Verstappen leads Alonso and Perez in Saudi Arabian F1 GP FP1; Sainz 6th after returning from illness

Photo Credits: Red Bull Content Pool
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Max Verstappen started the weekend at the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP from where he left off in Bahrain, as he led the opening practice session in Jeddah from Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin and his team-mate Sergio Perez. Carlos Sainz arrived at the circuit just 30 minutes ahead of the session after not feeling well for the whole of Wednesday, but returned to his driving duties and finished the first session in sixth place.

First practice for the 2024 Saudi Arabian  GP got underway as finally the off-track talk gave place for the race cars.

Carlos Sainz missed media day on Wednesday as he was feeling unwell. He arrived late at the circuit, still not looking to be 100%, nonetheless the Spaniard was one of the first drivers out on track at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

After the first 10 minutes of running, every driver had taken to the track, with Fernando Alonso leading Lewis Hamilton – by just over four tenths – and Lando Norris completing the top three, with the first two on the hard tyres and the latter on the mediums.

Esteban Ocon reported he had “bouncing” in his Alpine on the main straight.

Lance Stroll had a hefty hit with his left front wheel at turn 22, losing a wheel rim in the process but with no other major damage apparent on his AMR24.

With just over a third of the session gone, George Russell went fastest for Mercedes with a 1:30.806 on the hard tyres, before further improving to a 1:30.554.

His team-mate Lewis Hamilton wasn’t as happy with balance of his W15, as he urgently asked his team to “fix rear bouncing” in his Mercedes.

The classified order of the top 10 after 20 minutes of running was as follows: Russell, Verstappen, Leclerc, Alonso, Hamilton, Perez, Gasly, Ocon, Sainz and Albon.

Max Verstappen was another driver not completely happy with the balance of his car, complaining over the radio about a “loose” rear end after having a snap of oversteer in the apex of turn 16.

Lando Norris was the first driver to try the soft tyres, and went fastest overall with a time of a 1:30.424 as the session approached halfway. He was soon followed by Alex Albon, who went third fastest and just under a third of a second behind the McLaren.

Carlos Sainz spent most of the session in the pits, as the Ferrari mechanics made some significant setup changes on his SF-24, with the whole front axle disconnected.

Verstappen quickly reclaimed his usual top spot with a time of a 1:30.014 on the soft tyres, but he was soon pipped by Russell’s Mercedes, who went just 0.003s faster, also on a set of softs.

Leclerc’s first effort on the soft tyres was only marginally better than his previous personal best on hards, as the Monegasque encountered heavy traffic in his flying lap.

Lewis Hamilton managed to get a lap in at the same time, and improved his time to get within a quarter of a second of Russell’s benchmark.

Sergio Perez also found some traffic in his fastest lap effort, and went fourth fastest,

just under four tenths back from Russell.

Verstappen soon put an end to Mercedes’ time at the front, finding over three tenths in a used set of soft tyres to go quickest with a 1:29.659, as the session reached its two-thirds mark. The Dutchman soon reported some “weird engine behaviour” on his RB20.

The classified order of the top 10 with 20 minutes of the session remaining was as follows: Verstappen, Russell, Norris, Hamilton, Perez, Sainz, Albon, Leclerc, Ocon and Alonso.

Carlos Sainz put the soft tyres on and managed to improve up to fourth place, just over half-a-second back from Verstappen.

His team-mate Charles Leclerc also improved to fourth place soon after, but he hit a plastic bag on his way, reporting over the radio the track being like videogame “Mario Kart” with many plastic bags loose and flying around the circuit.

Sergio Perez made it a Red Bull 1-2 as he improved his time on the soft tyres, to go just 0.209s slower than Verstappen’s earlier benchmark, but he was soon beaten by a late effort from Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin, who went just 0.186s slower than the reigning world champion at the top.