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F1 Saudi Arabian GP: Verstappen leads Red Bull 1-2 in opening practice

Max Verstappen led Sergio Perez in a Red Bull 1-2 in FP1 for Formula 1’s 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, ahead of Aston Martin pair Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

They were followed by the Mercedes duo and Carlos Sainz as the lead Ferrari driver in seventh, with his penalty-addled team-mate Charles Leclerc down in 11th but with the red car pair running a notably different run plan to the leaders.

AlphaTauri rookie Nyck de Vries led the pack out of the pits, but it was Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas who established the first-place benchmark at 1m35.701s using the medium tyres.

Most of the running at the start of the one-hour session was completed on that yellow-walled rubber or the hards, with Sainz and Lando Norris using one of each (Sainz on hards and Norris on mediums) to forge ahead of Bottas as they completed their first fliers.

Perez then swept ahead on a 1m32.969s to close out the first five minutes, but he ran the soft tyres from the off – as did Alonso, and the pair engaged in something of a tete a tete for first place over the next phase of the session.

Alonso took the softs on his Aston Martin to a short-lived lead at the end of the opening 10 minutes with a 1m32.838s, which Lewis Hamilton then beat for Mercedes on a 1m32.665s on the hards.

But both were soon beaten by Perez moving back to the top spot on a 1m31.486s on his third run on his first set of softs.

With 16 minutes completed, Alonso returned to first place with a 1m31.262s, but again he was only in front for a short while as Perez returned to the top spot at the end of the opening 20 minutes having briefly returned to the pits by posting a 1m30.592s.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23, leaves the garage

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23, leaves the garage

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Either side of Alonso nipping back ahead of Perez with a 1m30.509s as he edged into double figures of laps completed on the softs, Verstappen took centre stage.

Finally out aboard his RB19 after remaining in the pits for the first 20 minutes of FP1 and having arrived a day late to Jeddah after picking up a stomach bug illness, the world champion was also sent straight out on the softs.

His initial effort came in nearly a second down on Perez’s existing personal best, but on his second flier with 27 minutes on the board Verstappen squeezed ahead of his team-mate and Alonso to lead the Spaniard with a 1m30.494s.

There followed something of a lull as the rest returned to the pits to switch from the harder compounds to the softs, while Verstappen continued to pound around on his opening run on the softs.

Despite complaining of understeer at the critical, fast, reprofiled left of Turn 22 that apparently meant it felt his car would not “turn at all”, Verstappen improved the first-place benchmark to a 1m30.662s that moved him from 0.015s ahead of Alonso to 0.447s just past the halfway mark.

With the rest now on softs – Hamilton took his through a quick trip through the Turn 1 runoff at this stage – the Ferrari pair both posted first times on the red-walled compound that left them 1.5s behind Verstappen.

That became 1.7s adrift for Leclerc and Sainz as Verstappen’s third flier on his first set of softs was a 1m29.815s that again bettered the quickest time, while Perez and Alonso remained in the pits making adjustments.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Sainz and Leclerc did make gains on their subsequent runs, with the former getting ahead of his team-mate to sit behind the Mercedes duo – George Russell leading Hamilton.

Then, approaching the final 15 minutes, Alonso and Perez reappeared on the soft tyres while Verstappen took his turn making set-up changes in the pits.

Alonso initially failed to beat his personal best from the session’s first half, but then closed what was by then a 0.694s gap to Verstappen to 0.500s with his second flier on his latest set of softs.

Perez, who spent much longer in the pits during the session’s middle part, looked to be on for a new personal best – albeit down on Verstappen – but abandoned his first flying lap on his new softs complaining he “did not have any front end” after climbing over several kerbs.

He led Verstappen out of the pits ahead of the final 10 minutes and finally did improve his personal best, to close to 0.537s behind the leading Red Bull, albeit still behind Alonso.

But Verstappen then immediately opened the gap out again, although only by a fraction, as he took his latest softs to another best leading time, a 1m29.790s.

While several drivers down the order returned to the harder compounds for the final few minutes or switched to high-fuel running on the softs, as the Ferrari drivers did, the Red Bulls and Astons continued to put in rapid times on the softs.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

First Verstappen set another first place benchmark with just a couple of minutes remaining, then Perez finally forged ahead of Alonso for good with a 1m30.100s that left him 0.438s adrift of his team-mate.

Likewise, Alonso completed another flier but did not beat his personal best, while Lance Stroll popped the second Aston into fourth with his final lap – a 1m30.577s ahead of the final minutes.

But there was still enough time for Verstappen to set out last quickest time, his 1m29.617s set with the Dutchman’s final lap of the session.

Russell and Hamilton ended up fifth and sixth behind the leaders, with Sainz the leading Ferrari in seventh.

He, like Leclerc down in 11th, will at least have an extra set of softs compared to the Red Bulls and Astons based on Ferrari’s FP1 run plan.

Pierre Gasly, who complained about his brakes towards the end of the session, Alex Albon and Yuki Tsunoda completed the top 10.

There were several complaints and near-misses in traffic as is typical with this high-speed circuit, while Norris (last in the FP1 standings) picked up a black-and-white warning for dipping a wheel onto the painted surface at the pit entrance during the late running.

That was contrary to race director Niels Wittich’s specific instructions on such a move issued ahead of FP1 and came when Norris was called into the pits by McLaren too late to safely complete the manoeuvre down the long pit straight.

F1 Saudi Arabian GP - FP1 results

Cla Driver Chassis Engine Time Gap
1 Netherlands Max Verstappen Red Bull Red Bull 1'29.617  
2 Mexico Sergio Perez Red Bull Red Bull 1'30.100 0.483
3 Spain Fernando Alonso Aston Martin Mercedes 1'30.315 0.698
4 Canada Lance Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes 1'30.577 0.960
5 United Kingdom George Russell Mercedes Mercedes 1'30.771 1.154
6 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 1'30.787 1.170
7 Spain Carlos Sainz Ferrari Ferrari 1'30.924 1.307
8 France Pierre Gasly Alpine Renault 1'30.949 1.332
9 Thailand Alex Albon Williams Mercedes 1'31.030 1.413
10 Japan Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Red Bull 1'31.110 1.493
11 Monaco Charles Leclerc Ferrari Ferrari 1'31.118 1.501
12 France Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault 1'31.181 1.564
13 Netherlands Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri Red Bull 1'31.450 1.833
14 Australia Oscar Piastri McLaren Mercedes 1'31.491 1.874
15 Germany Nico Hulkenberg Haas Ferrari 1'31.552 1.935
16 Denmark Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1'31.566 1.949
17 United States Logan Sargeant Williams Mercedes 1'31.922 2.305
18 Finland Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1'31.970 2.353
19 China Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1'31.986 2.369
20 United Kingdom Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes 1'32.149 2.532

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