FP1: Hamilton leads Verstappen in first practice as F1 debuts in Saudi Arabia
Lewis Hamilton edged out title rival Max Verstappen to the quickest time in opening practice for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The seven-time world champion, who trails Verstappen by eight points, clocked a 1m 29.786s to end up less than a tenth of a second clear of the Red Bull, who set his best time in the final minute of the session.
The dust that has covered the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in the days leading up to the race had been swept away ahead of FP1, with teams expecting the 6.174km track to offer similar levels of grip to what they experienced last time out in Qatar.
Verstappen set the early pace on hard tyres, 0.6s quicker than Hamilton, with Valtteri Bottas slotting into third, all three having to abort laps at some stage because of traffic on a track that is fast but very narrow in places.
“This track is cool,” said Bottas on team radio after he set the quickest time with around 20 minutes to go, as drivers bolted on soft tyres and started to push their cars a little more after gaining confidence with a flurry of reconnaissance laps.
FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2021
Saudi Arabia 2021
Practice 1 results
|1 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes
|2 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing
|3 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes
|4 Pierre Gasly GAS AlphaTauri
|5 Antonio Giovinazzi GIO Alfa Romeo Racing
But he was usurped not long after as team mate Hamilton, who is running the power unit he last used in Brazil where he introduced a fresh internal combustion engine, became the first driver into the 1m 29s to move to the top of the times.
Verstappen, who had to abort two laps after each time taking a lot of kerb, improved late on to second, with Bottas a quarter of a second back in third. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly – who has been inside the top-five in qualifying in each of the last three races – was a strong fourth, inside half a second of the quickest time.
As anticipated, teams focused on gaining mileage to gather data on the brand new street venue, the fastest street circuit in the world, with times tumbling as the one-hour session went on and the track rubbered in.
Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, who is bound for Formula E next year, was a surprising fifth, ahead of the Ferrari duo of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc with Daniel Ricciardo the leading McLaren in eighth.
Fernando Alonso was ninth for Alpine with Sebastian Vettel 10th, making it eight different constructors in the top 10.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was off the pace, around a second slower than team mate Verstappen, in 11th, ahead of Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris and Lance Stroll.
Yuki Tsunoda and Kimi Raikkonen were 0.9s and a second respectively slower than their team mates in 15th and 16th, as George Russell slotted into 17th in the Williams. Mick Schumacher, Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin completed the classification.
The field will return later on Friday for the second session, that will take place under the floodlights, in cooler conditions more representative of qualifying and the race.