2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: FP1 & FP2 report – Hamilton is fastest as Leclerc stops the show early
Formula 1 cars took to the Jeddah street circuit for the first time as the sun was setting over the red sea. Formula 2 had gone out earlier in the day, so the track wasn’t as dusty as Qatar, but the track was still green, and drivers would have to be careful not to push too hard.
Max Verstappen has a chance this weekend to win his first world championship, so getting to know the track and get up to speed would be crucial. The same goes for Lewis Hamilton who must finish in the top 6 to stay in the championship fight.
Let’s get straight into the Friday action!
Some drivers were taking their time to get to know the new track, but Max Verstappen was having none of it and was pushing from the off. He set the initial pace on the hard tyres before making the switch to the softs.
He was exploring the limits as he kicked up a lot of sparks as he hit an exit kerb in the final sector. While it was spectacular, he was back into the pit not long after with a mechanic looking at his right rear. Nothing was damaged and he continued on.
The narrow nature of the track was proving to be a problem for some drivers. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas both had to abort fast laps as they encountered traffic.
With many of the bends being blind due to the walls, we are going to see much more of this as we get to qualifying.
Early on it looked like the McLaren was very comfortable around this new track. Lando Norris was setting very solid times on the hard tyres. Daniel Ricciardo was also looking settled through the session, but as the track rubbered in Ferrari looked to be on top again.
As the session went on, the track cooled and got closer to representative conditions, the drivers were looking to push more. Max Verstappen had a moment with an Alpine at Turn 1 and then later he had another moment through one of the fast chicanes.
Despite no one having driven this track before, no one hit the wall in their first excursion. FP2 may have another answer.
But when the chequered flag dropped, it was Lewis Hamilton who topped the session, followed by Max Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas was third.
FP2 time. Between the sessions was F2 qualifying so the track had rubbered up and cooled down to more ideal conditions for the drivers to get to grips with the new track.
The medium tyres were proving to be a bit tricky for many drivers. Getting temperature into them was difficult in the cooler conditions. Valtteri Bottas was struggling with rear grip through Turns 1 and 2. Fernando Alonso also locked up into turn 1 and was forced to cut across the run off.
Just like FP1, Max Verstappen set the early pace, but it was both Ferraris who also shot out of the gates on the Medium tyres.
Yuki Tsunoda was flying on the hard tyres as the track continued to improve and set the fastest lap, but it was taken away within seconds by Max Verstappen on the Medium tyres.
Much of the session was the drivers testing the limits of the track and pushing the limits of the kerbs to see what they could get away with.
The design of the kerbs at this track makes it very easy to beach the car on them so going over them too much will be a problem for the drivers.
The first yellow flag came at the end of FP2 as Nikita Mazepin went for a spin on the exit of turn 2 which impeded Lewis Hamilton who was going about his business..
Traffic was becoming a big problem for all of the drivers. The narrowness and the fact many of the corners are blind, makes it very hard for drivers to judge where to get out of the way. We saw some very close moments between Lewis Hamilton and cars on slow laps.
This didn’t stop Lewis Hamilton going fastest on the Medium tyres followed by Valtteri Bottas. Pierre Gasly put in a great lap in third with Max only 4th.
The session was ultimately red flag when Charles Leclerc had a very big crash at turn 22. He was but and walking soon after. He lost the rear as he entered the corner and went straight into the barrier. It will be a big job for Ferrari to get the car ready for qualifying.
Who will shine under the Arabian Lights?
This is crunch time for Red Bull and Mercedes and no mistakes can be made. It’s going to be tricky when the wall is only a few inches away from the track. There is truly no room for error.
The fast nature of the track has been working well for Mercedes so far, but given how twisty the first sector is, it could be the place where Red Bull is able to claw back some time on Mercedes.
This is going to be a very tight battle between these two teams as we reach the conclusion of this amazing season.
Behind the front runners, the mid pack look so tight and it’s a dice roll to see which team is going to be on top.
At time, the Alpine, Alpha Tauri, McLaren or Ferrari have been very fast and it’s very reminiscent of what we saw in Qatar. This is going to make Qualifying very interesting tomorrow and I reckon we will see some shock Q2 exits.
Traffic is going to be an issue to contend with as well in Qualifying so it could get very tasty.