Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the first practice session ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver was half a hundredth faster than his championship -rival Max Verstappen as drivers started to learn the Jeddah 0Corniche Circuit. The session around the high speed tight twisty circuit passed without incident as drivers started to learn the circuit.
The early running in Jeddah suggests another close battle between the two title contenders, with the feeling as if this circuit could favour Mercedes. However, the street circuit in Jeddah will improve rapidly, in FP1 lap times improved by about three and a half to four seconds.
Verstappen had set the pace early on using the hard tyres to go fastest by two seconds early on, while Hamilton took a slower approach going for hard tyres. That left the Mercedes driver two seconds off following the first runs, but the best time from Verstappen was half a hundredth off.
However, things could change when the sun fully sets and second practice gets underway when the track cools down and rubbers in. One of the surprises despite the freshly laid track surface, the circuit offered more grip than expected as it was only laid in the last week.
Verstappen could wrap up the title this weekend if he outscores Hamilton by eighteen points. However, Mercedes have been stronger at power-sensitive circuits and Hamilton’s fastest time being a 29.786. The second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas was third fastest two tenths off his teammate Hamilton.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly was fourth fastest ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi by two tenths. The Italian being one of the surprises in the session, following a late improvement on the soft tyres, that put him ahead of both the Ferrari’s.
Despite the circuit having limited run-off there was no major incident, but it appears to be a question of when drivers start pushing when do they start hitting the walls. That is likely to happen in FP2, the only reprehensive session for qualifying and the race after the sunsets.
The only real on-track drama was a mix up between Verstappen and Esteban Ocon, the Alpine driver was trying to let the Red Bull through when they both ran wide at Turn One.
Carlos Sainz put his Ferrari sixth fastest after going nearly two hundredths ahead of his teammate Charles Leclerc, the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo was eighth fastest eight thousandths behind the Monacan. Ricciardo improved late in the session to move up ahead of Fernando Alonso but just over four thousandths, while his former teammate Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top ten.
Sergio Perez struggled to find the same pace as his teammate Verstappen, the Mexican over a second off in eleventh. He was a tenth faster than his former teammate Ocon, with the second McLaren of Lando Norris thirteenth.
Lance Stroll put his Aston Martin fourteenth going six hundredths faster than Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda with Kimi Raikkonen sixteenth. George Russell put his Williams over two and a half tenths ahead of the Haas of Mick Schumacher, with their respective teammates Nicolas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin, rounding out the field.