A Verstappen fightback, Alonso poised for victory - What the tantalising Saudi GP has in store

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  • Max Verstappen has a mountain to climb starting 15th if he wants to finish on the podium in Saudi Arabia.
  • Though Fernando Alonso is quick, he admits that his Aston Martin Formula 1 car is not on Red Bull's pace.
  • George Russell (3rd) and Pierre Gasly (10th) were separated by 0.5 seconds in qualifying, proving that the midfield battle will be the one to watch.

Qualifying for Sunday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix delivered in more ways than one, as well as a disappointment or two that could only translate into a spicy race.

WRAP | F1 qualifying

The two biggest stories came from the Red Bull stable, where Max Verstappen had to retire from qualifying, and Sergio Perez capitalised on his teammate's misfortunes to seal pole position.

The qualifying hour was an exciting one, and managed to set the race up very well.

1. Verstappen's valour can get him on the podium

The nature of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is not very forgiving. The slightest mistake can lead to immense misfortunes, but the brave will be rewarded for showing nerves of steel. Throughout the weekend until his exit from qualifying, Verstappen was the driver to beat and virtually had pole position sealed with plenty of performance to spare.

But the driveshaft issue left him in 15th place for the race, bar any further penalties if the team decides to replace items on his power unit.

Given Verstappen's superior pace to the rest of the grid, it's not far-fetched to see him on the podium when the race ends. Bar Perez, Verstappen easily has more than a second on any driver around the Jeddah street circuit, and he could make a real impact throughout the 50-lap race.

Heck, we won't discount him winning if the opportunity presents itself.

2. Alonso for the win?

Now, this is a bit of an ask for Alonso because his Aston Martin is not yet on Red Bull's pace. The AMR23 is the second-quickest car on the grid, but the RB19 is virtually peerless, hindered only by reliability issues (as we've seen with Verstappen).

But Alonso's performance deficit is closer to Perez than Verstappen's, and the driver could launch an attack for the race's lead heading into the first corner.

With Ferrari's Charles Leclerc dropping to 12th after incurring a 10-place grid penalty, Alonso moves up to second. However, the Spaniard is not too concerned with the win as he realises that the gulf between their car and Red Bull's is too big to overcome so early in the season.

"I don't want to sound pessimistic, but if we see the pace, the whole weekend in free practice, if we see the Bahrain race, we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a little bit ahead of everyone. So that's not, let's say, the target, you know, to fight for the win with Checo (Perez)," Alonso said.

3. Ferrari v Alpine v Mercedes

Ferrari, despite Leclerc saying they have extra performance in the car, is quickly settling in to becoming F1's third-fastest team in 2023.

In so doing, they are scrapping against Mercedes-AMG for the position, behind Red Bull and Aston Martin. However, Alpine may have a say in the matter - at least, around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

In the wake of Leclerc's grid penalty, every driver from 12th and up moves up a spot, ensuring that these three teams will undoubtedly be fighting it out for positions. Leclerc will have to chip his way up the grid, trying to displace Pierre Gasly (Alpine), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), and George Russell (Mercedes).

In addition to Leclerc's battle, these drivers will battle against each other as they look to secure points that could be crucial when the season gets to its business end. Russell (4th, starting 3rd) and Gasly (10th, starting 9th) are separated by a mere 0.5 seconds, meaning the performance gaps between the three teams are minimal.

The race starts at (19:00 SA time) on Sunday.

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