How first Saudi F1 practice swung from Mercedes to Red Bull


Max Verstappen set the fastest time in the first free practice session for Formula 1’s 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, less than two tenths of a second clear of Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin.

George Russell’s Mercedes was the last of four cars, just behind also Sergio Perez’s Red Bull, to lap under 1m30s around the high-speed Jeddah circuit, as less than a second covered the fastest nine cars.

Saudi GP FP1 results

Jeddah is a much faster circuit than Bahrain, requiring lower downforce specifications, and is currently running about 20°C hotter than Bahrain was.

Most cars devoted the first part of the session to running the hardest (C2) Pirelli tyre compound – which was the medium in Bahrain last week.

First hard (C2) runs

1 Russell 1m30.554s
2 Perez 1m30.804s
3 Verstappen 1m30.913s
4 Leclerc 1m30.935s
5 Alonso 1m30.961s
6 Hamilton 1m31.009s
7 Ricciardo 1m31.240s
8 Sainz 1m31.526s
9 Tsunoda 1m31.526s
10 Piastri 1m31.922s
11 Zhou 1m32.079s
12 Sargeant 1m32.115s
13 Magnussen 1m32.692s
14 Stroll 1m33.938s

Verstappen had a big moment during this phase, complaining of a loose rear end on his RB20 after a scary snap of oversteer through Turn 16.

Lance Stroll glanced the barrier after his first flying lap and had to return to the pits, so his lap isn’t at all representative. His Aston Martin team-mate Alonso had a spell in the pits after setting his best lap, and went back out but failed to improve.

Lewis Hamilton told Mercedes his car was bouncing too much at the rear, suggesting Mercedes has not started with the optimum ride height setting on his car.

Verstappen did one fewer flying lap than Russell on this tyre, but Perez’s run plan matched Russell’s, so the faster of the two Mercedes was certainly competitive on the C2 compared to the second Red Bull.

The RBs look a touch more competitive than they probably are in reality, owing to doing push laps deeper into the session on that C2 tyre than others.

Meanwhile, six cars used the medium tyre (C3, which was the soft in Bahrain) during this early segment.

First medium (C3) runs

1 Gasly 1m31.362s
2 Ocon 1m31.513s
3 Albon 1m31.585s
4 Norris 1m31.617s
5 Bottas 1m32.692s
6 Hulkenberg 1m32.800s

Lando Norris ran his tyres quite early, so McLaren – especially on such a fast track – should be more competitive on this tyre than it looks here.

The relative competitiveness of the two Alpines compared to Alex Albon’s Williams is an encouraging sign after a dreadful first race of the season in Bahrain.

Four cars – the RBs and the Haas cars – ran the mediums much later in the session.

Later medium (C3) runs

1 Ricciardo 1m30.917s
2 Tsunoda 1m31.036s
3 Hulkenberg 1m31.411s
4 Magnussen 1m31.577s

It is very difficult to draw any conclusions from these times owing to RB again being offset – except to say the team-mates here look fairly evenly matched so far.

Sixteen cars ran the softest (C4) tyre during the last part of the session, which is when Verstappen did his damage.

Soft tyre (C4) runs

1 Verstappen 1m29.659s
2 Alonso 1m29.845s
3 Perez 1m29.868s
4 Russell 1m29.939s
5 Leclerc 1m30.030s
6 Sainz 1m30.164s
7 Norris 1m30.231s
8 Hamilton 1m30.236s
9 Stroll 1m30.580s
10 Albon 1m30.747s
11 Bottas 1m30.783s
12 Ocon 1m30.945s
13 Sargeant 1m30.966s
14 Piastri 1m30.977s
15 Gasly 1m31.046s
16 Zhou 1m31.131s

Alonso was a bit offset owing to that extra earlier run on hards, but his was still a very encouraging lap for Aston Martin. Stroll was also reasonably competitive on this tyre considering how much track time he had lost to that earlier brush with the wall.

There was very little audible complaint from either Red Bull driver, suggesting they have started this event in a better place set-up-wise than in Bahrain, where Verstappen was battling imbalance on each axle right up to qualifying.

The Ferraris took downforce off between runs, so Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are still homing in on the right compromise.

You’d maybe expect a bit more to come from McLaren, considering high-speed is meant to be this team’s strength – but all of this can be caveated on fuel loads and engine modes. If Norris – who again ran early relative to opposition – was also running heavy and/or a little down on power, then less than six tenths off the pace represents a decent start.

The Williams looks a decent package on this higher-speed layout, as (so far) does the Sauber (in Valtteri Bottas’s hands) and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon.



Leave a Comment