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Charles Leclerc

Leclerc pips Verstappen to top spot in first Saudi practice

Charles Leclerc has set the pace in the opening practice session in Saudi Arabia, with the championship leader pipping title-holder Max Verstappen to the fastest time.

Leclerc Jeddah
To news overview © Ferrari

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc led the way in the opening practice session in Saudi Arabia, with the Bahrain Grand Prix winner and championship leader logging a 1:30.772 on the Soft tyres in the closing minutes of the hour, as he made use of a strong slipstream down the final straight to pip Max Verstappen.

The Red Bull driver was just over a tenth down on Leclerc's best time but, unlike the Monegasque, used the Hard compound tyre to set his fastest lap.

The session took place in warm but windy conditions in the late afternoon, meaning the practice hour is less representative of the conditions the drivers will face during Saturday's qualifying and Sunday's Grand Prix.

Verstappen spent the majority of the session leading the way until the late improvement from Leclerc, with Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas climbing the order right at the chequered flag to slot in just behind the Red Bull. Bottas' best time was a 1:31.084, set on the Soft compound.

Carlos Sainz was another to climb the order at the very end of the session, putting in a 1:31.139 on the Soft tyre to finish just over two-tenths down on his Ferrari teammate.

AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly was fifth, and was lucky to be able to complete his lap, having tapped the wall as he negotiated his way through a dusty second sector. His best time was 1:31.317 – just over half a second down on Leclerc's best.

Result Free practice 1 - Saudi Arabian

# Driver Team Time Tyre
Results are being loaded...

Mercedes continue to struggle

While Mercedes had come to Saudi Arabia with some optimism due to the much smoother track surface in Jeddah arguably playing more into their hands, as they attempt to address their porpoising issues, the first practice session did little to show a significant step forward for the W13s.

Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time of their session, clocking a 1:32.364 on the Soft tyre – more than 1.5 seconds away from the pace set by Leclerc.

Hamilton was on the radio complaining about his car porpoising down the straights, and also tapped the wall at Turn 1 in the final minutes of the session – luckily appearing to escape any significant damage.

George Russell was anonymous in the midfield, placing 15th at the chequered flag. His fastest time was over two seconds away from the front, having run the Soft tyre.

A brief red flag stoppage

The session was stopped with 20 minutes elapsed, due to a brake marker board coming loose on the approach to Turn 1.

With the board hanging down on the racing line, it was only a matter of time until a driver hit it. The driver to do so was McLaren's Lando Norris, with the Briton not quite sure what he'd hit as he radioed in to report the contact.

The track was neutralised briefly with a red flag stoppage while the errant board was removed, and Norris was able to continue with an undamaged MCL36.

Surprisingly, considering the dusty and windy conditions at such a fast circuit, there were no significant incidents in terms of drivers hitting the barriers, and just one driver failed to set a lap time.

Haas' Kevin Magnussen, the driver most in need of mileage in Jeddah having never driven at the circuit before, had only just headed out on track when he was told to return and "not change gear".

Magnussen managed to get his car back to the pits, while a team spokesperson has since confirmed a suspected hydraulic issue curtailed his track time. Magnussen was classified in 20th, with teammate Mick Schumacher only managing 19th as Haas propped up the rear of the field.

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F1 2022 Saudi Arabia Grand Prix RN365 News dossier

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