Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – Sergio Perez dominated from the front to take the pole to victory that the Safety Car denied him last year.
With the lights all shining around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Sergio Perez lined up on pole position for the second year in a row and, given Charles Leclerc’s grid penalty meant it wouldn’t be the same front row as this time last year, it was Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso who’d be joining the Mexican on row one.
Race Results – 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
The yellow-ringed medium tyres were the choice-du-jour for the start although Lewis Hamilton in P8 and Logan Sargeant in P20 decided the hard compound would be the better option for them, while Leclerc in P12 and Lando Norris in P19 went for the softs instead.
As the lights went out to start the race Perez wasn’t able to enjoy his position at the front of the pack for long as Alonso got the better of the Red Bull driver at the first corner however the Spaniard has been noted by the stewards for incorrect starting location, a couple of laps into the race he was handed a five second penalty for the being too far left in his grid box.
Alonso wasn’t the only Aston getting a great start as Lance Stroll got past Carlos Sainz to move into P4 and while it was all looking up for the Astons it was quite the opposite for McLaren. Oscar Piastri had contact on the opening lap which damaged his front wing and then Norris, unfortunately, ran over his teammate’s debris which meant both of the cars had to pit for new front wings and that left them both well at the back of the pack.
Perez made it back into the lead on lap 4, the DRS helping the Red Bull racer slip past Alonso and attempt to pull a gap at the front.
By lap 10 Alonso was still just within Perez’ DRS window and on course to continue with Aston’s plan A. Further back Leclerc had just moved past Hamilton for P7, while the seven-time champion had been shown a black and white warning flag for weaving on the straight, and Max Verstappen, who’d had to start P15 after a driveshaft issue cut his qualifying short yesterday, had just overtaken Pierre Gasly for P9.
Perez had finally managed to extend the gap to over a second by the end of lap 10 though and was able to make some breathing space for himself over the following few laps. Strategies were changing slightly too as Aston didn’t really like how the hards tyres seemed to be working and decided to extend Alonso’s stint while Perez’ front right, which he’d locked up during his pass on Alonso, was being monitored by his team.
On lap 14 Stroll was the first of the top 10 to pit, the Canadian coming in from P4 and emerging on the hards in P11. Sainz, who’d taken over P4 from Stroll, headed into the pits on lap 16 and managed to overcut the Aston driver and emerge in P9, a second ahead of Stroll, a feat that Leclerc was able to emulate a lap later.
The Canadian didn’t have to spend long looking at the back of two scarlet cars though as he was told to stop on track urgently for an unidentified issue on lap 18. That brought out the first Yellow Flag of the race and then the Safety Car was called despite the Aston being well off the track and almost fully behind a barrier. All the other drivers were than able to pit and get the advantage of stopping while everyone was lapping slower on track.
All except Hamilton swapped onto the hard tyres, the Mercedes driver’s alternate strategy saw him switch to the mediums. Alonso served his five second penalty before his pit stop and, thanks to everyone lapping slower, was able to remain in P2.
The race was back to green flag on lap 21 and while there were some looks, there weren’t any changes on the first lap back but the mediums made things easier for Hamilton though and he was up to P4, demoting Sainz, on lap 22.
A lap later Red Bull got into a double podium position for the first time in the race as Verstappen dispatched George Russell to take P3 and start to close up on Alonso, which didn’t take very long at all and by lap 25 the Dutch driver was into P2, just less than six seconds behind Perez.
Lap 27 saw Alex Albon report a brake failure on his Williams although he continued racing past the pit lane before slowing down and limping around another lap before he was able to get to the pits to retire.
Mercedes tried to organise a swap between Russell and Hamilton in P4 and P5 though the younger driver argued that he was in a good position to take advantage of Alonso’s five second penalty before the team informed him that the penalty had already been served. Russell then picked up his pace to lap faster than Hamilton.
On lap 35 the Red Bulls were in a race of their own, lapping about a second faster than anyone else but Perez was managing to hold a nearly five second gap to his teammate. Alonso was over eleven seconds behind Verstappen.
Lap 37 saw Verstappen reporting that he felt the driveshaft was running a bit rough and making a weird noise at high speed, but all the data the team could see said everything was working as it should. He wasn’t the only one not feeling completely comfortable as Perez then came on the radio to report a long brake pedal, so his side of the garage had something to look into too, but they were also happy with how the car was performing.
Lap 46 saw Kevin Magnussen snatch the final points position away from Yuki Tsunoda while further back there was an all-McLaren battle for P16 with Piastri initially getting ahead before Norris fought back. The Australian though bided his time and slipped ahead of his teammate again on the penultimate lap.
Towards the end Mercedes weren’t sure whether Alonso had served his penalty correctly and were encouraging Russell to continue pushing to finish within five seconds of the Aston driver while Aston Martin had Alonso push too to cover themselves just in case. The gap between the two was 5.138 seconds at the flag.
Perez crossed the line over five seconds ahead of Verstappen, the Mexican had looked like he would be leading the world championship standings but Verstappen took the fastest lap point, with a 1:31.906, at the very end to ensure he remained ahead. Alonso took P3 ahead of the two Mercedes drivers while Sainz and Leclerc finished P6 and P7 the Ferraris not making up any ground on the hard tyres. The Alpines both took points with Esteban Ocon ahead of Gasly while Magnussen took the final point for Haas.
Post-race update: As the podium celebrations started, with Alonso celebrating his 100th appearance on the rostrum, the stewards announced that they would be investigating whether the 5 second penalty was served correctly as the rear jack was in position and touching the car before the penalty time was completed.
At the opening race Ocon also got a five second penalty for being in the wrong starting position and then a ten second penalty as his mechanics started working on his car before the time was up, (and then had another five second penalty for speeding in the pit lane).
Just as the podium celebrations were wrapping up the stewards revealed that Alonso would be handed a 10 second penalty for his penalty being served incorrectly, that will demote the Spaniard to P4 and hand Russell the final podium spot.