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Leclerc sets early Saudi Arabian pace ahead of Verstappen after bizarre red flag

Leclerc sets early Saudi Arabian pace ahead of Verstappen after bizarre red flag

F1 News

Leclerc sets early Saudi Arabian pace ahead of Verstappen after bizarre red flag

Leclerc sets early Saudi Arabian pace ahead of Verstappen after bizarre red flag

Charles Leclerc set the early pace ahead of Sunday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in a first practice session disrupted by an unusual red-flag incident.

FP1 was 17 minutes old when race director Niels Wittich had to suspend running at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit following a bizarre 'failure' with the 50-metre marker board at turn one.

Initially, it had worked loose from its mooring on the catch-fencing above the wall prior to eventually dropping onto the track, albeit on an edge and leaning against the wall.

Approaching the corner, McLaren's Lando Norris took a very tight line into the first corner, resulting in him hitting the marker and sending debris across the track.

The incident led to a nine-minute delay, at which point Max Verstappen led the way on a set of hard tyres with a time of one minute 30.888secs, following which the majority of the teams then switched to the softs for more representative qualifying simulations.

That time was only beaten in the closing stages by Leclerc who finished 0.116s clear, albeit on the soft rubber, highlighting Verstappen's pace on the hards.

Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas was another late mover as he leapfrogged up the order in the closing moments with a time of 1:31.084s, 0.312s being Leclerc.

As for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were a lowly ninth and 15th, 1.592s and 2.067s adrift respectively.

Given the porpoising experienced by the Mercedes cars in Bahrain, the team made changes to its front and rear wings coming into this weekend in a bid to reduce the drag that affected its pace at that track.

But despite the smoother circuit in Jeddah compared to the ageing surface in Bahrain that has shifted with time, the seven-time champion still complained of "a lot of bouncing", and that clearly had an effect on his time.

Following third-quickest Bottas, Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was 0.367s off the pace ahead of AlphaTauri duo Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, with Red Bull's Sergio Perez the only other driver to finish within a second of Leclerc, 0.791s down.

Either side of Hamilton was the Alpine pair of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, the latter running with a new power unit due to the team discovering a suspected sealing issue and changing the system as a precaution.

The McLaren pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris were 11th and 13th either side of Aston Martin's Lance Stroll, whose team-mate Nico Hulkenberg was 16th on his first visit to the venue, the German again standing in for the Covid-hit Sebastian Vettel.

For Haas, after the joy of their performance in Bahrain, the session was a disaster as Mick Schumacher was the slowest of those to set a time, 3.657s behind Leclerc.

As for team-mate Kevin Magnussen, following his fifth-place finish five days ago, the Dane managed only two installation laps on his maiden trip to the track due to a hydraulic leak that necessitated a radiator change, forcing him out of the session.

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix first practice session results

1. Charles Leclerc [Ferrari] 1:30.772s

2. Max Verstappen [Red Bull] +0.116

3. Valtteri Bottas [Alfa Romeo] +0.312

4. Carlos Sainz [Ferrari] +0.367

5. Pierre Gasly [AlphaTauri] +0.545

6. Yuki Tsunoda [AlphaTauri] +0.733

7. Sergio Perez [Red Bull Racing] +0.791

8. Esteban Ocon [Alpine] +1.254

9. Lewis Hamilton [Mercedes] +1.592

10. Fernando Alonso [Alpine] +1.609

11. Daniel Ricciardo [McLaren] +1.734

12. Lance Stroll [Aston Martin] +1.810

13. Lando Norris [McLaren] +1.822

14. Zhou Guanyu [Alfa Romeo] +1.836

15. George Russell [Mercedes] +2.067

16. Nico Hulkenberg [Aston Martin] +2.262

17. Alex Albon [Williams] +2.315

18. Nicholas Latifi [Williams] +2.757

19. Mick Schumacher [Haas] +3.657

20. Kevin Magnussen [Haas] no time

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