Leclerc leads Verstappen in first Saudi Arabian GP practice

Image courtesy of Ferrari

Leclerc leads Verstappen in first Saudi Arabian GP practice

Formula 1

Leclerc leads Verstappen in first Saudi Arabian GP practice

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Charles Leclerc beat Max Verstappen to the top spot of the late-afternoon opening practice session at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver took top spot on the second push lap of a new set of soft tires as the session clock expired, pipping Verstappen by 0.116s — though the Dutchman used a set of hard tires for his best lap, distorting the gap.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is run at night, so track conditions during first and third practice in the afternoon are not representative of qualifying and the race. The track surface was also very dusty at the beginning of the session, particularly off line and in the pit lane, and drivers struggled with gusty conditions around the seaside circuit.

Clearing the dust was the primary purpose of early laps on the Jeddah circuit. Steven Tee/Motorsport Images

Valtteri Bottas slotted into third late for Alfa Romeo, 0.312s off the pace. Carlos Sainz took his Ferrari to fourth and 0.367s down on his teammate, but the Spaniard reported heavy bouncing in the high-speed sections of the track as his side of the garage undertook setup experiments to try to close the gap to Leclerc.

AlphaTauri teammates Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda were fifth and sixth, the Frenchman half a second off the pace and the Japanese driver another two tenths adrift.

Sergio Perez put the second Red Bull Racing car seventh and almost 0.8s off the pace ahead of Alpine driver Esteban Ocon.

Lewis Hamilton was best for Mercedes in ninth and 1.5s off Leclerc’s benchmark, having complained of bouncing early in the session, while Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10 for Alpine.

Daniel Ricciardo was 11th ahead of teammate Lando Norris in 13th, the pair split by Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin. Zhou Guanyu followed in 14th for Alfa Romeo, with George Russell finishing 15th in the second Mercedes.

Nico Hulkenberg is filling in for Sebastian Vettel for a second round after the full-time German failed to return a negative COVID test in the week since the Bahrain Grand Prix. The reserve driver set 23 laps on his first visit to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit to slot into 16th ahead of Williams teammates Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi.

Mick Schumacher was 19th for Haas, but the German used only the hard and medium compounds in the session, saving his softs for later in the weekend.

Kevin Magnussen, the only other driver without any experience of this circuit, was 20th with only two installation laps to his name after a hydraulic leak requiring a radiator change sat him out of the hour-long session.

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