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Practice report
Formula 1 Saudi Arabian GP

Saudi Arabian GP: Verstappen tops first F1 practice from Perez, Alonso

Max Verstappen led Sergio Perez in a Red Bull 1-2 in FP1 for Formula 1's 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, ahead of Aston Martin pair Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

They were followed by the Mercedes duo and Carlos Sainz as the lead Ferrari driver in seventh, with his penalty-addled team-mate Charles Leclerc down in 11th but with the red car pair running a notably different run plan to the leaders.

Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas established the first-place benchmark at 1m35.701s using the medium tyres.

Most of the running at the start of the one-hour session was completed on that yellow-walled rubber or the hards, with Sainz and Lando Norris using one of each - Sainz on hards and Norris on mediums - to forge ahead of Bottas as they completed their first fliers.

Perez then swept ahead on a 1m32.969s to close out the first five minutes, but he ran the soft tyres from the off, as did Alonso.

Alonso took the softs on his Aston Martin to a short-lived lead at the end of the opening 10 minutes with a 1m32.838s, which Lewis Hamilton then beat for Mercedes on a 1m32.665s on the hards.

But both were soon beaten by Perez moving back to the top spot on a 1m31.486s on his third run on his first set of softs.

With 16 minutes completed, Alonso returned to first place with a 1m31.262s, but again he was only in front for a short while as Perez returned to the top spot at the end of the opening 20 minutes having briefly returned to the pits by posting a 1m30.592s.

Either side of Alonso nipping back ahead of Perez with a 1m30.509s as he edged into double figures of laps completed on the softs, Verstappen took centre stage.

Finally out aboard his RB19 after remaining in the pits for the first 20 minutes of FP1, the world champion was also sent straight out on the softs.

His initial effort came in nearly a second down on Perez's existing personal best, but on his second flier with 27 minutes on the board Verstappen squeezed ahead of his team-mate and Alonso to lead the Spaniard with a 1m30.494s.

There followed something of a lull as the rest returned to the pits to switch from the harder compounds to the softs, while Verstappen continued to pound around on his opening run on the softs.

Despite complaining of understeer at the critical, fast, reprofiled left of Turn 22 that apparently meant it felt his car would not "turn at all", Verstappen improved the first-place benchmark to a 1m30.662s that moved him from 0.015s ahead of Alonso to 0.447s just past the halfway mark.

With the rest now on softs – Hamilton took his through a quick trip through the Turn 1 run-off at this stage, the Ferrari pair both posted first times on the red-walled compound that left them 1.5s behind Verstappen.

That became 1.7s adrift for Leclerc and Sainz as Verstappen's third flier on his first set of softs was a 1m29.815s that again bettered the quickest time, while Perez and Alonso remained in the pits making adjustments.

Sainz and Leclerc did make gains on their subsequent runs, with the former getting ahead of his team-mate to sit behind the Mercedes duo, George Russell leading Hamilton.

Then, approaching the final 15 minutes, Alonso and Perez reappeared on the soft tyres while Verstappen took his turn making set-up changes in the pits.

Alonso initially failed to beat his personal best from the session's first half, but then closed what was by then a 0.694s gap to Verstappen to 0.500s with his second flier on his latest set of softs.

Perez, who spent much longer in the pits during the session's middle part, looked to be on for a new personal best – albeit down on Verstappen – but abandoned his first flying lap on his new softs complaining he "did not have any front end" after climbing over several kerbs.

He led Verstappen out of the pits ahead of the final 10 minutes and finally did improve his personal best, to close to 0.537s behind the leading Red Bull, albeit still behind Alonso.

But Verstappen then immediately opened the gap out again, although only by a fraction, as he took his latest softs to another best leading time, a 1m29.790s.

While several drivers down the order returned to the harder compounds for the final few minutes or switched to high-fuel running on the softs, as the Ferrari drivers did, the Red Bulls and Astons continued to put in rapid times on the softs.

First Verstappen set another first-place benchmark with just a couple of minutes remaining, then Perez finally forged ahead of Alonso for good with a 1m30.100s that left him 0.438s adrift of his team-mate.

Likewise, Alonso completed another flier but did not beat his personal best, while Lance Stroll popped the second Aston into fourth with his final lap – a 1m30.577s ahead of the final minutes.

But there was still enough time for Verstappen to set out last quickest time, his 1m29.617s set with the Dutchman's final lap of the session.

Russell and Hamilton ended up fifth and sixth behind the leaders, with Sainz the leading Ferrari in seventh.

He, like Leclerc down in 11th, will at least have an extra set of softs compared to the Red Bulls and Astons based on Ferrari's FP1 run plan.

Pierre Gasly, who complained about his brakes towards the end of the session, Alex Albon and Yuki Tsunoda completed the top 10.

There were several complaints and near-misses in traffic as is typical with this high-speed circuit, while Norris (last in the FP1 standings) picked up a black-and-white warning for dipping a wheel onto the painted surface at the pit entrance during the late running.

That was contrary to race director Niels Wittich's specific instructions on such a move issued ahead of FP1 and came when Norris was called into the pits by McLaren too late to safely completed the manoeuvre down the long pit straight.

Cla Driver Chassis Engine Laps Time Gap
1 Netherlands Max Verstappen
Red Bull Red Bull 18 1'29.617
2 Mexico Sergio Perez
Red Bull Red Bull 20 1'30.100 0.483
3 Spain Fernando Alonso
Aston Martin Mercedes 22 1'30.315 0.698
4 Canada Lance Stroll
Aston Martin Mercedes 20 1'30.577 0.960
5 United Kingdom George Russell
Mercedes Mercedes 26 1'30.771 1.154
6 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes Mercedes 26 1'30.787 1.170
7 Spain Carlos Sainz
Ferrari Ferrari 23 1'30.924 1.307
8 France Pierre Gasly
Alpine Renault 24 1'30.949 1.332
9 Thailand Alex Albon
Williams Mercedes 23 1'31.030 1.413
10 Japan Yuki Tsunoda
AlphaTauri Red Bull 25 1'31.110 1.493
11 Monaco Charles Leclerc
Ferrari Ferrari 26 1'31.118 1.501
12 France Esteban Ocon
Alpine Renault 22 1'31.181 1.564
13 Netherlands Nyck de Vries
AlphaTauri Red Bull 29 1'31.450 1.833
14 Australia Oscar Piastri
McLaren Mercedes 24 1'31.491 1.874
15 Germany Nico Hulkenberg
Haas Ferrari 22 1'31.552 1.935
16 Denmark Kevin Magnussen
Haas Ferrari 23 1'31.566 1.949
17 United States Logan Sargeant
Williams Mercedes 26 1'31.922 2.305
18 Finland Valtteri Bottas
Alfa Romeo Ferrari 25 1'31.970 2.353
19 China Zhou Guanyu
Alfa Romeo Ferrari 22 1'31.986 2.369
20 United Kingdom Lando Norris
McLaren Mercedes 21 1'32.149 2.532

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