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‘It’s definitely not like Bahrain’ – Friday practice pace-setter Verstappen braced for ‘very close’ fight in Saudi Arabia

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing

Max Verstappen believes Red Bull will be given a tougher test by their rivals at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, playing down his table-topping display on the opening day of practice.

Verstappen led both of Friday’s practice sessions around the rapid Jeddah Corniche Circuit to build on his pole position and dominant victory at the season opener in Bahrain a fortnight ago.

READ MORE: Dominant Verstappen leads Alonso at second practice session in Jeddah as track ramps up

However, despite his and Red Bull’s storming start to the new campaign, Verstappen says he will be keeping his eyes on the likes of Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes as this weekend’s action develops.

“I think we had a positive day, but I think there are still quite a few things we can do better,” the two-time world champion commented after his day at the wheel.

“[On] the long run I think it all seemed fairly close to each other, but it’s more just managing the tyres, because they don’t really let you push around here at the moment.”

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Sparks fly behind Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the

Verstappen lit up the Jeddah track en route to the fastest time in Friday practice

Highlighting the differences between the first two venues on the 2023 calendar, and why he is so mindful of Red Bull’s rivals, Verstappen signed off: “With a low-deg circuit, I think the lap times are all very close, so it’s definitely not like Bahrain.”

On the other side of the Red Bull garage, Sergio Perez slotted into third position in FP2 – behind Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin – as he managed an unspecified technical problem.

READ MORE: Perez hopeful of taking the fight to Verstappen in Saudi Arabia amid ‘very fine margins’ at front of the F1 grid

“We had a bit of an issue with the car mechanically, which hopefully we are able to sort it out for tomorrow, and that will bring us a bit more pace hopefully,” Perez explained.

“At least we can have a better idea of where the car is. It was a bit of inconsistency and difficult to get a proper rhythm today. Overall, we seem to be strong, but the competition is there, as expected.”

Asked if Verstappen was his biggest rival this weekend, Perez added: “Well, hopefully, hopefully yes! That will mean we are in a very strong position. But I do expect a few of the rival teams to step up tomorrow.”

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