice moment.”

He continues: “So, that makes it very challenging, as well as obviously the very high-speed corners.

“You need to be super precise and that makes it very difficult, because if you are out by five or 10 centimetres, it's not like you go wide and that's it [with runoff to move into]. You touch the wall and it's done. So, to find the confidence on a track like this is much more difficult than other tracks.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Verstappen says the fact Jeddah is early in the season is also a factor in why the drivers view it as demanding.

“It’s anti-clockwise, a lot of G forces continuously in sector one,” the Dutchman continued.

“The walls are super close, so your focus is constantly at 100%. Some tracks you can relax a bit on the straight or whatever, but here the straights most of them are not even straights.

“You're constantly turning – pulling G – so your body doesn't have a lot of rest.”

Verstappen also claims bumps in the track surface impact driver vision, although his specific example of Turn 22 is disputed by Lando Norris, who says “it's fine – there's way bumpier circuits that we go to”, and his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri.

“It's been there for a couple of years now,” Piastri clarifies. “It's definitely one of the bumpier sections of the track, but it's not too bad.”

“In some places, like Turn 22, for example, it's getting a bit bumpy,” Verstappen counters. “So, your view is also a bit more difficult [there].

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

“The degradation is very low, so you can push quite high every single lap compared to maybe some other tracks where you have to pace manage a lot more.

“That naturally brings the G-forces down a bit [elsewhere]. You can ease yourself into it a bit more, which is not the case here. I think that all together makes it one of the hardest tracks on the calendar.”

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Perez, the most recent F1 Jeddah winner, ultimately recalls his victory ahead of Verstappen here last year and “with Max pushing all the way through the end, it was very intense – one of the most physical demanding races I've had”.

“It just makes it all together a very unpleasant race,” he concludes.

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