Budding Formula 1 tech-journalist Ashwin Issac pens his ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ from the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. ‘F1 Midfield Tales‘ will be a combination of data and analysis that will aim to dissect the uber-competitive F1 midfield race-after-race.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit, a fast and unforgiving street circuit designed by Carsen Tilke, was the setting for the second Grand Prix of the 2023 Formula 1 season.
After a dominating performance in Bahrain, Red Bull established themselves as the cream of the crop. The likes of Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes have been deemed to be the challengers but based on the gap to the Bulls, calling them the ‘challengers’ is a stretch.
There was still hope that the dominance of the Red Bull was an anomaly attributed to the very abrasive track surface of the Bahrain International Circuit but when the Saudi Grand Prix culminated in another 1-2 Red Bull finish with a Perez victory, the ‘challengers’ must have felt defeated because the Austrian team were just out of reach.
This street circuit in Jeddah is low abrasive in nature and has its own challenges in terms of bringing the tyres to optimum temperatures, the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Bahrain. This caused a setup challenge to the teams and drivers ensuing differences in performance between teams and drivers.
When it comes to our protagonists, the tightly knit ‘midfield’, the intriguing story continued for another episode in Jeddah. Here are my ‘F1 Midfield Tales’.
Observations (F1 midfield tales after Saudi Arabia)
To completely understand how these teams stack up against each other according to the characteristics of the track, it is important to briefly look at the best sectors set by the teams.
- Sector 1
This part of the track demands the cars to have a good mechanical grip for the first two corners and aerodynamic performance regarding downforce to maintain maximum grip through the high-speed corners.
Here’s a bar chart comparing the times set by the fastest car of each team and the observations made are:
- Esteban Ocon’s Alpine was the fastest through this sector and had a significant advantage over the other teams.
- Performance advantage in this sector turns out to be very decisive in overall lap times.
- McLaren seem to have decent performance in this sector suggesting a good car with a working baseline.
- The other teams seem lacking the above-mentioned characteristics with Williams being the slowest.
- Sector 2
This sector consists of a slow/medium speed corner in turn 13 and a couple of medium/high speed corners in turns 16 and 17 accompanied by a straight. The other corners in this sector can be considered more or less as a straight.
Here are some observations accompanied with a bar chart:
- All the teams apart from Alpha Tauri are within one tenth of a second.
- The lack of pace in this segment may suggest an inefficient aerodynamic concept that results in high drag.
- Sector 3
The last sector of this track is very similar in terms of characteristics to the previous one.
The performances and differences are pretty much the same with the Alpha Tauri again lagging behind a bit more from the other teams.
‘Points are earned on the Sunday of the race weekend’.
Majority of the drivers started the race on the medium tyres and continued on them until an opportunity arose for a free pit stop courtesy a completely avoidable safety car resulting from a technically stricken Aston Martin of Lance Stroll. At this point those drivers who pit, put on the hard tyres and the few who pit earlier were also on hard tyres but would have felt hard done by the untimely caution.
The McLaren drivers changed their tyres on lap 1 and lap 2, Piastri from the mediums to the hard ones, he had to pit after a collision with Gasly which left his front wing compromised. Norris changed from the softs to the hard compound as he too had a damaged front wing after running over his teammate’s debris. Piastri managed to finish the race on those same sets and Norris took the opportunity to change to mediums at the safety car interval.
Logan and Zhou ended their races on the medium tyres with Norris. Bottas ended the race on softs, Bottas struggled for pace throughout the race and the Alfa’s seemed very uncomfortable with the hard tyres.
The low degrading nature of the circuit made for a fair comparison of race pace as tyre limitations could be ignored.
Here are a few observations:
- Stint 1
Drivers starting on medium set of tyres, ignoring the positional changes:
- The Alpine of Ocon had a clear pace advantage.
- The Alpha Tauri portrays a better performance compared to its one lap pace.
- The Williams also defied its one lap performance.
- Stint 2
This is a comparison of teams and drivers on the hard tyres after their first change, ignoring the age of the tyres:
- The Alpine again stands out with the faster laps.
- Oscar Piastri’s McLaren with its ageing tyres was impressively in the mix.
- Haas and Alpha Tauri had similar pace in this stint.
- Stint 2/3
This stint is the 2nd for some and the 3rd for some drivers but the comparison is done at the same stage of the race.
- On medium tyres the Alfa Romeo seemed to have an advantage over the McLaren and the Williams.
- The pace on the medium tyres dropped off slightly but noticeably over the hard tyres but the difference was not too drastic.
The 2023 Formula 1 season is two races young and the extreme differences between the two tracks didn’t alter the narrative in terms of the pecking order that much. The battle for the midfield supremacy remains close and will continue to be fought meticulously until the end of the season but one team among this kerfuffle has shown signs of standing out and eventually creating a gulf between them and the rest – Alpine is that team in the F1 midfield.
It will be interesting to see if they will continue in this trajectory, they are expected to do so and the paddock will be eager to find out. The land down under awaits us to add more layers to this developing season.
Ashwin Issac is a budding Formula 1 tech-journalist. He has completed a Master of Science degree in Automotive Systems Engineering from Loughborough University, UK. He will pen his thoughts for the ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ section in 2023.