Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands looks on at pits during the second free practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah corniche circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, March 17, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
Max Verstappen led both practice sessions for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Friday while Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso prevented a Red Bull one-two at the top of the timesheets.
Double Formula One champion Verstappen picked up where he left off in winning the Bahrain season-opener, lapping the Jeddah Corniche circuit with a best time of one minute 29.603 seconds on the fastest soft tyres in the evening session.
Aston Martin's Canadian Lance Stroll, still recovering from breaking both wrists and a big toe in a pre-season cycling accident in Spain, was fourth in session one and seventh in the evening
Last year's winner in Jeddah had lapped in 1:29.617 in a hot practice one, when Mexican team mate Sergio Perez was second fastest and Alonso third.
Alonso, also a double champion and third in the March 5 opener behind Verstappen and Perez, was again in the mix throughout the day.
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Verstappen had delayed his arrival in the kingdom as he recovered from a stomach bug but he got straight up to speed, with the only drama being a close shave with the wall at the final corner in the more representative practice two.
"We had a positive day but I think there's still quite a few things we can do better," said Verstappen.
"In the long runs I think we all stood fairly close to each other, but it's more because of managing the tyres...I think the lap times are all very close so its definitely not like Bahrain."
Perez was 0.483 slower than Verstappen in session one and Alonso 0.208 adrift in the cooler evening floodlit running on the fast street circuit and with soft tyres.
"In Bahrain we were like P1 on Friday and then we were P5, nearly P6, in qualifying," said Alonso. "So you never know until you go to qualifying.
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"We tested what we wanted to test in the car. I think it's still not an ideal balance so we still need to chase a little bit of grip tonight.".
Aston Martin's Canadian Lance Stroll, still recovering from breaking both wrists and a big toe in a pre-season cycling accident in Spain, was fourth in session one and seventh in the evening.
"Still a bit of pain but nothing bad," he said.
Alpine's Esteban Ocon was fourth fastest in session two, ahead of Mercedes' George Russell who was fifth in both with team mate Lewis Hamilton sixth and 11th.
Russell said he had some test items on the car for the second session while Hamilton said his car was much the same as before.
"I struggled in both sessions," said the seven-times world champion. "It's just a tough car to drive."
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were ninth and 10th in the evening after precautionary engine changes in the morning.
The indications were that the Italian team were focusing on putting in plenty of laps rather than running their engines on full power.
Leclerc will have a 10-place penalty on the grid for Sunday's race after a change of electronic control unit. Worryingly, he reported problems with the clutch in the second session.
"We tested some new parts today and everything works as expected. It’s difficult to get a sense of our competitiveness as everyone is on a different programme so far," said the Monegasque.
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