Max Verstappen put Red Bull quickest ahead of team mate Sergio Perez at the end of the first hour of practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The world champion, who arrived at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit later after recovering from a stomach complaint, set a best time of a 1’29.617. That put him just under half a second ahead of Perez and nearly seven tenths faster than Fernando Alonso in third.
The track temperature was a toasty 44C as drivers took to the track for the first time in the weekend in bright sunshine. All 10 teams had upgrades on their cars to test for the second round of the championship and were keen to get early data on their new devices. Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez both had difficulty exiting their garages in the tight Jeddah pit lane for the first time and needed to be pushed back slightly in order to avoid the pit wall.
Lando Norris set the initial benchmark lap time with a 1’34.400, but this was quickly beaten by Perez on soft tyres. Carlos Sainz Jnr had a close call with Nyck de Vries’ AlphaTauri around the fast turn 25 in the final sector but managed to avoid contact.
Fernando Alonso put Aston Martin on top of the times for the first time in the weekend with a 1’31.262 on soft tyres. But that was easily beaten by Perez, who produced a 1’30.592, while Verstappen posted a lap one second slower on his first timed lap of the weekend.
Alonso then returned to the top of the times with a lap less than a tenth of a second quicker than Perez, but he was replaced by Verstappen on soft tyres who set a purple middle sector on his way to P1, his time only 0.015s quicker than Alonso. Verstappen continued to improve on his own best time, gradually moving into the 1’29s.
The circuit had seen many modifications since last year to improve sight lines and safety, however Stroll still suffered a fright when he rounded turn nine to find De Vries and Kevin Magnussen off the pace on the racing line. The Aston Martin driver took to the run-off to avoid the cars, expressing his displeasure over team radio.
Many drivers found it difficult to get to grips with the revised turn 22, with Verstappen, Hamilton, Stroll and Pierre Gasly all running wide and over the kerbs of turn 23. Norris also received a black-and-white warning flag for appearing to fail to follow the race director’s instructions regarding the pit entry.
Verstappen improved his own best time in the closing minutes to set a 1’29.617 on the soft tyres, just under half a second…
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