The Jeddah Corniche Circuit hosted Saudi Arabia’s first Formula 1 race in December 2021, less than four months before it stages the 2022 edition. Located adjacent to the Red Sea, it proved to be a dramatic new addition to the calendar as drivers tried to master the demanding layout. In fact, the drama started already in qualifying when Max Verstappen swiped the wall exiting the track’s 27th and final corner, ending what had looked like a spectacular pole position lap.
There were some concerns that the track’s twisting layout and the close proximity of the walls might not produce an exciting grand prix, but those fears proved unfounded. What unfolded was in fact one of the season’s most eventful races. Two red flags in quick succession helped to mix things up, with Esteban Ocon briefly taking the lead for Alpine at one stage.
But the real draw was the battle between championship rivals Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), which really got tasty in the penultimate race of the season.
Hamilton eventually won out, setting up the final-race decider with both contenders equal on points. Valtteri Bottas meanwhile stole third from Ocon right at the finish line, with the high-speed drag down the long pit straight offering plenty of opportunities for overtaking.
Fans can therefore look forward to more thrilling action from Jeddah in the future, even as it becomes the second round of the season instead of the second-to-last. Those walls take no prisoners.
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The Jeddah track was designed by Carsten Tilke, the son of well-known circuit architect Hermann Tilke, with input from Formula 1 itself. “We don’t want those old classic street circuits with 90 degree turns. We want fast sweeping circuits, circuits which are going to challenge the drivers – and they are going to love it,” said F1’s Ross Brawn before the inaugural race.
And, on the whole, the drivers did love it. “It really is incredibly fast, a lot of grip as well. If you can get the rhythm, a really beautiful track.” That’s what Hamilton said after practice last year, and his average speed of almost 254kph in qualifying backed it up, making it the second-fastest circuit of the year, not fae behind Monza.
This time, the track could be even faster. In the few weeks since the 2021 race, several changes have been made based on feedback from the drivers. The exit of the final corner, where Verstappen hit the wall in qualifying, has been reprofiled while the barriers have been moved back in some places to improve drivers’ sightlines through the many rapid corners. At the same time, modifications will allow the drivers to touch the barriers in some places without damaging their cars. So the track should be a bit safer and more flowing, without compromising its unique character.
With the circuit length stretching for more than six kilometres, there’s plenty of room for spectators, and the Turn 13 grandstand overlooking a banked corner provides a spectacular vantage point onto one of the most action-packed tracks of the year. There’s also a busy programme of concerts and other entertainment off-track, underlining the desire in Saudi Arabia for visitors to feel welcome. Night life is central to the Corniche way of life, and Jeddah is a city that never seems to sleep, with cafés and restaurants open until the early hours. While you’re there, check out King Fahd’s fountain: at 312 metres, it’s the biggest fountain in the world, with the water ejected at speeds of up to 375kph.
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