In November 2020, Formula 1 announced that the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be on the 2021 F1 Calendar. In mid-March 2021, F1 released the track map for the Jeddah Street Circuit. The circuit name is now the Jeddah Corniche Circuit (same track, just a different name). It wasn’t really received that well – it isn’t like any other circuit F1 fans have seen. As it usually is with new circuits, nobody was really sure about whether the circuit could provide entertaining racing. The Losail International Circuit proved doubters wrong at the 2021 Qatar GP – can the same thing happen at the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP? Let’s analyse this circuit.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit has 27 corners, which is the most that any circuit has on the 2021 F1 calendar. Its average speed is going to be around 250 km/h. The Autodromo Internazionale di Monza is the only track with a faster average speed (264 km/h). And remember, this circuit is a street circuit. The circuit length is 6.174 km, with the race lasting 50 laps. It’s the 2nd longest circuit on the calendar after the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
It’s unique and rather peculiar in terms of the corners and aspects like the track width. In most places, the cars will be right up against the wall. That’s what we all expect from a street circuit. And that’s something that will make qualifying more interesting – corners like Turn 13 and Turn 17 have exits in which the track is curved. This means the drivers will have to keep turning through the exits, or they end up in the wall. The track has such a high average speed because it has fast and flowing corners. There aren’t many big braking zones, which is why some were sceptical about how good the racing would be at this circuit.
While the opening chicane can provide some great side-by-side action because Turn 1 is pretty tight, and Turn 2 has clear banking. But the track narrows into Turn 2, so going side-by-side could be difficult. At the exit is the kink of Turn 3, before the chicane of Turn 4 & 5. I have mixed views about the section of the track from Turns 4-12. In terms of qualifying, this will be the best part of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. It is a section of fast, and tricky corners that the driver will really enjoy driving because of how flowing it is. And the fans in the grandstands will enjoy seeing the cars zooming through these corners. I’ll get into the atmosphere at the circuit later.
However, I feel some corners, like Turn 4, ruin the racing a little bit. Turn 4 is a missed opportunity – some drivers could optimise their racing like through Turns 1, 2 and 3 to get a good run into Turn 4. But Turn 4 is tight and relatively fast, which takes away what could’ve been a really strong overtaking opportunity. However, if a driver thinks about his racing lines, he could hold back through Turns 4 – 7. Then he could start pushing through Turns 9 – 12.
The driver can then secure a strong run and use the slipstream from the car ahead to make an overtake into T13. However, another issue is Turn 11. I believe the track designers should straighten that corner out because it unnecessarily forces the drivers to slow down to stay within track limits. That harms overtaking chances into Turn 13 because it ruins the flow through the corners.
Turn 13 is one of my favourite corners on the circuit. It is a long hairpin, but it has some banking, which makes it great for overtaking. It also doesn’t make it an awkward, oversteery corner, which is what a long, flat hairpin normally would be. As I mentioned early, it’s got a curved exit that makes it tricky to get on the throttle. The drivers will have to be extra cautious through there. The next opportunity for overtaking is Turn 16 – although the run between Turn 13 and 16 isn’t too long, and Turn 16 and 17 are a really fast chicane, if a driver is close enough to the car ahead, a dive down the inside is possible.
After the relatively tricky exit of Turn 17, there is a long section of 3 really long, full-throttle turns into Turn 22. Again, I see another missed opportunity here. Drivers will use DRS and slipstream down into Turn 22, but the corner is so narrow and high-speed that drivers may not be able to overtake, because it could result in a crash. There are multiple spots on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit that should be hard-braking zones, but they aren’t. However, the limitations of making it a street circuit on a corniche must be considered, which is why I feel that the track designers have done a great job given the conditions.
Moving onto the last few corners, the chicane of T22 and T23 leads straight into T24. That goes to a long straight down into the final corner. It’s not a straight – it’s just a really long curve. DRS and slipstream can be very useful down into the final corner. The final corner is a hairpin, which is exactly what the track needed after that curve. The hairpin is not really sharp, it’s more of an extended hairpin. But I feel it’s well-balanced because the drivers can still get a decent exit out of the corner for the main straight.
Now that we’ve analysed the circuit and the corners, it’s time to come to a final verdict. Can the Jeddah Corniche Circuit provide good racing? My conclusion is yes – the circuit has enough characteristics to provide good racing. It may not be the most exciting race – it might not shock doubters the way the 2021 Qatar GP did. But corners like Turn 1 and Turn 13 can have some really good battles and overtakes. If the drivers figure out how to optimise their racing lines in the 1st and 2nd sectors to follow a car properly, then they would be able to compete well and engage in on-track battles to provide some real excitement for the fans watching the race.