Hamilton leads Verstappen in first Saudi Arabian GP practice

Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images

Hamilton leads Verstappen in first Saudi Arabian GP practice

Formula 1

Hamilton leads Verstappen in first Saudi Arabian GP practice

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Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton set the early benchmark at the first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, topping first practice ahead of title rival Max Verstappen.

In a busy but controlled exploratory first sample of the circuit, Hamilton waited until late in the session to find pace with a new set of soft tires, setting a time of 1m29.786s to end the opening practice hour atop the time sheet.

Championship leader Verstappen was only 0.056s slower than Hamilton, but his practice performance was eye-catching more for his flurry of confidently aggressive early laps on the hard tire, the best time of which was less than 0.2s slower than his ultimate lap.

Red Bull Racing will also be buoyed that Verstappen’s eventual best time came on well-used set of softs after being unable to improve on his first lap on the grippiest tire, though his car’s rear lights were flashing throughout that tour, suggesting his car was charging rather than discharging the battery. He nonetheless ended the hour with the quickest first and third sectors, underlining his potential pace.

Valtteri Bottas followed in the second Mercedes, 0.223s off the pace. His enthusiasm for the track was undimmed by the gap to the leader, the Finn radioing his team, “F***, this track is cool,” during one of his runs.

Pierre Gasly took up his customary spot for AlphaTauri as the best driver after the front-running teams, slotting into fourth with a best time just 0.477s adrift of Hamilton, but Antonio Giovinazzi’s lofty fifth place, just 0.055s further back, was impressive for Alfa Romeo.

Carlos Sainz, who was the first Formula 1 driver to complete a lap of the brand-new Saudi Arabian circuit, led Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc in sixth and seventh, the pair split by just 0.036s.

Daniel Ricciardo flew the flag for McLaren in eighth, the Australian only 0.008s behind his team’s constructors’ championship rivals.

Fernando Alonso was more than a second off the pace for Alpine, while Sebastian Vettel completed the top 10 for Aston Martin.

Sergio Perez was 1.174s off the pace in the second Red Bull Racing car ahead of Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris in the slower Alpine and McLaren machines respectively, with Lance Stroll, Yuki Tsunoda and Kimi Raikkonen following from 14th to 16th.

George Russell was fastest among the backmarkers in 17th ahead of Haas driver Mick Schumacher, while Nicholas Latifi led Nikita Mazepin at the back of the pack.

 

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