This weekend’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix night race, will require 600 light posts illuminating the track. The figurative spotlight though will be focused on the garages of Red Bull Racing and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team. Ahead of the weekend, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has shared his thoughts on how he expects events, around the temporary Jeddah Corniche Circuit, to unfold. The main feeling appears to be a fine balance between relief and shock at still being in the title hunt with two races remaining.
In comments released through Mercedes’ preview for the upcoming Saudi Arabia Grand Prix, team boss Toto Wolff revealed:
“Two races to go, and two Championships still to be decided. We are all excited to still be in the fight at this stage in the season, it's a privilege and a testament to our resilience when we see where we stood in the early summer. Both titles are wide open, and our mission is clear.”
The mission may be clear but so to is the fact that Sir Lewis Hamilton is in his best form of the season as is the might of Mercedes. The Seven-time F1 Drivers’ Champion took his seventh win of the season at the last round in Qatar. A point Wolff also reflected on while indicating regret over what might have been for Valtteri Bottas under the lights in Qatar.
“Last time out we saw a faultless drive by Lewis in Qatar, commanding the race from start to finish, and a strong recovery for Valtteri before the unfortunate puncture took him out of contention. The car has been performing well recently and is probably in the best place it has been all season, with the drivers confident to push it to the limit.”
Momentum may be with Mercedes but Jeddah is another completely new challenge, an all-new track for teams to get to grips. No one is resting on their laurels and Toto Wolff shared the team’s approach to the upcoming inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix.
“A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to ensure we hit the ground running on Friday, because getting as much information as we can during those initial sessions will be vital.”
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit is a fast street circuit with long flat-out sections and several high-speed corners. For pure racing fans who are somewhat disgruntled by so many tracks on the calendar featuring run off areas, Jeddah is lined by barriers ensuring that any mistake could very well be a race ending one.
At a time with so much on the line, both Red Bull Racing and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team could do with a timely reminder that to finish first, first you have to finish. Toto Wolff is aware of the challenge and stated how on a track requiring the driver to be full throttle for 79% of the lap distance “it'll be high risk and reward. We're more motivated than ever and we expect to be in the hunt.”
The waterfront location for the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix is also expected to present similar challenges to Abu Dhabi.
Due to the fact that the area experiences wind shifts from daytime to the evening, the variable of sand being blown onto the track will be another obstacle for the drivers to overcome. All of this on top of the need to navigate the circuit with the most corners of any track on the F1 calendar. A total of 27 corners for a single lap which consists of 11 right-handers and 16 left-handers. Time on track will be crucial to ensure that both the team and the drivers get up to speed in more ways than one. Due to the new and 'green' track surface, which obviously has not yet been properly rubbered in, the track evolution is going to be incredibly high over the weekend. Therefore, a lot of unknowns remain.
What is not unknown, is that The Saudi Arabia Grand Prix will be the first F1 Grand Prix since the passing of the legend that was Sir Frank Williams. No press release this coming week would go without mentioning the great man and titan of Formula One – and nor should it.
Having already released a statement, Toto Wolff followed this up stating that Sir Frank Williams “will be in all our thoughts this weekend and we'll try our best to deliver a performance that's worthy of his racing spirit.”
Jeddah has been advertised as the 'fastest street circuit in the world'. With expected average speeds of around 250 km/h the venue is certainly one which Sir Frank Williams would have enjoyed conquering. As for who is the eventual conqueror in the F1 title stakes, that remains to be seen. However, success around Jeddah could put a team in pole position as we enter the final weekend in Abu Dhabi.
So many challenges; so many corners and also to be expected - so many tributes to Sir Frank Williams. Consequently, the closing lines of this piece are left to the much-missed legend of our sport and very fitting for what lies ahead: “These guys are used to it. As long as they play hard, play together and care about each other they will be good.”