Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battle takes new twist as Pirelli fear ‘biggest unknown’

F1: Hamilton v Verstappen in numbers

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Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have been warned they face the “biggest unknown” of the year heading into the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix this weekend. With just eight points separating the two championship leaders, there will be no room for error come Sunday.

But preparations for the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix are unique in the sense that the track is completely new.

There were some initial concerns the circuit wouldn’t be completed in time with work still being done a few weeks ago.

However, Carsten Tilke, is confident everything will be in place for this weekend at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

It’s been dubbed as the world’s fastest street circuit with new challenges for the drivers to overcome.

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The average speed is predicted to be over 155mph – more than 50mph more than what is averaged at Monaco.

There are also three possible DRS zones directly behind one another, starting from turn 17 all the way to the main straight.

But given the fact no teams have been able to run any tests on the circuit, there remain some question marks on exactly who will benefit most.

The early suggestion is that Mercedes will hold the advantage over Red Bull on the street circuit as Hamilton will be given his more powerful engine which he raced to victory at Interlagos earlier this month.

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While the stronger engine will potentially give Mercedes the edge, neither they or Red Bull will have extensive knowledge on which tyres are best for the circuit.

Pirelli have decided to bring their middle range of tyres, based solely on data from the simulator as there have been no prior races at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

And Pirelli’s Head of F1 and Car Racing, Mario Isola, accepts that this weekend’s race will be the “biggest unknown” of the season.

“Jeddah is probably the biggest unknown we face all year, as with the track being completed very close to the race,” he said.

“As a result, we can only rely on simulations from F1 and the teams, along with other information we’ve collected, to come up with our nomination.

“This street circuit looks set to be quite different to anything else, and the high speeds with fast corners will obviously play a big part in the way that the tyres behave.

“Jeddah has more corners than any other track on the calendar, and one of them – Turn 13 – also has 12-degree banking, so there are plenty of different elements that will keep the tyres working hard.”

Pirelli came underfire in the aftermath of the Qatar Grand Prix with a number of drivers suffering tyre failures.

Valtteri Bottas was among four drivers who all encountered front-left punctures as teams desperately tried to go with a one-stop strategy as opposed to the recommended two-stop from Pirelli.

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