The key storylines to emerge from Saudi Arabian Grand Prix media day

Sam Cooper
Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in a press conference. Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in a press conference. Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

As the drivers descended on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, here are the major storylines to emerge from Thursday’s media day.

With one race down, the F1 calendar is in full swing and we head to our first street circuit stop of the year in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.

Sergio Perez took pole this time last year but was undone when a Nicholas Latifi-inspired Safety Car came out just a few laps after he pitted.

Max Verstappen would go on to win the race and as we approach the 2023 edition, the same result is expected this time round.

With that in mind, here is what the drivers said ahead of the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix:

Missing Max Verstappen out with stomach bug but should be fine for race

One of the main storylines to come out of the Thursday media day was actually about someone who was not even there.

Ahead of the proceedings beginning, Max Verstappen took to Instagram to reveal he had been suffering from a “stomach bug” and as a result, would not arrive at the track until Friday.

Red Bull said on Twitter that Verstappen’s absence had been given the blessing of the FIA to allow the Dutchman to skip the media day.

Verstappen was not the only one feeling a little under the weather with Carlos Sainz in possession of a rather husky voice as he undertook his media commitments. The Ferrari man said he was feeling okay though and is not a worry for the weekend.

Lewis Hamilton steps back on Mercedes criticism, admits not “the best choice of words”

After revealing post-Bahrain that Mercedes had not listened to him over car design, Hamilton appeared on Thursday to step back from his criticism, admitting it was not “the best choice of words.”

“I mean, in hindsight, I think looking back [it] wasn’t necessarily the best choice of words,” Hamilton said of his Bahrain comments in the pre-Saudi Arabian Grand Prix press conference.

“Of course, there are times where you’re not in agreement with certain team members, but what’s important is that we continue to communicate, we continue to pull together.

“I still have 100% belief in this team, and they’re my family and I’ve been here a long time, so I don’t plan on going anywhere else. But we all need a kick, we all need to get on.”

His team-mate George Russell meanwhile suggested Mercedes had “overshot” twice in two years in terms of car designs but he too backed them to return to form eventually.

Charles Leclerc at risk of further penalties as ECU allocation unsalvageable

Having been slapped with a 10-place grid penalty for already exceeding his season allocation of the electronic control unit, the day only got worse for Leclerc when he revealed that the first two would most likely be unsalvageable.

The Monegasque managed to burn through two during the Bahrain Grand Prix with the replacement one fitted to his car also suffering an issue that caused him to retire.

Leclerc said he had been reassured that the problem was solved but did not have hope that his first two ECUs would be able to be used again this season.

“We had two control unit problems in Bahrain which means that we already need to take a penalty,” he told Sky Sports F1. “We understand these problems but as a result, I obviously need to take the penalty.

“I don’t think they [the first two ECUs] are reusable. We don’t have confirmation yet, but I don’t think so.”

Fernando Alonso hoping for another step forward after Bahrain performance

While Leclerc had a race to forget in Bahrain, one man who had a race to remember was Fernando Alonso who turned pre-season hope into on-track performance to finish P3.

But speaking ahead of the race in Jeddah, Alonso was realistic about Aston Martin’s chances, conceding that Bahran posed a set of specific circumstances and it was down to him and the team to prove it was not a one off.

“I’m really happy,” he told Sky Sports F1. “I think generally we’ve been obviously performing very well in testing and in race one.

“We still obviously need to confirm many things in race two here and then also in Australia. I think we need to wait and see how the car performs at every circuit but generally I think the first step of this project has been done which is a good baseline. So happy with that, let’s see what we can do from here.”

Lando Norris fires back at McLaren “crisis” talk

Almost out of character for him, Lando Norris was in a rather bullish mood when he was asked to comment on reported disharmony within the McLaren camp.

When it was put to him that the famous racing team was in a crisis, Norris described it as “far from that”

“I think with Oscar [Piastri]’s problem, it was an issue we’ve had for the first time we’ve seen in years and years and years.

So, confident that’s fixed and from my issue, Mercedes are sure that they fixed that and it was again something which hasn’t happened for years and years.

“So both [were] quite rare issues, both things that we’re confident both from HPP’s [Mercedes High Performance Powertrains] side and from a McLaren side that are fixed, but everyone makes it sound a lot worse than it is, calling it a crisis – it’s far from that, it’s nothing close to it.”