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What the teams said – Friday practice in Saudi Arabia

Special Contributor

Becky Hart
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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Alpine F1 A523 Renault on

Red Bull

Verstappen turned up to Jeddah a day late after a stomach bug derailed his travel plans. But once he arrived it was business as usual for the Dutchman, as he topped both sessions with his team mate not too far behind. While it looked serene from the outside, both drivers complained about the handling of their cars at various points, with Verstappen also unhappy with some of his downshifts and his headrest.

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

Max Verstappen - FP1: 1:29.617, P1; FP2: 1:29.603, P1

“I am feeling a lot better after a few rough days of illness, it wasn’t nice but I am feeling good now. Today out on track was about finetuning things, we had a positive day but there are still quite a few things we can do better. On the long runs we all seemed fairly close to each other but it’s more because of managing the tyres because they don’t really let you push around here at the moment. With a very low deg circuit then the lap times will always be very close, so it is definitely not going to be like Bahrain.”

Sergio Perez - FP1: 1:30.100, P2; FP2: 1:29.902, P3

“It was all about learning the conditions today. From FP1 to FP2 the track changes a lot, so it was good to test the car in varying temperatures. We had a bit of a mechanical issue, which meant there was slight inconsistency and we couldn’t get a proper read, but we’re confident we can sort it out before tomorrow. Once we fix that, it will hopefully bring us even more pace, but generally the performance is there as expected. I’m sure our rival teams will work hard overnight to close the gap and we look forward to a competitive showing tomorrow.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Aston Martin

Another strong outing for Aston Martin, who will be pleased to have Stroll closer to full fitness here. Alonso was the pick of the duo on Friday, the only driver who was pushing Red Bull close in both sessions. Stroll wasn’t too far back, and as he continues to play catch up from missing testing, the Canadian will only get better and better.

READ MORE: Alonso hails ‘another good start’ for Aston Martin in Saudi Arabia as Stroll wary of ‘surprise’ rival

Fernando Alonso – FP1: 1:30.315, P3; FP2: 1:29.811, P2

“It has been a strong day for us as we continue to learn about this car. We knew that Jeddah would present different challenges to Bahrain and it is almost like a second test here for everyone this weekend. Overall, the day went smoothly for us as we are trying to optimise the setup and adjust to the high-speed nature of this circuit. We have a lot of data to analyse as usual for a Friday and we will continue to look at everything tonight and into tomorrow. Our main goal will be to reach Q3 again.”

Lance Stroll - FP1: 1:30.577, P4; FP2: 1:30.110, P7

“It is always fun driving around this track. It is high-speed and high adrenaline; I think we all enjoy the challenge. The team had a good day of running, trying lots of different things, and it has given us plenty of data to analyse. We will use this evening to learn as much as possible and do our best find more performance ahead of Qualifying. I think it will be a pretty tight session; all the teams around us look competitive and closely matched. Our aim tomorrow has to be Q3.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Aston Martin AMR23 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Ferrari

It was a tricky opening day for Ferrari. Leclerc knows he has a 10-place grid drop incoming, and then the news broke that the team had decided to change both power units on each car as a precaution. On top of that, Leclerc was struggling with small reliability gremlins in the form of paddle shift issues, while Sainz was baulked by traffic and neither driver managed a fully clean push lap in the representative evening conditions on the soft tyre. More to come from them tomorrow.

READ MORE: 'We have quite a bit in the locker' declares Leclerc after Ferrari end Friday behind Red Bull in Jeddah

Charles Leclerc - FP1: 1:31.118, P11; FP2: 1:30.341, P9

"We tested some new parts today and everything works as expected. It’s difficult to get a sense of our competitiveness as everyone is on a different programme so far. The feeling in the car is pretty good. We will try to maximize our qualifying tomorrow, but given that we will have a 10 place grid penalty on Sunday, our main focus will be on making up those positions during the race."

Carlos Sainz - FP1: 1:30.924, P7; FP2: 1:30.592, P10

"It was an intense day here in Jeddah. This is a very unusual circuit with very peculiar characteristics which requires specific work to achieve a good balance. There is still some performance to find, but in general the car feels in the right window. Race pace was decent and tomorrow we will focus on maximising the result during qualifying."

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Mercedes

While Toto Wolff had some strong words to say when he spoke to the press about the design direction of the Mercedes chassis, on track the car actually looked in decent nick in the first session, with both drivers solidly in the top 10. But neither were as happy under the lights, with Russell saying he wanted a lot of changes and Hamilton sounding frustrated in his cockpit as he could only manage to finish in P11.

READ MORE: Hamilton says ‘tough’ Mercedes W14 ‘pretty much the same’ as predecessor after tricky opening day in Jeddah

Lewis Hamilton – FP1: 1:30.787, P6; FP2: 1:30.599, P11

"I struggled in both sessions today, but we completed the run programme we had and tried to learn as much as possible. We will continue to go into the details overnight and focus on improving the balance of the car to make it easier to drive. It's a tough car to drive but I know everyone is working so hard at the factory. It won't be solved overnight and will take some time, so we just have to be patient and give it everything we can here at the track."

George Russell - FP1: 1:30.771, P5; FP2: 1:30.070, P5

"We gathered plenty of data to go through tonight. We will be aiming to maximise the package we have got and get the set-up in the sweet spot. As much as we would love to, given all the hard work everyone is putting in, we know we won't find one second overnight. Red Bull are clearly out in front, but we are learning lots about our car. These learnings will help us in both the short and medium-term. As is always the case in practice sessions too, we're not sure what power modes everyone was running so we will know more tomorrow."

Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director

"After Bahrain, we came here with realistic expectations. While the team back in the UK is working hard on developing us to a better place, our focus has been to maximise the potential of what we currently have. There were a couple of scheduled upgrades that look to be working OK but while taking us in the right direction, they are not a huge step. The sessions themselves went smoothly; we were struggling with the front end in the first session and may have over-corrected for the second session. Nevertheless, we've got plenty of information to pick through to work out the setup for tomorrow. The pace when we get the lap together didn't look too bad, but the car hasn't been easy enough to drive so that's something we'll look to improve tomorrow ahead of qualifying."

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W14 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Alpine

Gasly ran wide a couple of times, kicking up dust in his wake but by and large it was a good day for Alpine. Gasly pipped his team mate in FP1 before Ocon returned the favour in the evening session, although his eye-catching P4 was suspected to have been achieved thanks to a lower fuel load than some of his rivals.

Esteban Ocon - FP1: 1:31.181, P12; FP2: 1:30.039, P4

“It’s nice to come back to a track like Jeddah as it’s a really fast and thrilling street circuit, which forces everyone to be on their toes at all times. Our Friday was productive where we tried different things, which will help us in both Qualifying and Race conditions. So far, the car feels strong, and I think there is more we can extract ahead of tomorrow evening’s Qualifying. The team did a great job today to get through the programme and we will be working hard tonight to be in a good place for tomorrow. All in all, it’s been a good day at the office.”

Pierre Gasly - FP1: 1:30.949, P8; FP2: 1:30.100, P6

“It’s great to be back here in Jeddah at this very fast and exciting race track. It’s been a busy day for us as we continue to learn about our 2023 package and, I must say, I’ve been pleased with today’s work. After two weeks in Bahrain, it’s nice to be taking on a new track and a new challenge. It’s very high-speed here and there’s a lot you have to get right to be quick. The car feels good, we have a good idea on the set-up direction we want to take and there’s more to come from us this weekend. My focus is on working hard with the engineers to make sure we’re well prepared for Qualifying and returning with a better performance than we showed last time out.”

Pat Fry, Chief Technical Officer

“It’s been a reasonable Friday Practice for the team today here in Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. For us, it’s been interesting to see the car on a completely different circuit to what we’ve seen so far this year, as the characteristics here steer towards lower downforce with lots of high-speed corners. We’re pleased with our work today with both drivers offering similar feedback on the directions to take on set-up, which leaves us in decent shape for the rest of the weekend. We have plenty of data to work through to prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s Qualifying where we aim for a much-improved performance from Bahrain to set ourselves up for a better Race on Sunday. A solid start with more to come.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: (L) Pierre Gasly of France driving the (10) Alpine F1 A523 Renault alongside Oscar Piastri of Australia driving the (81) McLaren MCL60 Mercedes during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Haas

Hulkenberg was the pick of the two drivers in Bahrain over one lap and he once again put in a very decent flying lap in FP2 to get into the top 10. He’d surely take that result come qualifying tomorrow, but with engine modes yet to be turned up, much could still change. As for Magnussen, he wound up down the order in both sessions on a subdued day for the Dane.

Nico Hulkenberg - FP1: 1:31.552, P15; FP2: 1:30.181, P8

“We had a smooth Friday – no major incidents, situations, or problems. Like always, you learn about the car, the tyres and where the balance is. Certainly, again over one lap I think we seem to be competitive and long runs could be a bit more challenging for us, so that’s where our focus is now. It’s all about pace, tyre degradation and being quick in the right places – we need to analyse and consider it all to come up with the best strategy.”

Kevin Magnussen – FP1: 1:31.566, P16; FP2: 1:30.820, P15

“It was good, we got through FP1 and FP2 fine but there’s lot of work to do on Friday night as always. The field is tight again just like in Bahrain and there’s a lot to fight for tomorrow. It’s a very different track, different speeds, and it’s hard to compare but there’s new challenges. We’ll aim to do as good as we can of course and get into Q3, but the main focus is on Sunday.”

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal

“It was a very solid FP1 and FP2 today. There were no issues at all, we went through the whole program, and completed 97 laps. We need to find a bit more performance but all in all everyone is quite happy. We need to find a little bit on Kevin’s car because he’s a little bit not so happy with his car, but I think we know what we have to look for.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Sparks fly behind Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Haas F1 VF-23 Ferrari during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

McLaren

After a tricky outing in Bahrain with reliability woes for both cars, McLaren made it through Friday with plenty of laps on the board and no noticeable issues. They do often keep their powder dry on a Friday and today looked no different, so it will be interesting to see where they end up in an incredibly tight midfield tomorrow.

Lando Norris - FP1: 1:32.149, P20; FP2: 1:30.721, P12

"It was a reasonable Friday. We worked through our test programme in both sessions which was positive. There are still more improvements to make, so we will work on finding those overnight and look to put in a positive performance for FP3 and qualifying tomorrow."

Oscar Piastri - FP1: 1:31.491, P14; FP2: 1:30.964, P19

"Friday done and it’s nice to be back in Jeddah. It’s a very quick circuit, which is a lot of fun and I think we’re getting there. The long run pace seemed to be okay, but I think we need to have a look at the one-lap pace. We’ll work hard overnight and see what we can bring to tomorrow’s sessions."

Andrea Stella, Team Principal

"A smooth and productive first day of running here in Jeddah. We worked through our plan, which was based around understanding which tyres are most suitable for the race, while also answering questions regarding our approach to qualifying. We had no significant problems during the sessions, though there’s obviously a bit of work to do, extracting performance from the MCL60. This will be our focus overnight. We’ve generated plenty of data to study, and we hope to be in good shape to race for points on Sunday."

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Lando Norris of Great Britain driving the (4) McLaren MCL60 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Williams

Albon spent much of the day sporting flow-vis paint on his rear wing as Williams continue to gather aero data. They were expecting this track to suit their car more than Bahrain, and it certainly looked like it might do with Albon in the top 10 in the opening session. But in the representative conditions he fell down the order somewhat – although he did go for his soft-shod run earlier than some, and before the track had fully evolved.

Logan Sargeant - FP1: 1:31.922, P17; FP2: 1:30.959, P18

“I think for the first day in Jeddah, it went pretty smoothly, with everything going according to plan,” Sarge reacted, after placing P17 and P18 across both sessions. The pace doesn't look too bad as a team and hopefully we can continue to build on that. It's definitely a tricky and challenging circuit but I'm enjoying it, so hopefully I can continue to keep pushing and find a little bit more time tomorrow.”

Alex Albon - FP1: 1:31.030, P9; FP2: 1:30.810, P14

“I think it's been a very positive day and we've definitely got pace in the car, so I'm feeling optimistic. We're missing a little bit of set-up during FP2 for our qualifying simulation but everything else feels pretty good. I don't want to speak too soon but I'm feeling good with the car so let's see how it goes.”

Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance

“Like in Bahrain, the conditions change quite a lot between FP1 and FP2. Following a good FP1, we didn’t quite get the changes right for the cooler evening session. However, we were doing some experiments, which gave interesting results.

“It is clear what we need to do, and we already have enough experience of the FW45 that we are confident we can get it all together for qualifying tomorrow. We appear to be in a tight group of teams, and we will need to maximise everything tomorrow. It won’t be easy but there is no reason we can’t do it so that both drivers get an excellent chance of a strong qualifying session.

“Whatever happens in qualifying, we had decent long run pace today, overtaking is easier than in Bahrain and we will be looking to increase our points tally on Sunday.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW45 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

AlphaTauri

AlphaTauri were down the order last time out, and in such a competitive midfield it is hard to tell just where they might end up tomorrow. Tsunoda finished ahead of his team mate in both sessions, which was no surprise given De Vries is the only driver never to have raced at this track. He will have plenty of homework to do tonight to try and get up to speed here.

READ MORE: AlphaTauri boss Tost jokes 'I don't trust engineers' after point-less start to season

Nyck de Vries - FP1: 1:31.450, P13; FP2: 1:30.921, P17

“It was my first time driving the track here in Jeddah, it's fun to learn and quick to drive. It is a challenge, but I like driving the track. Our day was productive. The midfield is just super close, as there are only a couple of tenths between P11 and P20, so we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow. It can easily go in a good or bad way, therefore, we will make sure to be on top of our game to extract the maximum for qualifying tomorrow.”

Yuki Tsunoda - FP1: 1:31.110, P10; FP2: 1:30.776, P13

“The circuit is safer in terms of visibility, though the characteristics haven’t changed much. What we’ve seen from practice today is that we are slightly behind those consistently fighting for P10, but we still have one more day to put it all together. There were no major issues during FP1 and FP2, but we know that we have to find more performance in the car. Even if Q3 is the target, Q2 is more possible tomorrow than it was in Bahrain last week. In the end, we’ll analyse all our data tonight to see how we can improve our performance. Tyre degradation doesn’t seem as bad as expected, so we can push flat out.”

Jonathan Eddolls, Chief Race Engineer

“A lot of analysis had been completed by the engineers between Bahrain and this event, which led to some interesting directions to try with the set-up at this track. Saudi Arabia's characteristics are quite different, in particular, with the requirement for a more efficient car and good performance in high-speed. In some ways, we expected this to suit our car better. The focus in FP1 for Nyck was to complete as many laps as possible, given that it’s his first time driving here. For Yuki, we had a number of aero tests to complete, so we had to sacrifice some time in the garage to complete these; but they are important to help with development. Similar to Bahrain, the first session of the day was considerably hotter than the second, so we needed to take what we learned and apply that to the lower temperatures in FP2. The wind dropped considerably between sessions, which made the car more consistent. FP2 was all about understanding how to maximise the short-run performance on the Soft tyre. We weren’t able to get it on the first timed lap, but we will work overnight to try to improve this. Then the focus shifted to the graining on the softer compounds, which was a massive issue from 2022. We appear to have made a step, so we now need to take all of the data gathered today and figure out the optimum strategy and tyre choice for Sunday. Overall, we were satisfied with the day, the midfield is very compact, but we think we have a car that is able to compete in that group here.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Yuki Tsunoda of Scuderia AlphaTauri and Japan during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Alfa Romeo

After looking strong in Bahrain, Alfa Romeo had a very quiet day in Jeddah. They had both cars down the order in both sessions, and bar a few moments with traffic, mostly kept their heads down and stuck to their programme. Where they end up in the pecking order will remain a mystery until qualifying comes around.

FULL TRANSCRIPT: Read every word from four-time world champion Alain Prost's insightful Beyond the Grid interview

Valtteri Bottas - FP1: 1:31.970, P18; FP2: 1:31.052, P20

“The first feeling with the car is quite ok: we didn’t have any issues with the balance, and we have a solid basis to build on. We did a lot of work today, trying different wing levels and setup options, and now we need to sit down, look at the data and make some decisions on which are the right calls. Of course, we are not yet where we want to be and at the levels we showed in Bahrain, when we were the fifth fastest team: we need to find a bit more pace still, make a step forward ahead of qualifying. But it’s only Friday and I’m confident we can do it when it really matters. The field is very close, as expected, and with a small gain there is no reason we cannot make up places in qualifying. We’ll work hard tonight – I don’t think Q3 is out of reach, and we’ll give our best shot at it tomorrow.”

Zhou Guanyu - FP1: 1:31.986, P19; FP2: 1:30.837, P16

“It was a busy day in the car: we are not too far off from our rivals when it comes to pace, although I can say we expected a little bit more from today. We tried different settings, switching things and making changes, and I effectively drove a significantly different car between the first and the second session: it took some adapting, but the team now has all the data we need to make the best decisions when it comes to setup. Of course, every weekend we aim for Q3, and it’s a matter of how much we can get out from myself and from the car – especially when the margins are so small. There is still some work to do overnight, but I am confident we can get in the mix and fight for good positions in qualifying tomorrow.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 17: Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Alfa Romeo F1 C43 Ferrari on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Pirelli

Mario Isola, Motorsport Director

"It was quite an interesting day, especially in the second free practice session. As expected, FP1 wasn’t particularly representative in terms of tyre behaviour, characterised by notably high track evolution. On a track that was completely different to the opening round in Sakhir, the teams concentrated on car setup for the most part. The FP2 session was much more relevant, with nearly all the drivers focussing on the medium and the soft tyres. The main theme for tyres last year was managing front degradation, which was mainly down to degradation. The first analysis of the long runs indicates that this year’s new construction that was designed to reduce understeer, along with the better overall balance of the 2023 cars, has practically eliminated graining on the hard and medium. There’s still some graining on the soft – especially on the front-right tyre – but this doesn’t significantly influence performance over long runs. The constantly evolving track conditions and improvements to the setup that teams will make in FP3 suggest that a one-stop strategy using medium and soft is most likely for the race, also because there’s a relatively small performance gap of 0.4 seconds between these two compounds, which makes both valid options for the race."

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