FP2: Max Verstappen on top but forced to battle gearbox issues

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen driving the Red Bull RB19. Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

Max Verstappen driving the Red Bull RB19 at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

Max Verstappen set the pace once more in FP2 at the Saudi Arabian GP, though troubles with gear shifts in the Red Bull were an unwelcome drawback.

It was during the race simulations that the Dutchman began to complain of “really bad” downshifts, the “last corner” proving to be a real problem area.

This is one then to monitor for the remainder of the weekend, but there could be no questioning the pace of that Red Bull over one lap as Verstappen topped FP2 with a two-tenth margin over Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

Sergio Perez completed the top three while Alpine were flying high, as Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton struggled.

There was little stopping Red Bull in FP1, as was also the case for the second and final Friday session with the Jeddah Corniche Circuit looking splendid under the floodlights and conditions more representative of qualifying and the race to come.

That meant there was precious little time to spare as the pack flooded out onto the track, Hamilton locking-up and going off at Turn 1 to bring a swift end to his first push lap. A 1:31.080 was the very early benchmark to chase, set by Carlos Sainz on the medium rubber.

And chase Verstappen did, though his conquering lap was soon to be bettered by Alonso in the Aston Martin, a 1:30.612 delivered by the Spaniard on the C3 medium tyre. Stroll in the other Aston Martin slotted into P3 ahead of Sainz and Charles Leclerc in the sister Ferrari.

The track continued to ramp up quickly though, Perez clearing Alonso by almost two-tenths until Verstappen really turned it up with a 1:30.058, that after a very, very near miss with the wall out of that final turn.

That medium tyre was not working so well for Mercedes though, Hamilton just about breaking into the top 10 as he kept the W14 on the road this time, while George Russell was being kept in the bottom-half of the order by Sainz as Ferrari drop down the standings.

Still, it was a scruffy attempt for Sainz, while Leclerc got held up in a major way at Turn 13 by the slow-moving Haas of Nico Hulkenberg on the racing line.

It was not complete paradise in the Red Bull RB19 either though, Verstappen saying he could not “feel the car” due to the position of his headrest.

That was the fun and games on the medium rubber then, now Alonso decided it was time for the softs, though P2 was all he could manage on that first attempt after an off cost him half a second to Verstappen in the final sector.

Then it was Sainz rather getting in the way of Alonso, though he had better warning of Perez’s approach who soon took over at the top on the soft tyre with a 1:29.902.

And it was soon Sainz’s turn to get held up, yellow flags in the final sector ruining his plans. Russell meanwhile was now into the top 10, but needed another tenth just to clear the Alpines, and half a second to deal with Hulkenberg.

Stroll also was not loving the soft rubber just yet, needing more than six-tenths to reach the standard being set by Alonso.

Verstappen at least was more than happy on the C4s as he returned to the top as the session passed halfway, a 1:29.6 taking him three-tenths ahead of Perez. It was P6 for Leclerc and P8 for Sainz only after the latest attempts from the Ferrari duo.

Aston Martin were having more joy as Alonso narrowed his deficit to Verstappen to a couple of tenths, while a much better effort from Stroll saw him shoot up to P4, that was until Russell got the W14 dialled in to take that spot for himself.

Russell nonetheless told Mercedes that “we need to make more changes”, while Hamilton was not even having his team-mates level of success as he continued to sit P11 in the timings.

Oscar Piastri meanwhile was the latest driver to encounter these really concerning traffic issues, a Ferrari and Haas side-by-side leaving the approaching Piastri with no way through as he was forced to lift right off.

Speaking of Ferrari, as the drivers went into race simulation mode, Leclerc had some power worries as he exited the pit lane. Ferrari saw no issue on the data, though Leclerc’s concerns were of course understandable considering he has already taken a power-unit related grid drop for this race.

His concerns continued all the way to the end of the session, as Ferrari remained stumped on the possible cause of what Leclerc described as a power “surge”.

Verstappen too was having troubles, telling Red Bull that “my downshifts are really bad, in the “last corner” especially. A potential issue for the team to solve then ahead of qualifying on Saturday, where for now Verstappen appears favourite to make it back-to-back poles.

FP2 times:

1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:29.603
2 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.208
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.299
4 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.436
5 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.467
6 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.497
7 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.507
8 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +0.578
9 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.738
10 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.989
11 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.996
12 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.118
13 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.173
14 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.207
15 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.217
16 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +1.234
17 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.318
18 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.356
19 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.361
20 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.449