Formula 1 drivers have likened the Jeddah Corniche Circuit to Silverstone and Macau after their first real-life look at the track they will race on this weekend in the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Not all 20 drivers took to the track, however, with some using the first ever official lap of the track by a vehicle – completed by the Aston Martin Vantage used by F1 as its Safety Car – to get some references on what it would actually look like to navigate at speed.
Most drivers started their preparations in the simulators at team headquarters, and Ferrari‘s Charles Leclerc admitted he struggled for the first 10 laps. “I didn’t know where it turned, and there are 27 corners, so quite a bit of corners to learn,” said Leclerc. However, once familiar with the track’s demands, he added he “really enjoyed the way it has to be driven” virtually.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, who did find time to walk the track, noted how it was narrower in places than had previously been modelled. SAFER barriers now line the outside of some of the high-speed curves, giving drivers less room for error than their simulators may have indicated.
Track data: Jeddah Corniche Circuit
|Lap length||6.174km (3.836 miles)|
|Grand prix distance||308.7km (191.817 miles)|
|Tyre compounds||C2, C3, C4|
“It’s pretty dusty. It’s very high speed, as we saw in the simulator,” said Gasly. “It’s going to be a pretty exciting and challenging track for us drivers. Very high speed corners, blind corners, it’s pretty narrow. It actually looks more narrow when you walk than when you’re in the simulator. So tomorrow probably going around these walls at 300kph is going to feel even more narrow. Driving-wise, it should be really fun.”
What made the track walk particularly useful for teams was being able to see the composition of the track surface, which could not be factored into simulator models with limited data. Lewis Hamilton‘s first reaction was “it’s not far off a Silverstone kind of surface” – that track was re-laid in 2019 – while Fernando Alonso raised the question of whether on a low-grip surface “you need a lot of the engine, or the deployment, or the tyres will be a big topic” because there are “still too many unknowns to be sure”.
The general reaction was one of positivity, with Gasly’s team mate Yuki Tsunoda labelling the track walk “quite exciting” given he usually “just gets tired” when walking them.
“Everything looks very different to what I’m used to or what we are used to in F1,” he said. “It took me a few more laps to get up to speed in the sim compared to other circuits, just because of the amount of corners that there are, the walls. Obviously you cannot see through them and you don’t know what’s on the other side of the corner.
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“It was difficult to get the turning points right and all that. Everything looks so similar, so fast-flowing and wall-banging type of corners that it felt quite difficult to learn until you get to a point where obviously you learnt it and everything starts to feel a bit more normal. But I feel like we’re going to need more laps to dial in.”
The full-throttle nature of the circuit may be reminiscent of other tracks, but McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo endorsed Sainz’s view of how different Jeddah appears to be.
“It’s funny, because it gets a little bit compared to Monza set-up, but it’s a very different track,” said Ricciardo, who took victory at the Italian venue earlier this year.
“I don’t know if there’s anything quite like this circuit. At the moment some of the sections remind me a little bit of Macau. It was a long time ago that I was there, but it’s a high-speed street circuit.”
While some have likened it to Baku, Ricciardo doesn’t think that comparison holds, a view Nicholas Latifi shared. The Williams driver expects a far smaller margin for error at Jeddah.
“Specific parts of the track, like the two chicanes after the banked corner. I guess they’re kind of similar to the Montreal-style chicanes, but just faster,” Latifi said.
“And then you have the first ‘S’ kind of bits, I think from turns five through to nine, which is I guess a bit of a tighter kind of Silverstone/Suzuka/Austin flowing thing, which is quite nice in these cars as well. It’s a unique track.
“I think the kind of judgements that you make when you commit to corners, it’s really going to be quite unique just because of how high-speed in nature it is. So I’m very much looking forward to that challenge. Hopefully, it provides some good racing as well, with very long straights and three DRS zones.”
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2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
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