The Hong Kong Telegraph - In-form Leclerc fastest in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix opening practice

Hong Kong -


In-form Leclerc fastest in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix opening practice
In-form Leclerc fastest in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix opening practice

In-form Leclerc fastest in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix opening practice

Early season championship leader Charles Leclerc maintained his impressive form with Ferrari on Friday when he topped the times ahead of Max Verstappen in opening practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Text size:

The 24-year-old Monegasque driver clocked a best lap in 1minute and 30.772 seconds to outpace Red Bull's world champion by 0.116 seconds, setting that pace on soft tyres with only two minutes remaining in the session.

Leclerc, who led team-mate Carlos Sainz home in a Ferrari one-two in Bahrain –- the team's first triumph since 2019 -- demonstrated speed and control on the high-speed street circuit which saw Mercedes struggling again for performance.

Valtteri Bottas, who switched from Mercedes to Alfa Romeo this year, was third, two-tenths off the pace, ahead of Sainz in the second Ferrari and the two Alpha Tauri drivers Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda.

Sergio Perez was seventh in the second Red Bull ahead of Alpine's Esteban Ocon, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and two-time champion Fernando Alonso, who was 10th in the second Alpine.

Once again, as in Bahrain, Nico Hulkenberg replaced Aston Martin's four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who is laid low by Covid-19.

He was 16th while China's rookie Guanyu Zhou was 14th, one place ahead of George Russell, in the second Mercedes.

Kevin Magnussen, who made a spectacular point-scoring return for Haas in Bahrain, was brought to a half after only two laps with a hydraulics problem and wound up 20th one place behind team-mate Mick Schumacher.

The session began in warm conditions with a gusty wind at the high-speed Jeddah Street Circuit, slightly modified since its debut last season to improve some safety concerns.

Alonso was the first man out, but it was not long before Verstappen swept to the top in his Red Bull, the team anxious to bounce back after a double retirement in the season opener.

The Dutchman soon trimmed his time to 1:31.885 and then 1:31.298 before dropping into the 1:30's while his great rival and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton continued to struggle with his Mercedes.

"There's a lot of bouncing," said the Briton, who was briefly second, but 1.1 seconds adrift of Verstappen, before a brief red-flag interruption when a marker board fell and was hit by Lando Norris's McLaren.

Once the action resumed, Verstappen remained quickest until Leclerc's late fast lap.

Hamilton, who had earlier drawn attention to "harrowing" and "terrifying" human rights issues in Saudi Arabia, continued battling the aerodynamic bumps with his car, designed for F1's second 'ground effect' era, and clipped a wall in the closing seconds