Red Bull’s crushing dominance is stripping the sport out of F1

There is no penalty punitive enough to slow Max Verstappen, and no steeplechase enough to save our Sunday afternoons from the crushing predictability of the mighty Red Bulls.

The car is so massively superior that Verstappen made it a bland experience to close the 14 car gap to pole starter Sergio Perez within around 20 laps.

Halfway through, the Red Bulls were in first and second place. Perez in the same kit was the only rider able to keep Verstappen at bay. Team orders or disaster were therefore the only possible paths to a Verstappen victory and neither were imminent.

The closest we got to the excitement was Verstappen’s final lap of the Jeddah circuit to take the extra point for fastest lap and retain the championship lead. Not that Verstappen’s supremacy is under serious threat.

Knowing that no one in front of him could match his speed, Verstappen showed no urgency to make up the ground lost to a failed driveshaft in qualifying. The overtaking maneuvers happened as a matter of course, a car here, a car there, the whole field of low hanging fruits.

Verstappen was in the top 10 by the eighth lap and ninth by the tenth. Two laps later he zoomed past Lewis Hamilton on the pit straight. He was sixth on lap 14 and fourth on lap 17. Are you still there?

Verstappen’s job became even easier when Lance Stroll stopped on the track to deploy the safety car on lap 18. Not least because both Ferraris drove in front of the safety car and thus made room for free.

Three laps into the restart, Verstappen made George Russell disappear without DRS needing third place. Halfway through, Fernando Alonso waved him through to second place. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that.

2023 Saudi GP overall result

  • 1st: Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
  • 2nd: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)*
  • 3rd: George Russell (Mercedes)
  • 4th place: Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
  • 5th: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 6th: Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
  • 7th: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
  • 8th: Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
  • 9th: Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
  • 10′: Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
  • 11th: Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
  • 12.: Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)
  • 13th: Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
  • 14th: Nyck de Vries (AlphaTauri)
  • 15th: Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
  • 16th: Logan Sargeant (Williams)
  • 17′: Lando Norris (McLaren)
  • 18′: Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
  • Failure: Alexander Albon (Williams), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)

*Extra point for fastest lap

The elders in Formula 1 need to be all fours and praying that Mercedes will put on a skate and the restyling will equip George Russell and Lewis Hamilton with the tools to make the season interesting. Racing fans can’t survive on Fernando Alonso cameos all season long.

Saudia Arabia is touted as the world’s fastest street circuit, 27 adrenaline-packed corners. With walls framing the Jeddah track, it poses a technical challenge for drivers in racing conditions, but with a team so obviously outpacing the field, any dynamic tension evaporates, an anathema to any sport.

Once again, Alonso caused the distraction. A brilliant start was thwarted by incorrect positioning to the left of his pits, for which he received a five-second penalty.

Nonetheless, he led into the first corner of a GP for the first time in more than a decade. Perez didn’t seem overly concerned. Why should he? By the fourth lap he had regained a lead he would not give up a second time.

Alonso accepted he wasn’t in contention for victory and made no attempt to fight back, instead slipping into management mode with his 100th career podium always the goal.

He would have achieved this if he had served his sentence correctly. Unfortunately, when not in use, the mechanics had the jack on the car before the five seconds were up. This resulted in a 10-second wallop at the end of the race that dropped him to fourth behind Russell.

Red Bull Racing's Mexican driver Sergio Perez (L) celebrates on the podium alongside Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso after winning the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Jeddah March 19, 2023 and the winner is.  (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE/AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)
Alonso (right) was denied his 100th career podium due to a mistake by his team (Photo: AFP)

Ferrari’s decision to shoe Charles Leclerc in soft shoes offered at least one difference, and it worked. From 12th on the grid thanks to a ten-place penalty for replacing the engine’s electronic control unit, Leclerc quickly found his rhythm and might have been pushing for a podium place had it not been for the bad break with the safety car.

Hamilton, who finished fifth for the second straight race, was practically in babysitting mode, tending to a car that refused to liven up his night. There was a brief window of opportunity after going from hard to medium when he caught up with Mercedes teammate Russell. It seemed like Russell would get a message from Dear John from the team telling him he wasn’t their type this time.

Russell resisted just long enough to let the episode pass. Hamilton’s extra pace faded as quickly as it came, his tires falling off before he could lose his temper. Despite having a proven fourth-best car, Mercedes is second in the constructors’ championship and Russell is fourth in the drivers’ title race, a point ahead of Hamilton. Silver linings are the best either one can hope for until the new car lands. For everyone’s sake, it can’t come soon enough.

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