The Monegasque Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), leader of the Formula One World Championship, set the fastest time in the free practice day for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the second in the championship, which takes place in Jeddah and was marked by an attack that caused explosions and fires in an oil installation near the urban circuit located on the shores of the Red Sea.
Leclerc, who last Sunday led a Ferrari ‘double’ in Bahrain that was completed by his Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz, repeated the best time in both tests and set the fastest lap of the day in the second, covering the 6,175 meters of the track, with soft tire, in one minute, 30 seconds and 74 thousandths, 140 less than the Dutchman Max Verstappen (Red Bull), the last world champion; and with 246 over the man from Madrid -both with half-, who, like his Monegasque colleague, ‘kissed’ the wall and finished the night session early: the one that was played at the same time (at night and with artificial light) that qualifying this Saturday and the race on Sunday.
The day was marked by the fire in an oil installation located in the vicinity of the circuit, which caused the delay – fifteen minutes – of the second session, when the members of the F1 organization met with those responsible for the teams, with in order to convey to them the idea that, despite the fact that it was apparently an attack -claimed by Houthis from Yemen-, it was safe to continue filming in Jeddah.
After the second session -in which the best times of the day were set-, that the Mexican Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) finished fourth and that the other Spaniard, the Asturian double world champion Fernando Alonso (Alpine), eleventh, the F1 He released a statement announcing that “as a result of the latest events he has been in close contact with the local authorities, who confirmed that the event can take place as planned” and that they will continue “in close contact with them and with the teams, to monitor the situation”.
Leclerc had already been the fastest in the insignificant first free practice, during the day and in conditions that had little to do with qualifying and the race, in which -with soft- he had improved Verstappen by 116 thousandths -the only one who scored his time with hard compound in the first test- and in three tenths to the Finn Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo), with Sainz in fourth position -367-; ‘Czech’ ,seventh -at 791-; and Alonso, tenth, one second and six tenths.
The Monegasque was once again the best in the second act, which ended early when he damaged the front left part of his car after ‘kissing’ the wall of a track with long straights and 27 curves -a handful of them very fast- in the one that is not strange to exceed 320 kilometers per hour and that his talented colleague from Madrid also finished before sixty minutes, another that brushed the wall before closing with the third time a day with more than one scare but without major mishaps.
Alonso, who changed the power unit of his Alpine -substitution to analyze it and that, in any case, does not entail any penalty-, was eleventh at night, with the soft compound, with which he stayed 870 thousandths of the Leclerc’s time.
‘Checo’, who left on the last lap of Bahrain when he was running third and who replaced the turbo and the MGU-H of the power unit of his Red Bull, was fourth, with medium tires, 286 thousandths behind the driver of the principality of the Côte d’Azur, and 146 from his Dutch captain, another victim of bad luck in Bahrain, where he retired on the penultimate lap when he was second.
The first session was interrupted for a few minutes with a red flag, to remove from the track the damage to a 50-meter sign for a curve that had come down and against which the McLaren of the Englishman Lando Norris collided -without any consequences. And in the second it was confirmed that the Danish Kevin Magnussen, who replaced the Russian Nikita Mazepin in Haas shortly before the start of the season, as a result of the sanctions on Russia derived from the invasion of Ukraine -and that was the great surprise in Sakhir , where he finished fifth – has problems this time. The Dane closed both time tables this Friday.
The German Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), who did not do it in Bahrain either, does not race in Arabia, since he continues to test positive for covid-19, which is why he missed the first race of the year.
His compatriot Nico Hülkenberg, who replaced him again in Jeddah, set the sixteenth time, one and a half seconds behind Leclerc; and with exactly the same time as Guanyu Zhou, the first official Chinese driver in the 73-year history of F1, who made a satisfactory debut last Sunday, finishing tenth and scoring a point in Sakhir with his Alfa Romeo.
The two Mercedes, that of the seven-time English world champion Lewis Hamilton -ninth in the first free practice- and that of his compatriot George Russell, registered fifth and sixth in the time table; behind the Ferrari and the Red Bull, who alternated in the first four places. The third and last rehearsal will take place this Saturday, hours before qualifying for Sunday’s race: scheduled for 50 laps, to complete a 308.7 kilometer route.