Why Saudi’s F1 track has avoided street circuit chaos...so far

Formula 1 drivers have been left with some conflicting feelings about Saudi Arabia’s new grand prix track.

Why Saudi’s F1 track has avoided street circuit chaos...so far
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On the one hand, running alone on track, the massive flat-out sections and sequences of corners that wind their way through narrow barriers deliver a thrill like few other places.

As Valtteri Bottas let his Mercedes team know over the team radio during opening practice: “F**k, this track is cool.”

But beyond the fun factor, the speeds and challenge of the Jeddah circuit are not without consequence, because the aspects that make it such fun are the very things that ramp up the danger aspect.

With very little run off area at some points of the track, Charles Leclerc showed in the most brutal ways in Friday practice that the tiniest of mistakes can have huge consequences.

But despite Leclerc’s session-stopping crash, and a few minor spins, plus of course Max Verstappen’s wall brush at the end of Q3, the Saudi weekend has not delivered anywhere near the levels of chaos that some had feared ahead of the weekend.

As Fernando Alonso said: “We all thought that it could be a crazy weekend but very few incidents, to be honest.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, crashes out of FP2

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, crashes out of FP2

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Concerns had certainly been raised after Thursday’s safety car laps had thrown up plumes of sand and dirt from the freshly laid surface. There was clearly the prospect of F1 facing a weekend of brutal crashes, red flags and chaos.

Instead, it’s been relatively calm – and definitely a world away from the type of chaos that can hit other famous street tracks like Macau or Monaco.

Lando Norris believes several factors have come in to play to keep the weekend rolling on without too much drama.

These include the smooth track surface and the high grip on offer, which was helped by some effective cleaning overnight after those safety car laps.

Having raced in the Macau F3 Grand Prix, which has similar characteristics to the Jeddah circuit, Norris reckoned there were some key differences that made Saudi Arabia less tricky.

“I think compared to Macau it is still very different,” he said, when asked why Jeddah had not unleashed the kind of trouble that is frequent at F3’s blue ribband event.

“Macau is a lot tighter than here. Here there is also a decent amount of run off in places compared to Macau, where there is literally nothing: it is just the walls everywhere.

“So there is that and also how smooth the track is. People make mistakes in Macau because of the bumps and the crevasse of the track, which is cambered and off cambered and with different tarmac.

“Here it is one of the smoothest circuits we’ve ever been to, so definitely that plays a big part. And also Macau grip level is extremely low, whereas here the grip level is high.

“Plus it is nice and flowing and not as technical or stop/start over the bumps, so I think that changes how easy it is to make mistakes.”

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, passes Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, passes Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Earlier in the weekend, F2 championship leader Oscar Piastri said Jeddah wasn’t actually like driving on a street circuit and instead felt like Silverstone with walls – which made it more of a technical challenge than a matter of just trying to keep it out of the barriers.

His F2 rival Juri Vips concurred: “It doesn’t feel like a street track as there is so much run off and stuff. I really, really like this place.

“I think I saw an article of Oscar saying it is like a Silverstone with walls and that is exactly what it feels like. It is a real joy to drive on.”

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But what may have been true so far this weekend, in terms of a lack of trouble, may not necessarily prove to be true for Sunday’s grand prix when cars are running in close proximity to each other.

Blind apex corners are a thrilling challenge when running alone; but can be a recipe for disaster if there are incidents ahead and drivers are not aware of what they are running in to.

That is the biggest concern of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who thinks that one small mistake from a driver could trigger a chain of events that would result in a quite big accident.

“The track is fantastic, don't get me wrong,” he said. “It's a really nice, good track to drive. I just feel like it's very risky, the track. If things go wrong for someone, they go really wrong."

It was a feeling shared by his teammate Max Verstappen, who reckoned that some sequences of the Jeddah track could mirror the funnel effect that has prompted such concern at Eau Rouge.

“If you’re starting the race or whatever, and one car hits the wall on the right side, you can bounce back onto the track and then you have a big accident, a bit like Eau Rouge,” he said.

“The blind corners, of course, with traffic is really tricky, but of course when we are doing the slow laps, as you could see also today, impeding and stuff like that, it potentially can become very dangerous.

“This is only the first time that we are here, right, so it’s a tricky one: fun to drive but still, of course, the danger is there.”

An aerial view of the circuit and city at night

An aerial view of the circuit and city at night

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

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