Max Verstappen delivered another hammer blow to his rivals’ hopes of challenging Red Bull after his clean sweep of Friday practice sessions ahead of Formula 1’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Having spent the last few days struggling with a stomach bug, Verstappen was absent from Thursday’s media sessions after arriving in Jeddah late, but any lingering effects caused the Dutchman no issues as he plundered his way to the top of the two timed sessions on Friday – his RB19 chariot proving effective in both daylight and nightfall.
Red Bull crucially had more evidence to back up their early credentials, and the Milton Keynes squad demonstrated great pace on their longer-running simulations in the second half of FP2. As such, it’s hard to make a case for any of the other teams who perhaps had hoped to factor in the mix for a podium finish, unless they are able to count upon the intervention of a higher power to stop a rout in Sunday’s race.
The story of the day
In the afternoon FP1 session, Verstappen posted a 1m29.617s to go nearly half a second faster than his team-mate Sergio Perez, but the usual caveats around the night-time races F1 is accustomed to in the Middle East apply with regards to track conditions.
Trackside observations suggested that the RB19 remains hermetically sealed to the road in even the most challenging of high-speed corners, and both Verstappen and Perez could nail the reprofiled Turn 22 with consummate ease.
While the corner has less sting than its previous iteration, requiring a further couple of downward clicks on the downshift paddle to spool up the right amount of torque on the exit, the two were able to walk the line perfectly. Neither looked in danger of invoking the wrath of those in charge of monitoring track limits, such was their command of a compliant car.
As ambient conditions pushed the mercury towards 30 degrees C, escalating track temperatures, Red Bull’s domination of the first hour of running could be taken with a pinch of salt given the cooler conditions in the evening. But, for the nine other teams, there was no such luck in FP2.
There, Verstappen again flexed an advantage over the rest of the field. He was a scant 0.014s up on his best lap from the daylight session, setting a 1m29.603s on a set of soft tyres, but remained relatively untroubled. Fernando Alonso, continuing to impress in his first few months at Aston Martin, did more than half the deficit Perez faced – but was…
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