The end of this thrilling Formula 1 season could not be more of a complete test from an engineering point of view.
At the last round in Qatar we picked up a strong second place with Max and fourth with Sergio on a circuit that was brand new for F1 but has been established for over 15 years as a racing venue.
Ahead of the season finale in Abu Dhabi - itself taking place on a Yas Marina Circuit we know well but one that has been heavily modified since our victory there a year ago - we first make our first trip to Saudi Arabia, and there’s no historical data to lean on for this one.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit has been built in record time along the coast of the Red Sea, with work on the track itself only finalised in the past few days. And what a track it is.
At 6.174km it is the second longest circuit on the 2021 calendar (after Spa-Francorchamps) and instantly becomes the longest street venue in F1. But it’s not your traditional street circuit…
While many other temporary tracks feature low-speed corners, big traction zones and relatively low average speeds compared to some of the permanent venues that we visit, Jeddah is set to provide a completely different challenge, and one that will reward deployment and top speed.
The first two corners are by far the slowest on the circuit, with a chicane starting the lap but representing an anomaly compared to what is to follow. A series of high-speed sweeping turns and rapid changes of directions follow, winding between the barriers as part of a unique out-and-back layout.
At one end of the track, Turn 13 features a 12-degree banked corner that will keep speeds high through the wide hairpin, leading into the first of three DRS zones between Turns 19 and 22. A second DRS zone follows through the long, left-handed sweep towards the final corner, and here we’re expecting to see top speeds above 320kph before another wide hairpin brings us back to the start/finish straight and the third DRS zone.
“It looks like a really fast circuit, so I am excited to get out there and see how it feels in the car for real,” Sergio says. “I don’t think I’ve ever driven on such a fast circuit before with so many high-speed corners, so I think it will be quite a challenge. Everyone is in the same position and hasn’t had the opportunity to race there yet so practice sessions will prove to be very important to get our eye in.”
The challenge from a power unit perspective will come from a layout that is expected to see up to 80% of the lap spent at full throttle, with few big braking areas. We’ll be using Friday’s two sessions to work with both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri to understand where best to deploy energy and the most effective way of recharging the battery around the lap, in conjunction with the two teams’ respective mechanical set-ups.
With average speeds of up to 252kph predicted by simulations, there will need to be a trade-off between downforce and drag due to the high number of corners, compared to a track such as Monza where specific low-downforce packages are used by the teams.
Cooling is also a key factor in Jeddah, as we head to the hottest climate on this season’s calendar with an average high temperature in December of over 30C. FP2 will be particularly crucial when it comes to providing data, as the session will include the same time the race itself is due to begin - at 20:30 local time under floodlights - which should provide cooler temperatures.
There's a further added consideration when it comes to the potential of a low grip surface, as we saw in Turkey a year ago. With the track only recently finished, the grip levels from the tarmac are a major unknown, but can have a significant influence on the way we put the power down, particularly out of the few slower-speed corners.
It all adds up to a unique test at a crucial time of the season, one that we’ll have to tackle effectively on multiple fronts as a team to be successful.