The Friday in F1 Saudi Arabian GP was pretty feisty with most going for multiple fast laps as the field remains open despite Red Bull’s pace at front.
Almost everyone in the field went for multiple push laps in FP2 of F1 Saudi Arabian GP weekend which is a key session considering it takes place under floodlights as qualifying and the grand prix itself. The tyres held on even with fuel on board those cars.
Of course, the modes were different and they did not push as hard, but the field was competitive certainly even with Red Bull having good pace overall. Max Verstappen noted that they will not have Bahrain-like advantage as times seemed close in race pace.
Sergio Perez had some issues after some power unit elements were changed ahead of FP1 which is early for a team like Red Bull who don’t seem to have many issues on performance side. It isn’t clear who will challenge them, if it will be Aston Martin only.
The British outfit had a good outing pace wise as both Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll were in the mix as they were in Bahrain. But this time they could face some challenge from the likes of Alpine, Mercedes and Ferrari, even though the latter two seemed off.
George Russell had a better run as Lewis Hamilton certainly struggled to get the hang of it, which will make it tricky for them. At the same time, both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were a bit off on one lap, but they surprisingly are confident on race side.
Of course, Leclerc has a penalty which will see him drop places leaving Sainz the only car in front with the Monegasque having to find his way up in a tight pack which could see Alpine join in after both Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon found good pace.
Verstappen: “I think we had a positive day, but I think there are still quite a few things we can do better. On the long run I think it all seemed fairly close to each other, but it’s more just managing the tyres, because they don’t really let you push around here at the moment. With a low-deg circuit, I think the lap times are all very close, so it’s definitely not like Bahrain.”
Alonso: “Let’s see. I think Friday is always not very representative. Also in Bahrain we were okay, like P1 on Friday, then P5, nearly P6 in qualifying. You never know until we go to qualifying. We tested what we wanted to test in the car. I think it’s still not an ideal balance, so we still need to chase a little bit of grip tonight. But so far, so good – it’s another good start. I have no idea. I just drive the car and in qualifying I see where I am. Obviously there are a lot of free practices, days between races, a lot of data to analyse, and a lot of predictions and estimations for your guys to do, so that’s the beauty of Formula 1 as well.”
Leclerc: “I don’t think we are that bad, honestly, the feeling is pretty good, but very difficult to read into the performance because everybody’s doing very different things with power, weight, etcetera – probably more different than other years. So it’s a bit more difficult to read the Friday free practice sessions. But the feeling was quite okay and the race pace seems to be better than Bahrain, so that’s positive. We have quite a bit in the locker – [as for] how much, let’s see. I am sure Red Bull also have something still hidden so we’ll see tomorrow. But I think it will be closer than what it is for now.”
Hamilton: “Pretty much the same. A second off or whatever it was. But for me I definitely struggled in the session, I struggled in both sessions. We just continue to go into the details, try to improve the balance of the car to make it easier to drive. It’s just a tough car to drive. But I know everyone is working so hard back at the factory but it’s just a matter of time. We just have to be patient.”
Gasly: “It’s great to be back here in Jeddah at this very fast and exciting race track. It’s been a busy day for us as we continue to learn about our 2023 package and, I must say, I’ve been pleased with today’s work. After two weeks in Bahrain, it’s nice to be taking on a new track and a new challenge. It’s very high-speed here and there’s a lot you have to get right to be quick. The car feels good, we have a good idea on the set-up direction we want to take and there’s more to come from us this weekend. My focus is on working hard with the engineers to make sure we’re well prepared for Qualifying and returning with a better performance than we showed last time out.”
The fag end of the Top 10 also featured Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg and Williams’ Alexander Albon, both of whom got a decent one-lap pace. While the former didn’t convert in the grand prix, the latter managed to do so with the correct set-up for the race.
It will be same again this weekend especially that the Top 10 pretty much has eight sports filled up by the Top 4 outfits, leaving only two spots to be filled. Near about the Top 10 sat McLaren too, surprisingly ahead of AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo.
Lando Norris, in particular, has shown better pace while AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda admits of not having enough legs and needing to find something to break into the Top 10. Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas agrees that they are not there but is confident of pushing for Q3.
Hulkenberg: “We had a smooth Friday – no major incidents, situations, or problems. Like always, you learn about the car, the tires and where the balance is. Certainly, again over one lap I think we seem to be competitive and long runs could be a bit more challenging for us, so that’s where our focus is now. It’s all about pace, tire degradation and being quick in the right places – we need to analyze and consider it all to come up with the best strategy.”
Albon: “I think it’s been a very positive day and we’ve definitely got pace in the car, so I’m feeling optimistic. We’re missing a little bit of set-up during FP2 for our qualifying simulation but everything else feels pretty good. I don’t want to speak too soon but I’m feeling good with the car so let’s see how it goes.”
Tsunoda: “The circuit is safer in terms of visibility, though the characteristics haven’t changed much. What we’ve seen from practice today is that we are slightly behind those consistently fighting for P10, but we still have one more day to put it all together. There were no major issues during FP1 and FP2, but we know that we have to find more performance in the car. Even if Q3 is the target, Q2 is more possible tomorrow than it was in Bahrain last week. In the end, we’ll analyse all our data tonight to see how we can improve our performance. Tyre degradation doesn’t seem as bad as expected, so we can push flat out.”
Bottas: “The first feeling with the car is quite ok: we didn’t have any issues with the balance, and we have a solid basis to build on. We did a lot of work today, trying different wing levels and setup options, and now we need to sit down, look at the data and make some decisions on which are the right calls. Of course, we are not yet where we want to be and at the levels we showed in Bahrain, when we were the fifth fastest team: we need to find a bit more pace still, make a step forward ahead of qualifying. But it’s only Friday and I’m confident we can do it when it really matters. The field is very close, as expected, and with a small gain there is no reason we cannot make up places in qualifying. We’ll work hard tonight – I don’t think Q3 is out of reach, and we’ll give our best shot at it tomorrow.”
Here’s how FP1 of F1 Saudi Arabian GP panned out
Here’s how FP2 of F1 Saudi Arabian GP panned out