If there was one thing that all 10 teams and 20 drivers unanimously agreed on at the conclusion of the opening round of the season, it was that you cannot make grand assumptions about this year’s championship based on the results of opening round of the season.
For the last two weeks, as teams returned home to prepare for the second round in Saudi Arabia, the prevailing wisdom was that the Jeddah circuit would offer a completely different kind of challenge to the one they had faced in Bahrain.
High-speed, low-downforce. A street circuit where barriers sit in wait to punish any error – a complete contrast to the hairpins and generous run-offs of Bahrain. For this reason, everyone from Red Bull themselves all the way down to Williams insisted that the order and gaps seen in race one would not be perfectly copied during race two.
However, after the first day of practice, Max Verstappen and Red Bull look ominously like they’re set to enjoy an easy victory for the second time in two races – at least judging by the timing screens. But is there more than what the times tell us alone?
Red Bull still undisputed on pure pace
If you are looking for some reassurance to take you into the final two days of the race weekend that you will not see Red Bull and Verstappen face little competition for victory, you are going to be disappointed. Fastest times are not everything in practice, but it is also no coincidence that Verstappen occupied the top spot across both sessions on Friday.
Verstappen’s best time of a 1’29.603, set midway through the second session on soft tyres, was three tenths faster than his team mate’s best effort from the session, set slightly earlier in the hour. Perez began losing time to his team mate from the time they reached turn four, falling to around three tenths adrift by 22, and that gap remained through the only other true corner remaining on what if officially a 27-turn track.
But while Perez could not match Verstappen’s best, someone else did get closer – Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin. For the second race weekend succession, Alonso appears to be the closest Red Bull have to a rival. On his best lap of the session, Alonso was actually faster than Verstappen over the first half of the circuit, only sinking under the Red Bull’s time as he exited turn 17 to begin the long, full-throttle run to the tightened turn 22.
Red Bull’s straight-line speed advantage was striking…
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