A Redbull 1-2, a safety car in Saudi and a 100th podium for Alonso (eventually), the fastest street circuit in the world delivered a relatively predictable podium but managed to spring a few surprises throughout the weekend. As oppose to going over the bigger headlines that defined the weekend, I thought it’d be more interesting to delve deeper into the seemingly inconsequential details that have contributed to some of my biggest takeaways from the weekend. This week one of the smallest points of contention were teammate tempers, although there were no obvious fallouts there was enough subtle tension simmering beneath the surface for me to believe that it could eventually bubble over as the season progresses. Here are the teammate pairings that I’ll be keeping on my radar as ones to watch.
- Sergio’s suspicions
Sergio Perez was able to have his redemption day at Saudi Arabia, reclaiming the victory that was snatched from his grasp last year, but it wasn’t without a side of competition and concern caused by his teammate, Max Verstappen. With both drivers vying to be the championship leader, the fastest lap point was the final component required to claim this title and it looked as though they had received “different information” as the confusion in Perez’s team radio was evident and he appeared to have been caught out by Max’s attempt for the fastest lap. If these two had no history together and it had ended there, I wouldn’t have given a second thought as to whether this could signal any further ramifications for the pairing down the line, however that is just not our reality. Sergio went on to bring this matter up with Max in the cool down room and again in the post-race press conference, reinforcing the idea that this was a point of note to him, creating a slightly ill feeling within the team. We all remember Brazil from last year and whilst Christian Horner reaffirmed that this incident was just “a blip”, I can’t shake the feeling that there is still a glaring sense of uneasiness between the Verstappen camp and the Perez camp.
- Mercedes vs Mercedes
With Mercedes speedily coming to the conclusion that their car concept for 2023 is entirely wrong, it will come as no surprise that they will not be too competitive in the 2023 season, or so we thought. Whilst a championship is almost certain to evade the Brackley-based team this year, they may have a rivalry on their hands… between their two drivers. The general consensus heading into the new teammate pairing of Russell and Hamilton was that it had the potential to be an explosive relationship akin to Hamilton-Rosberg and bring 2016 back to life if the car was competitive, however when Mercedes failed to live up the standards that they’d set for themselves this narrative took a back seat. Following the race this weekend there were a few bold decisions and innocuous comments that could be hinting at a deeper rivalry than we can see on the surface. During the race there was a moment in which many believed that Lewis would be let past by Russell to catch up to the rest of the pack, as he was on the faster tyre, at the time, however this was not the case and Russell insisted that he remain where he is as that would be the best option for the team. Now this wasn’t exactly team orders, as Russell asserted that the reason for his decision was because he “ didn’t want to fight with his teammate”, but it definitely brought some additional eyes on to the Mercedes pairing. This was met with a few comments from Lewis explaining his disconnect with the car and noting that Russell got it right this weekend although the set up that he usually chooses is “More often than not… the wrong one”. I don’t think that this is anything to be concerned about as of yet as it could just be the frustration of having to drive the W14 but this will definitely be and interesting one to keep your eye on throughout the season.
The final tiny takeaway from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is that the safety car is not the solution. I think it’s fair to say that many of us had our hopes up for a thrilling Saudi race based on its track record, which includes a 100% chance of a safety car, in combination with Verstappen’s penalty this race had all of the makings to be a standout of the season but instead it was… ok? In previous races the safety car has provided drivers with an opportunity to capitalise on the race in a way that they ordinarily wouldn’t have been able to, but in this case the safety care managed to allow Verstappen to close the gap to the front even quicker than he already would have. This was a great addition to the race for Redbull but pretty much signaled the end of the race for everyone else as the new HAM-VER-BOT podium of PER-VER-ALO (not always in the order) finished up the race. My main take away from this, if it was not already obvious, is that I don’t think that there is anything that can stop Verstappen this season whether it’s a safety car, engine problems or the 19 other drivers on the grid. Getting our hopes up for a safety car or any external intervention during the race may not be of any use this year as it’s looking more and more ominous for the rest of the grid as Verstappen is on track to have an even more dominant season that last year (apparently that’s possible) reminiscent of Mercedes’ reign during the hybrid era.