Saudi Arabian Grand Prix talking points: Perez shines, Aston’s mixed race, Ferrari's woes continue
Welcome to another addition of F1 talking points. It was an interesting race where one team continued to dominate, another continued to shine and most others continued to struggle.
Let’s get to it.
Perez is Verstappen’s biggest title contender
An incredible weekend by Sergio Perez sees him leave Saudi Arabia only one point behind his teammate Max Verstappen in the championship. Right now, he is clearly the only driver who looks capable of challenging the Dutchman for the 2023 crown.
So often Perez is overlooked in the category of elite drivers on the grid and his name is very rarely mentioned in the Championship conversation.
But two rounds into the season he has been in incredible form. A strong yet unassuming drive in Bahrain was backed up by a fairly dominant performance across the board in the desert, once again showcasing just how good he is on street circuits.
He should be leading the Championship, in all fairness, had it not been for a last lap fastest lap by Verstappen, but the Mexican did enough in Jeddah to show his credentials for the remainder of 2023.
There are definitely some shades of 2019 and 2020 Mercedes vibes going on at Red Bull this year, in the fact that one drive is expected to dominate, with their teammate starting off well to really give us hope there will be a season-long intra-team battle.
Let’s just hope there is more Nico Rosberg to Perez this year and less Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen still a class above the rest
While Perez shone in his Red Bull, Max Verstappen still showcased why he is the best driver on the grid and the reigning two-time world champion.
A driveshaft issue on Saturday saw him eliminated in Q2, pushing him back to 15th on the grid and giving his teammate an easy run at pole position. But did anybody actually doubt that we wouldn’t see Verstappen challenging for the win come race day?
Such is the pace of the RB19, Verstappen was always in the hunt for victory, with the Sky F1 commentary team of Martin Brundle and David Croft commenting that the pace of his car versus the others was like watching F1 v F2 on track.
It’s an ominous sight for F1 fans to see such dominance from a team and driver so early on in the season, especially given how used we have been this millennium in seeing a dominant package and driver. Think early 2000s Ferrari, early 2010s Red Bull and mid-to-late 2010s and early 2020s Mercedes.
Dutch fans are of course thrilled, as they continue to marvel at their star driver. For everyone else, it continues to look like a very long season.
Max Verstappen. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Aston Martin strong but unlucky
It’s great to still see Aston Martin so strong early in the season, but luck seems to flow on one side of the garage more so than the other.
Fernando Alonso bullied his way off the line to take the lead early, but soon found himself in trouble after incorrectly positioning himself in his starting box.
A five-second penalty was served before the Spaniard kept up his strong pace and secured third place and his 100th career podium.
Initially, it seemed like that wasn’t to be, as similar to Esteban Ocon in Bahrain, Alonso was found to have had his team illegally touching his car during the penalty, with a 10-second penalty post-race relegating him to fourth place.
However, after an appeal by Aston Martin, the podium finish was returned to the team and Alonso.
It was a confusing situation that shows inconsistency by the FIA, but Aston will be smiling all the same.
The luck wasn’t nearly as good in the other Aston Martin garage, with a firing Lance Stroll having his early race pace and form taken away as his car broke down on lap 16, having been in a strong fourth place early.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the team who really do look like the best of the rest after two rounds, and who have been a breath of fresh air in taking it to the established three teams in Formula 1.
Hopefully some luck can return to the Stroll side of the team in Melbourne in two weeks’ time.
Ferrari’s woes go from bad to worse
As an unashamed Ferrari fan, this hurts.
Things were meant to improve in 2023; instead, it’s shades of 2021 all over again.
Ferrari seemingly had no pace on race day. The cars looked terrible on the hard tyres, and there were barely any chances for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz to finish higher than their ultimate positions of sixth and seventh.
Based on consistency and reliability, Mercedes have taken a stranglehold on that fight for second in the Championship. With Aston Martin also suffering a bit of bad luck, it could still be a lot worse for the Scuderia.
Piastri makes a statement at McLaren
After such a strong qualifying, it was race day disappointment for Aussie Oscar Piastri.
Suffering front-wing damage after a collision with the Alpine of Pierre Gasly on the opening lap, Piastri struggled to make any ground as he and McLaren teammate Lando Norris languished at the back.
However, it was the team order from McLaren that came later in the race that raised a few eyebrows.
The team ordered Norris to let Piastri through by “not making it difficult” for the Australian should he be close enough to overtake; a move that paid off, with Piastri eventually making it past the Williams of Logan Sargeant, while Norris finished behind the American.
Yes, it’s very early days and the drivers were fighting for 15th. And yes, Piastri was clearly faster. But it definitely wouldn’t make Norris happy having that happen two races into their relationship at Woking.
Given the next race is Piastri’s home GP, all eyes will remain on McLaren as the intra-team rivalry between the pair continues to grow.
It's Australia's turn to host the F1 circus in two weeks time, with yet more talking points to come.
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here