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What the teams said – Thursday practice in Saudi Arabia

Special Contributor

Becky Hart
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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB prepares to

Red Bull

Verstappen started his weekend in style by topping the opening practice session, with Perez not too far behind. But under the lights, a few issues seemed to creep in to disrupt the Dutchman’s rhythm, with a few testy words being heard over the airwaves. Nonetheless, third with undoubtedly more to come is not a bad place to be going into qualifying day. Once again, Perez was a whisker behind but he was certainly keeping his team mate honest out there.

READ MORE: Horner 'certain' Verstappen will see out Red Bull contract until 2028 amid Mercedes rumours

Max Verstappen – FP1: 1:29.659, P1; FP2: 1:29.158, P3

“The practice sessions today have been pretty good overall. The pace has been good on both the long and short runs and they have prepared the track well for a street circuit. Overall, we learnt a lot and there are always things you look to do better on a one lap performance. We know some other teams have a bit more power on the one lap so we’ll look into the data to try and improve our overall performance and extract as much as we can from this. Looking to qualifying I am feeling good; it will be tight but we are happy with our performance today and looking forward to tomorrow."

Sergio Perez - FP1: 1:29.868, P3; FP2: 1:29.300, P5

“I think we are in a good place with the car and performance, it was a very positive Friday. We just need to do some fine tuning but I am happy with the window we have the car in, we understand what we need for tomorrow. We have a very good idea what direction we are going to take to make the car faster and if we can do that it is going to benefit the long run and the qualifying. I am very pleased with today. It is a matter of putting everything together in qualifying, that will be the main target and we will see what we are able to do. Sector One is super-fast and can be scary if you get some traffic there, so we need some clean laps tomorrow, I am looking forward to Friday."

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Aston Martin

Stroll was the first driver to clip the walls, doing so in the early stages of the opening session. He was fortunate to escape without any significant damage, and was able to come back out for some soft shod running. Speaking of which, Alonso opted to bolt on his soft tyres much later than the rest of the field, taking advantage of the rubbered in track to grab second. There was nothing opportunistic about Alonso’s lap in FP2 though, the Spaniard grabbing P1 on merit to really raise hopes that this track suits the AMR24.

READ MORE: Alonso hails positive Thursday for Aston Martin after topping FP2 in Saudi Arabia

Fernando Alonso – FP1: 1:29.845, P2; FP2: 1:28.827, P1

"I felt good in the car today. It's always nice to be the fastest in any session, but it's only Free Practice so we will keep our feet on the ground and stay focused on ourselves.

"We don't know what the others have been doing in terms of engine modes and fuel loads, so we shouldn't read into the times too much, but it's still been a positive day.

"We've had no issues with the car, completed our programme, and continued to hone the setup of the AMR24 to extract more performance."

Lance Stroll - FP1: 1:30.580, P9; FP2: 1:29.336, P6

"It's always a lot of fun to drive here. It's such a high-speed circuit and a great challenge.

"We had a positive day. We've shown good pace in both sessions and on different tyres, but it's only Free Practice and there are a lot of unknowns in terms of the programmes the other teams were running today.

"We'll look into the data tonight and aim to build on what's been a solid start to the weekend as we move towards Qualifying."

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Aston Martin AMR24 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Mercedes

Russell looked on the pace from word go in Jeddah, quick on both the hard and soft compound tyres. Hamilton was lagging behind in FP1, and the same pattern unfolded in FP2. Once again, Russell was the pick of the two team mates, going second despite his fastest lap being on older used soft tyres. As well as struggling to match Russell, Hamilton was also in hot water for failing to get out of the way of Sargeant’s Williams in the early stages, an incident the stewards even had a look at that culminated in a warning and Mercedes receiving a fine.

Lewis Hamilton – FP1: 1:30.236, P8; FP2: 1:29.504, P8

"It was a difficult day. I was lacking a little confidence in the rear of the car. We did some work on the set-up from session-to-session and changed the car quite a bit. The main issue I was struggling with in both FP1 and FP2 was still the rear though. I had a few big moments out there and on such a high-speed track like this, you need to have full confidence in that. I haven’t quite got that yet.

"We’ll go through the data tonight to see how we can improve. George was clearly in a happier place with the car today. We went in slightly different directions so hopefully we can learn from that and find the right solutions."

George Russell - FP1: 1:29.939, P4; FP2: 1:29.057, P2

"It was fun to be back on the track here in Jeddah. It’s a really high-speed circuit so that’s enjoyable. We didn’t have the car in the perfect window and FP2 was a little bit of a scrappy session. The times looked good on the single lap, and we’re not too sure yet where we’re at on the long runs.

"We did a lot of testing in FP1 with different set-ups across the cars. We then made some changes for FP2 to try and learn more about the W15. It’s still very early days; it’s only the second race of the season and the second circuit we’ve ran at in anger. We need to keep on building on our learnings and everyone will be hard at work overnight to eke out more performance. It’s so close once again so let’s see what we can do tomorrow."

Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director

"We've covered quite a range of set-ups over the course of the day. Ultimately, it doesn't feel like we've ended up with either car in the best place. The single lap was messy and compromised by traffic. A cleaner session would have helped but we're also lacking a bit of grip in the high-speed. We will be looking overnight at solutions to that.

"Our long runs weren't very long either, which wasn't ideal. From the limited date, we have reasonable pace but neither driver was happy with the overall balance. The summary therefore is that we've got lap-time to find overnight. The positive is that we have plenty of areas to go looking for it."

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W15 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari

Sainz was reportedly feeling a bit poorly, but he managed to take part in FP1 regardless and got a good haul of laps under his belt. So did Leclerc, although he managed to run over not one but two plastic bags on his travels, returning to the Ferrari garage for his crew to get those out of his suspension. Roll on the evening session and it involved much less debris, but slightly more traffic with Leclerc taking avoiding action to get out of the way of an Aston Martin, while Sainz made his feelings clear when he witnessed an almost coming together between Hamilton and Sargeant.

READ MORE: Verstappen predicts ‘very, very tight’ qualifying in Saudi Arabia

Charles Leclerc - FP1: 1:30.030, P5; FP2: 1:29.180, P4

"The track had good grip to start with and we can expect quite a lot of track evolution throughout the day tomorrow. All in all, everyone is really close in times so it will be tight and interesting to see who extracts the maximum from their car and comes out on top."

Carlos Sainz - FP1: 1:30.164, P6; FP2: 1:29.455, P7

"It has been a very difficult day for me as I haven’t fully recovered from the sickness that has kept me in bed for the last 24 hours and I still feel very weak. Anyway, I made it to the track and managed to maximise the time with the car and the team. This track has a lot of grip and the high speed corners makes it very demanding for cars and drivers. Even though I couldn’t push to the limit today, at least we completed the programme and hopefully tomorrow I will be fully recovered and we can focus on qualifying and the race."

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-24 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

McLaren

McLaren split their strategies in FP1, sending Norris out on mediums and Piastri on the hards. While those two had been evenly matched in Bahrain, it looked here like Piastri was taking slightly longer to get up to speed at this tricky circuit. But come FP2, both were further back than expected. This time it was Piastri who managed to sneak into the top 10, but only just. Whether the team are struggling or sandbagging will only become clear tomorrow.

Lando Norris – FP1: 1:30.231, P7; FP2: 1:29.758, P12

“A reasonable day. A bit of a better feeling than we had in Bahrain. There were certain corners where we’re struggling to get the balance in the right window. There’s a few bits we need to improve but, on the whole, I think it was a pretty decent day. Some work to do but still a good start to the weekend.”

Oscar Piastri - FP1: 1:30.977, P15; FP2: 1:29.594, P10

“An up and down first day, I would say. There’s been good moments where we’ve looked quite quick, other moments not so much. It’s a little bit difficult to tell where exactly we are but I think we’re somewhat in the mix again, which is positive. We have some fine tuning to do for tomorrow, but I think we look ok.”

Andrea Stella, Team Principal

“It’s been a smooth day of practice here in Saudi Arabia. We tested several set-up options to optimise the car for this circuit, which is demanding in terms both of top speed and car balance. The data gathered today will help us understand the best approaches for qualifying and the race. We have a lot of analysis to do tonight to put all of that together and prepare the most competitive package for the remainder of the weekend.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Lando Norris of Great Britain driving the (4) McLaren MCL38 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Peter Fox - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

RB

RB concentrated on the hard and medium tyres in FP1, saving an extra set of softs for the second practice session once the sun had set. They were the only team to run just the C4 rubber in FP2, but Ricciardo finished way down the order and didn’t seem able to extract much from his car. Tsunoda at least was 11th in an encouraging display, but where they wind up come qualifying remains a bit of a question mark.

Daniel Ricciardo - FP1: 1:30.917, P12; FP2: 1:30.088, P19

“It was an FP2 session of two halves. We were competitive on the first set of the soft compound but instead, I struggled a lot with the second set. The track was getting better, and everyone was improving, but I really struggled to improve my time because I encountered some traffic and didn’t feel that bite. The second set was a little bit of a mystery, so there’s something to learn from that, but looking at the first set, we don’t have to be too discouraged. We’ll get back to work tonight and understand how we can put it all together. Looking at tomorrow, it’s really hard to predict the outcome because the standing has been very close today. It’s such a different circuit compared to Bahrain; the surface and the way the tyres behave are different. It’s a great track, so I think qualifying will be a fun session tomorrow.”

Yuki Tsunoda - FP1: 1:31.036, P16; FP2: 1:29.666, P11

"Overall, today was a good day. There are still a couple of areas to look into tonight, but the car is feeling ok in terms of balance. The data we gathered in both Practice Sessions today is important and will help us find more time for tomorrow. I lost out on Q3 by seven-thousandths of a second last week in Bahrain and that shows it’s a very tight field, but this keeps the team and myself motivated and focused. Tonight is about finetuning and putting it together for tomorrow and the race on Saturday. Let’s see how we go.”

Alan Permane, Racing Director

“Today was a reasonably good day for us. We ran a slightly different programme from the others because we wanted to run two sets of the soft compound in cooler conditions in the evening in preparation for qualifying tomorrow. While Yuki was P11 at the end of the second session, unfortunately, Daniel had traffic on his quickest lap in FP2 and it prevented him from setting a representative lap time. We did our race preparation work on the soft compound tyres and have got plenty of data to analyse. We’ll spend tonight looking through it to make sure we’re ready for qualifying tomorrow and the race on Saturday.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Visa Cash App RB VCARB 01 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Williams

Albon impressed in FP1, looking in the mix towards the front of the midfield. Sargeant was slightly further back, having had a more frustrating session being baulked by traffic. But when everyone turned their engines up, the Williams drivers dropped back into what look to be their more realistic slots. Nonetheless, their Team Principal says they are on top of their reliability woes from Bahrain and that bodes well for the Grand Prix for starters.

Alex Albon - FP1: 1:30.747, P10; FP2: 1:29.789, P14

"The car felt good and from the moment we hit the track, it’s been in a good place. FP2, we made some changes and most of them worked, with only a couple of exceptions, so we’ll work to find a sweet spot for tomorrow. The race runs look sensible, so I’m pretty optimistic. We’ve got a good car and like always, it’s going to be close but I’m enjoying it out there, it’s a fun circuit. We’re going to aim for the top of the midfield and hope to take advantage of any opportunities we can."

Logan Sargeant - FP1: 1:30.966, P14; FP2: 1:29.934, P16

"It’s been a good day for the team, and I think we’re definitely moving in the right direction. The circuit here in Jeddah is hugely different to Bahrain, so it’s like re-learning the car to an extent, but it’s been great since we put it on the ground this morning. We’ve made some small changes to get the car closer to the perfect window, and I’ve been building up each session and feeling more comfortable with every lap. Looking forward to FP3 and Qualifying tomorrow!"

Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance

"We had a solid day. There were no issues and both drivers got a sight of the circuit across a range of conditions and tyre compounds. Both are reasonably happy with their setups and have identified some areas that we can work on overnight.

"As we expected, the tyres are behaving noticeably differently on the smooth Jeddah circuit than they did on the much rougher track in Bahrain. We anticipated many of these differences but there is still scope to get more out of the tyres tomorrow and on Saturday. We will be focussing on this tonight and into FP3.

"Once again, the midfield is very tight, and we’ll be looking to do everything that we can to make sure that we are firmly in that fight."

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Sparks fly from the car of Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW46 Mercedes during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Alpine

Ocon was struggling with bouncing in FP1, radioing his race engineer several times to see what could be done about the issue. Like many teams, Alpine seem to have gone for an extremely low ride height here, but that’s why they have three hours of practice – to hone those set-ups more to their liking. In the evening session, there was some hope for the team in the form of Gasly’s fast lap that landed him in the top 10 – a marked improvement on where they were just one week ago.

READ MORE: Gasly says latest Alpine restructuring ‘came as a surprise’ but he and team mate Ocon insist they ‘trust the process’

Esteban Ocon - FP1: 1:30.945, P13; FP2: 1:29.901, P15

“It’s been an interesting day here in Jeddah and I’m happy to be back driving at this exciting circuit. We had two solid sessions, lots of laps completed both on low and high fuel, so lots of data collected and learnings to take forward. We have some work to do to improve the car and better the set-up as best as we can for tomorrow. There are a few things at this stage that we must work on but it’s been an encouraging day. We will see what we can do in Qualifying tomorrow night.”

Pierre Gasly - FP1: 1:31.046, P17; FP2: 1:29.528, P9

“It’s great to be back in Jeddah. It’s such a different style to Bahrain with the high-speed sequences. Looking at the pace, we seem to be slightly more competitive than last week, but it is only the beginning of the weekend and there’s a long way to go. The feeling inside the car is still challenging, there are some limitations, but, equally, there are positives for us to take forward. I’m staying calm. We have a good base to work from and there’s certainly more things we can do to extract more performance from the current package here. I’m looking forward to tomorrow when it counts.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Pierre Gasly of France driving the (10) Alpine F1 A524 Renault on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Kick Sauber

Bottas opened up his FP2 session with a spin down at Turn 1, having carried too much speed into the corner, locking up and losing the rear. That flat spotted his tyres and hampered his programme. When the duo bolted on the softs for some quick runs, it was Zhou who was the pick, although he couldn’t quite get in the mix for the top 10.

READ MORE: Returning title favourites and highly rated debuts – Introducing the 2024 F1 ACADEMY grid

Valtteri Bottas - FP1: 1:30.783, P11; FP2: 1:30.153, P20

“It’s good to be back on this track – it’s always a fun layout to drive on, and completely different from what we had in Bahrain last week. The car felt rather good in FP1, I was feeling comfortable on track right from the start. We experimented a bit more for the second practice session, testing different setup configurations, and some of them didn’t go in the right direction. Still, as a positive, we learned which way not to go, and the data gathered today will be useful as we work through it overnight with a view to qualifying.”

Zhou Guanyu - FP1: 1:31.131, P18; FP2: 1:29.777, P13

“I had a good feeling in the car today, and we managed to go through our whole intended program to collect the data we needed. This track is always quite enjoyable and unique: I believe its layout should suit us better than Bahrain, to still be in the battle for the points. As a team, we’re definitely making steps forward, and I hope we can achieve similar results as in Bahrain, if not better. While challenging the top five teams is difficult, our main competitors are undoubtedly the teams around us, and we’ll be fighting against them for points this weekend. Tonight, we’ll continue fine-tuning the car and its setup to be ready for an exciting qualifying tomorrow.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Kick Sauber C44 Ferrari on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Haas

Haas were one of two teams not to run the soft tyres in FP1, and thus finished down the order. They did try some quick runs in FP2, but still seemed content to keep their heads down and not reveal too much. With plenty of laps completed, no obvious reliability issues and two positive drivers, Haas look in a solid place going into the weekend proper.

Nico Hulkenberg - FP1: 1:31.411, P19; FP2: 1:30.077, P18

“It’s very different to Bahrain – a different circuit, different sensation and feeling, but ultimately it’s still very quick here. I think from a running perspective it was fine, a day with no problems so that was good. The feeling in the car isn’t amazing, there’s room for improvement – especially over one lap – although I think we’re really close together in the midfield. Small things can make a big difference. It’s the normal learning process on the first day where we learn things and hopefully can put it all together tomorrow. Right now, I think it looks more challenging than seven days ago but you never know, there are very small margins.”

Kevin Magnussen – FP1: 1:31.577, P20; FP2: 1:29.985, P17

“I think we had a decent day – nothing spectacular on pace – but again the car seems okay on long runs, more so than low-fuel. We need to pick up the pace a little bit there, so hopefully we can do that but it’s very tight, so even finding two-tenths and you’re close to the top 10. It’s so close, I think we could get close to the top 10 with an amazing lap and we hook up the balance in the car. We want to get a decent qualifying position, but the race is the important one so that’s still what we’re focusing on. It’s all to play for tomorrow.”

Ayao Komatsu, Team Principal

“In Saudi we have a different level of downforce and a different speed of corners, so we expected a different challenge. Today went more or less as expected, I think we’ve got decent straight-line speed, we struggled a bit in the high-speed corners, but then the tires are working okay. As you can see the midfield is really tight so I think qualifying is going to be pretty challenging. We have to put everything together but with the temperature and everything else it’s not easy – it’s right on the edge – so that’s going to be challenging. The encouraging thing is Kevin’s high-fuel run was really good in FP2, so that’s a good baseline. I think if we can qualify in a decent position, we’ve got good race pace.”

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 07: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Haas F1 VF-24 Ferrari on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Peter Fox - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Pirelli

Simone Berra, Chief Engineer

“Quite an interesting day as far as use and performance of the tyres is concerned. First and foremost, we noticed that the C2 is working very well so far, proving it is clearly an ideal compound for the race, both in terms of degradation and consistent performance, thanks partly to the condition of the track surface which offered a lot of grip. As for the C3 and C4, both showed signs of graining, as indeed is predictable on a track like this. It’s a phenomenon that should improve as the track gradually rubbers in and, in the race, it could therefore be easier to manage for the drivers. The majority of teams concentrated on the C3 for their long runs, but there were some drivers who simulated the first stint of the race on the C4, which shows it cannot be ruled out for the moment. In a race where the most likely strategy is a one-stop, benefiting from the extra grip that the softest compound can deliver in the first few laps or the final ones, could be an important factor. Another element to consider is the wind which not only affects car stability but also can cause the tyres to slide, which in turn can lead to graining.”

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