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Saudi Arabian GP, FP2 Analysis: Red Bull still on top, but rivals are not far

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Max Verstappen and Red Bull once again showed their dominance in FP2, but the field is closer than what the times may suggest with many cars showing good strengths and a few weaknesses. Here are my takes from last evening's session in Jeddah:

Verstappen vs Alonso VER vs ALO: The two cars look quite similar, and the outcome in the corners (especially high speed) is also very similar. Both cars produce a great amount of downforce and you can see it between Turn 4 and Turn 10. The differences are in the low speed corners where the AMR23 has a slight upper hand for now. Although in the straights, starting from 290/300kph, the RB19 takes off and creates a huge gap in top speed. With DRS this is even more obvious, but it happens also without the drag reduction system being opened.

Verstappen vs Leclerc Ferrari's one lap pace was hardly significant yesterday, with the SF23 down on PU mode and likely higher on fuel. Despite that, the red car showed good signs in slow speed corners (where the RB19 isn't perfect yet this weekend) and in the medium speed sections. At high speeds Red Bull produces more downforce, and the SF23 suffers in the fast direction changes which were one of its few strong points in Bahrain (higher fuel?). We will have to wait for Qualifying to understand how much Ferrari were keeping in their pocket on Friday.

Verstappen vs Ocon Alpine impressed with their pace yesterday, but you could see the potential of the A523 in Bahrain through the difficulties that the French team had. The car produces a lot of downforce and is competitive in slow speed corners, but too much drag compared to the RB19.

Verstappen vs Russell Mercedes continue to struggle, no downforce whatsoever on the W14 and slow speed corners aren't a strength like in Bahrain. Mercedes seem to have pushed the PU quite a bit, but in the final stages of the straight the RB19 catches up thanks to its efficiency. More downforce is needed on the car without creating porpoising, which at the moment seems to be under control also thanks to the minimum amount of downforce created by the W14, something similar to McLaren's situation at the start of last year. Qualifying could be quite close, Red Bull are obviously the favourites but Ferrari doesn't lack single lap pace, Aston Martin could be quite close but difficult to see them on the front row, while Mercedes and Alpine could be fighting for the positions immediately behind

LONG RUNS ANALYSIS The teams split their work between the soft and the medium compound, and the pace seemed to be quite similar thanks to this no-deg asphalt. Soft runs: Verstappen, 1.35.217, 13L Sainz, 1.35.285, 7L Gasly, 1.35.341, 8L Hamilton, 1.35.565, 3L Stroll, 1.35.676, 11L Verstappen and Sainz were quite evenly matched before the Ferrari driver found traffic: this didn't allow us to see Ferrari's tyre wear, but around here it shouldn't be very significant. Gasly completed a great stint on softs, Hamilton and Stroll's stints were not representative

Medium runs: Perez, 1.35.088, 11L Hamilton, 1.35.194, 4L (Stint 2) Leclerc, 1.35.243, 6L Alonso, 1.35.281, 11L Ocon, 1.35.373, 10L Russell, 1.35.449, 10L Perez' stint was the most impressive we saw yesterday, with negative degradation. Leclerc showed good pace in the initial phase but then found traffic in several laps, so once again we know that Ferrari's pace could be a match for Red Bull but degradation is unknown. Alonso had a good stint, but not quite as fast as the two ahead. Behind Alpine and Mercedes could be quite close on Sunday.

In general Red Bull are the big favourites today and Sunday, especially considering Leclerc's penalty. The final podium position could be decided between the Ferraris and Alonso, behind Mercedes and Alpine need to make a step in pace to catch up and fight for a top 3 spot

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