Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021

Hamilton pips Verstappen in orderly opening practice session at Jeddah

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix first practice

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Lewis Hamilton topped the times during the first practice session at the new Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

In a session surprisingly lacking in incident, championship leader Max Verstappen was second quickest, just five hundredths of a second slower than his title rival. Valtteri Bottas was third quickest in the second Mercedes, ahead of Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri.

After the opening practice session for Formula 2 earlier in the day was delayed by around three-quarters of an hour due to “operational reasons”, there was no hold-up to the start of Formula 1’s first outing around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

Carlos Sainz Jnr earned the honours of being the very first F1 driver to take to the Saudi Arabian circuit ahead of Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc as teams wasted no time in getting early data on the unknown track.

Verstappen needed no laps to get up to speed and immediately set the early pace, gradually improving his lap times with every new tour of the Jeddah track and getting close to breaching the 1’30s barrier.

Despite grip being at likely its lowest level all weekend on the virgin asphalt, there was a surprising lack of mistakes and incidents across the first half of the session as the drivers found the surface offered more grip than expected. “Grip seems pretty high in general,” reported Esteban Ocon over team radio. “I think it’s a big surprise, everywhere, traction through the mid-corner.”

The biggest problem facing the drivers appeared to be traffic, with cars having to slow down excessively to allow rivals on timed laps by and give themselves space to start a clear lap of their own.

Bottas moved to the top of the timings with 20 minutes remaining in the session with a lap only five-thousandths of a second faster than Verstappen’s quickest time. That was until Hamilton became the first driver to break into the 1’29s to make it both Mercedes on the top of the standings, where he would remain for the rest of the session.

There was a near miss in the closing minutes at the first corner between Verstappen and Ocon, where the Red Bull driver locked up and almost ran into the Alpine, who was trying to leave space for Verstappen on the outside of the corner. Lance Stroll also had a close encounter with Nikita Mazepin’s Haas on the exit of turn four.

The first impression of F1’s newest venue appeared to be a positive one for the drivers. Valtteri Bottas reported the track is “cool” as he got to grips with the new 27-corner circuit. Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows was heard complimenting race director Michael Masi on how the circuit personnel had prepared the track surface overnight ahead of the opening session.

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2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix first practice result

Pos. No. Driver Car Best lap Gap Laps
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’29.786 20
2 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1’29.842 0.056 22
3 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’30.009 0.223 23
4 10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1’30.263 0.477 27
5 99 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’30.318 0.532 26
6 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 1’30.564 0.778 25
7 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1’30.600 0.814 26
8 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1’30.608 0.822 24
9 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1’30.842 1.056 26
10 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’30.886 1.100 24
11 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1’30.960 1.174 26
12 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’31.023 1.237 28
13 4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1’31.029 1.243 22
14 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’31.044 1.258 24
15 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1’31.099 1.313 25
16 7 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’31.296 1.510 25
17 63 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1’31.343 1.557 27
18 47 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1’31.525 1.739 23
19 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1’31.821 2.035 26
20 9 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1’33.464 3.678 22

First practice visual gaps

Lewis Hamilton – 1’29.786

+0.056 Max Verstappen – 1’29.842

+0.223 Valtteri Bottas – 1’30.009

+0.477 Pierre Gasly – 1’30.263

+0.532 Antonio Giovinazzi – 1’30.318

+0.778 Carlos Sainz Jnr – 1’30.564

+0.814 Charles Leclerc – 1’30.600

+0.822 Daniel Ricciardo – 1’30.608

+1.056 Fernando Alonso – 1’30.842

+1.100 Sebastian Vettel – 1’30.886

+1.174 Sergio Perez – 1’30.960

+1.237 Esteban Ocon – 1’31.023

+1.243 Lando Norris – 1’31.029

+1.258 Lance Stroll – 1’31.044

+1.313 Yuki Tsunoda – 1’31.099

+1.510 Kimi Raikkonen – 1’31.296

+1.557 George Russell – 1’31.343

+1.739 Mick Schumacher – 1’31.525

+2.035 Nicholas Latifi – 1’31.821

+3.678 Nikita Mazepin – 1’33.464

Drivers more then ten seconds off the pace omitted.

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2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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22 comments on “Hamilton pips Verstappen in orderly opening practice session at Jeddah”

  1. Ridiculously fast this track.

    1. They way the cars look going through the banked corner is just shocking, even with the camera operator trying to track the car directly and take away the feeling of speed. Because of how close trackside objects are, you can really see how fast the cars are going.

      1. camera operators been having issues following cars cuz they have been zooming in too much to make the sponsors on the car more visible, i noticed this alot in mexico, i was getting almost a headache

  2. Decent track for a street circuit, wish it wasn’t that narrow. Start-finish straight reminds me of Baku. Still Baku is overall the best looking street track.
    Overtaking looks very difficult just because it is too narrow for two cars side by side.

    1. @amg44

      Decent track for a street circuit

      Is this really a street circuit through given how (I believe) most of it was purpose built for F1?

      A street track for me is a circuit which uses previously existing public roads & which largely follows those roads, You don’t design a street circuit, You simply follow the already existing streets.
      A circuit like this where the roads were designed around the purpose of racing is more of what i’d describe as a purpose built temporary circuit.

      I think the only reason they are constantly pushing it as a street circuit is so they can use the ‘fastest street race’ label for marketing reasons.

      1. It can be described as a street track because it looks like one, is very narrow and the space constraint on some part of it was the red sea.
        Personally i am not a fan of this layout and wish they had gone with a normal wide high speed track like Silverstone or Spa as they were spending billions anyway. I guess they wanted the close to the audience high speed night race spectacle, crashes…etc so went this route.

  3. Probably the most frightening track I have ever seen.

    1. @icarby That was my feeling too. I don’t think I’ve watch a practice session so alarmed about slow cars v. cars on a lap time, truly scary. It looks Silverstone/Monza fast but street circuit close. Yikes.

      1. @david-br yup, totally unforgiving I hope drivers take extra care this weekend.

        1. @icarby I guess a big chunk of responsibility is on the teams to advise drivers about approaching cars because there is just no way to see behind and ahead for than a few metres with some of the corners.

      2. I agree. Scary stuff. Hope no-one bins it in Q3 tomorrow, leading to significant repairs. Stakes are high and I guess the two at the top will give it everything.

  4. This looks to me as exactly the circuit we don’t want, talking about the looks & environment, not about track lay-out necessarily. It looks like Formula E with all the fences everywhere. No charm just track and fences. Horrible. Hope it is fun to drive. What a stellar job from Max this first practice looking at the gap in team mates RB vs Merc. We should be thankful we have such a guy around to spice things up.

    1. Agreed. He’s certainly taken the fight to Mercedes this year although it looks like Mercedes have found even more pace for the last few races

    2. What a drive Max Verstappen! To combat with the so called best car Mercedes with the Spicy engine, yet only 0.056s behind. Hopefully there will be surprise pole, to show them you doesn’t fear of their “overhyped” engine strategy.

      1. you know these are the old engines in those cars….

        1. these guys must be children to be so happy about a friday practice. cringeworthy stuff really.

          1. When I was a 10-year old getting into F1 in 1992 I’m so glad there weren’t internet forums for me to be scolded for having child-like glee at what were probably insignificant things.

          2. except that this isn’t child-like glee. You should waste -waste, yes- more of your time reading this comment section to see other writtings of these individuals, then you’ll see.

      2. So you know, they do not use race PU’s during practice.

    3. Mercedes probably haven’t put in his Brazil engine back in yet. I wonder how much of a difference it will make.

  5. I’m not surprised that the grip is high. It seemed that they had many cars run the track from the Thursday pictures post

  6. Definitely a brat move by Max on Ocon, knew exactly what he was doing. Practicing for the race maybe…

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