The average speed around a lap of the Jeddah Corniche circuit is 30mph faster than in Bahrain, the tarmac is much less aggressive and there are some high-speed corners here. The track is fast, challenging and little bit scary in places. As a result, there was a lot of excitement to see the 2023 Formula 1 cars return to the track, as preparations began for the second round of the season, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Prix enters it’s third year already with the reputation of being a bit mad to say the least. Its narrow nature and monumental speed is simply terrifying at times with a mistake and wall never too far away.
The light went green at the end of the pit lane and the Saudi Arabian GP weekend was officially under way. AlphaTauri rookie Nyck de Vries was one of several drivers to head straight out on track. Of Formula 1’s three 2023 rookies, De Vries is the only one who has not previously driven at this circuit.
The pole-sitter from last season Sergio Perez set the first fastest lap with a 1.32:969 on soft tyres, while Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was just over a tenth further back, but this was just early in the weekend and the times dropped as the temperature did, while the Jeddah Corniche circuit got cleaned by cars driving around.
It was early on in the weekend and the high speed and blind corners were already building the tension. Carlos Sainz came across a bit of traffic and complained on the team radio radio to his Ferrari race engineer Riccardo Adami: “He didn’t get out of the way – that was dangerous!”
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Lewis Hamilton then went quickest with a 1:32.665, nearly two tenths brisker than Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin and three tenths swifter than Sergio Perez in the Red Bull. However, quick times were par for the course to use golfing parlance, with Sergio Perez back at the head of the field. Charles Leclerc was five tenths behind, while soon after, Fernando Alonso, who seems to have a high-quality Aston Martin in 2023, went quickest in P1 at Jeddah.
FP1 is always about teams getting their bearings rather than laying down rapid times, but Aston Martin were delighted to see Fernando Alonso near the top of the pack with a 1:30:509 – a time Max Verstappen then pipped.
It was a busy track with 15 cars on the road. While they may have wanted to wait for better conditions later, this is a track where the corners keep on coming and the walls wait closely for mistakes. The drivers had to get their eye in as they built up the confidence the weekend. With 20 minutes to go, the Ferrari SF-23 cars sat in the bottom half of the top 10, with Carlos Sainz sixth and Charles Leclerc eighth. Remember, both drivers have changed their power units as a ‘precaution‘.
It’s a track where you need confidence in your machinery as you throw the car into a ribbon of high-speed corners lined with concrete punishment, and Lewis Hamilton was not feeling it as he struggled for grip. He asked Bono how much time others were finding. “Half a second” was the answer from his engineer Peter Bonington.
With ten minutes to go, there was no sign of the Alfa Romeos of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu at towards the top of the timesheets. In fact, they were second and third slowest, in front of only McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Max Verstappen went quicker still with a 1:29.662 as the session drew to a close. The Dutchman in first place. It’s something we have unfortunately become rather accustomed to. He may have had a dicky tummy this week, but nothing seems to be slowing down Max Verstappen in 2023. As FP1 ended the teams lined-up for a set of practice starts, with the cars getting further used to the tarmac ahead of the serious stuff to come later in the weekend, as Carlos Sainz ended FP1 in seventh place, while Charles Leclerc finished outside the top ten, +1.501 behind the best lap time of this first practice session.
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