Max Verstappen set an ominous pace in the opening practice session for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, returning from illness to lead the field by half a second.
The defending champion — who dominated the opening race in Bahrain — was absent from Jeddah on Thursday as he recovered from a stomach bug and delayed his arrival. Taking to track on Friday afternoon for FP1, Verstappen had a slightly late start to the session but soon hit his stride to go fastest, completing multiple soft tire runs to eventually set the benchmark with his final lap of the session on a 1m29.617s.
Although FP1 took place in late afternoon sunshine compared to the important night sessions of FP2, qualifying and the race, Red Bull’s start threatened to ruin pre-race weekend predictions that its advantage would be smaller in Jeddah. Sergio Perez was second fastest, just under half a second off his teammate, with Fernando Alonso some 0.7s off the pace in third for Aston Martin.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit offers a different challenge to Bahrain due to a much smoother track surface and multiple high-speed corners, lessening the focus on traction and rear tire performance that Red Bull exploited so well last time out. But Ferrari did not appear to show its hand during the opening session, with Carlos Sainz down in seventh — as Red Bull, Aston Martin and Mercedes ended up two-by-two — and Charles Leclerc in 11th.
Leclerc will have a 10-place grid penalty this weekend after using a third control electronics (CE), while both he and Sainz have a new internal combustion engine (ICE) as Ferrari changed engines “as a precaution” after Leclerc’s retirement in the opening race. There were also new components for Perez and Lando Norris.
While Mercedes was ahead of both Ferraris, it was over a second adrift of Verstappen, and Lewis Hamilton in sixth was one of many drivers to cut the corner at Turn 23, a section of track that has been reprofiled. The tighter Turn 22 reduces speeds but a number of drivers were pushing the limits and ended up running wide, cutting behind the curb at Turn 23 before rejoining without issue.
Behind Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon and Yuki Tsunoda rounded out the top 10, while it appeared to be a tough start to the weekend for Alfa Romeo — Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu 18th and 19th respectively — and McLaren as Norris ended up slowest, although programs varied across the grid due to the need to focus the majority of setup work on FP2.
POS NO DRIVER CAR TIME GAP LAPS
1 1 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT 1:29.617 18
2 11 Sergio Perez RED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT 1:30.100 +0.483s 20
3 14 Fernando Alonso ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES 1:30.315 +0.698s 22
4 18 Lance Stroll ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES 1:30.577 +0.960s 20
5 63 George Russell MERCEDES 1:30.771 +1.154s 26
6 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:30.787 +1.170s 26
7 55 Carlos Sainz FERRARI 1:30.924 +1.307s 23
8 10 Pierre Gasly ALPINE RENAULT 1:30.949 +1.332s 24
9 23 Alexander Albon WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:31.030 +1.413s 23
10 22 Yuki Tsunoda ALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT 1:31.110 +1.493s 25
11 16 Charles Leclerc FERRARI 1:31.118 +1.501s 26
12 31 Esteban Ocon ALPINE RENAULT 1:31.181 +1.564s 22
13 21 Nyck De Vries ALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT 1:31.450 +1.833s 29
14 81 Oscar Piastri MCLAREN MERCEDES 1:31.491 +1.874s 24
15 27 Nico Hulkenberg HAAS FERRARI 1:31.552 +1.935s 22
16 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 1:31.566 +1.949s 23
17 2 Logan Sargeant WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:31.922 +2.305s 26
18 77 Valtteri Bottas ALFA ROMEO FERRARI 1:31.970 +2.353s 25
19 24 Zhou Guanyu ALFA ROMEO FERRARI 1:31.986 +2.369s 22
20 4 Lando Norris MCLAREN MERCEDES 1:32.149 +2.532s 21