Red Bull and Aston Martin battled it out for top honors in the opening practice session of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, with Max Verstappen winning that fight ahead of Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso.
On a scorching Friday afternoon in Saudi Arabia, with a track temperature of 42C and rising, Nyck de Vries was the first man out, with the AlphaTauri rider needing laps as he is the only one of the 20 to do not have experience in Jeddah.
Sergio Perez despite having experience on the circuit, this is the third time Formula 1 has raced in Saudi Arabia, needs a two-point left-hander to exit the Red Bull garage as he found the pit lane a bit narrow.
As he began his program for the day, his teammate Max Verstappen, who had arrived late for the race weekend following a stomach ache which had forced him to delay his flight, relaxed at the back of the garage chatting with its mechanics.
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Perez went P1 with a 1:32.969 on the soft tyres, three tenths over the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz who used the hard Pirellis and complained about an AlphaTauri driver. “He didn’t stray,” he told Ferrari. “It was dangerous.”
Lewis Hamilton edged them both, but it was short-lived with Perez moving up to P1 with a 1:31.486. With the full range of soft, medium and hard tires in play, Charles Leclerc jumped to second place with Sainz third. Interestingly, Ferrari had three front fenders, not just two, for FP1, with teammates running comparison tests.
Despite changes to the circuit to make visibility a little easier for the drivers, the traffic and the sudden discovery of slower cars ahead continued. Ferrari told Leclerc: “Behind Russell, watch for traffic.” Leclerc, cutting the brakes: “Too late.”
As Fernando Alonso on soft tires crashed into the front, Verstappen left the pits for his first run of the afternoon. With a set of bright soft tires on his RB19 he went P3 while Alonso picked up his pace only for Verstappen to lead with a 1:30.494, 0.015s quicker than the Aston Martin.
The Dutchman, however, wasn’t entirely happy with the behavior of his car: “At turn 22 there’s a lot of understeer, as if it doesn’t want to turn at all. He upped his pace again, then did it again, the benchmark dropping to 1:29.815 on his eighth lap on the soft tires, such was the minimal degradation.
Mercedes have moved from hard tires to soft tyres, George Russell is fourth ahead of Hamilton. But after just six laps on his soft tyres, Hamilton was complaining: “Struggling for grip, how long do people find?”
Another struggling driver was Pierre Gasly, the Frenchman calling his Alpine’s brakes “rubbish” as he flew over curbs, only 11th fastest. He improved to P9 on his next round. Lance Stroll also slid off the circuit while Lando Norris was shown a black and white flag for not following the race directors’ event notes as he returned to the track.
With 10 minutes left, Verstappen came on again and picked up his pace to 1:29.662. There was a bit of curb editing, however, and a lot of sparking involved. His teammate Perez also improved, edging out Alonso for second place.
Verstappen finished FP1 0.438 seconds ahead of Perez with Alonso two tenths ahead. Stroll finished fourth ahead of Russell, Hamilton, Sainz, Gasly with Albon and Tsunoda completing the top ten.
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1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:29.617
2 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.483
3 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.698
4 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.960
5 George RUSSELLMercedes +1.154
6 Lewis HAMILTONMercedes +1.170
7 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +1.307
8 Pierre GASLY Alpine +1.332
9 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.413
10 Yuki TSUNODA Alpha Tauri +1.493
11 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +1.501
12 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.564
13 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.833
14 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.874
15 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1.935
16 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.949
17 Logan SARGEANT Williams +2.305
18 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +2.353
19 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +2.369
20 Lando NORRIS McLaren +2.532