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What we learned from Thursday F1 practice at the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP

After an unusual season opener in Bahrain – where all the frontrunners bar the dominant Max Verstappen were hobbled to varying degrees – there was much to expect from Formula 1’s second 2024 round, taking place this weekend in Jeddah.

At F1’s second night event in a week, there was again only one session really worth paying close attention too – despite Verstappen leading the way in the sunny late-afternoon FP1 session for Red Bull.

In FP2, he ended up ‘only’ third and with Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin leading the way. But, digging a little deeper, the times logged so far suggest Red Bull retains its commanding overall edge even on Jeddah’s much smoother track surface and its higher-average speed layout compared to Bahrain.

Yet, there are some crumbs of comfort to be found for its rivals, at least based on today’s showing. Here’s everything we learned from the opening day of track action at the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The story of the day

The F1 machines finally got rolling at 4.30pm local time, with the sun still beating down on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. Its proximity to both the Saudi coast and desert made for some slippery early tours for the pack.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, as well as Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg, were running right up to the wall that comes up fast out of Turn 2’s exit – what is effectively a small hairpin that follows the big stop of the first corner. That wall forms the Turn 3 kink, with both the works Ferrari and Haas customer car being taken right to its edge here even on their first tours, per Motorsport.com’s FP1 trackside observations.

This pair showed little issue putting the power down, something that continued through FP1’s first half. Alonso, Verstappen and MercedesLewis Hamilton, however, were squirming as they accelerated away from this point early on. But with the track still hot from the boiling afternoon sun, grip was at a premium.

Alonso topped FP2 for Aston Martin, but Red Bull remains the major threat again

Alonso topped FP2 for Aston Martin, but Red Bull remains the major threat again

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Indeed, Verstappen seemed unruffled thereafter, as he went on to top FP1 with a 1m29.659s, from Alonso, who ended up 0.186s further back and ahead of Sergio Perez in the other RB20.

Later in FP1, Motorsport.com clocked the leading pair taking different approaches to the exit of the fast, blind Turn 22 left that ends the second of three long, fast blasts on this course, with the rapid ridge kerbs of Turn 23 soon following.

Each time on a push lap at this stage, Verstappen would whip his RB20 further out of Turn 22 to avoid hitting too much kerb. On his quickest FP1 lap, Alonso simply steamed out of Turn 22 at full blast and rode the full length of the Turn 23 kerb and shooting on his way, leaving a cloud of detritus flying behind, his hands solid on the wheel as he flashed by.

Overall FP2 order

1 Alonso Aston Martin 1m28.827s  
2 Russell Mercedes 1m29.057s +0.230s
3 Verstappen Red Bull 1m29.158s +0.331s
4 Leclerc Ferrari 1m29.180s +0.353s
5 Gasly Alpine 1m29.528s +0.701s
6 Piastri McLaren 1m29.594s +0.767s
7 Tsunoda RB 1m29.666s +0.839s
8 Zhou Sauber 1m29.777s +0.950s
9 Albon Williams 1m29.789s +0.962s
10 Magnussen Haas 1m29.985s +1.158s

Alonso then took the overall honours in FP2, with a 1m28.827s set on the soft-tyre qualifying simulation efforts just before the half-way point in the one-hour night session.

Verstappen was bumped down to third by George Russell’s late entry into the second session’s time-topping fray – the world champion going for a second run on a single set of softs after two cooldown tours that ultimately had him finish 0.331s behind Alonso.

Russell and Hamilton registered Mercedes’ soft-tyre efforts later than most of the other frontrunners as each had to back out of their initial fliers – Russell for encountering traffic.

Russell conceded Mercedes had a

Russell conceded Mercedes had a “scrappy” day, which included picking up a fine for Hamilton’s near-miss with Sargeant

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Hamilton was a traffic problem for Logan Sargeant during FP2’s early stages, when the Williams driver had to go off-track at Turn 10 to avoid the Mercedes, which was at the time running slowly ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. But with Hamilton having been given no warning on his team radio, in the eyes of the stewards, it was Mercedes that was to blame and it copped a €15,000 fine. Hamilton was handed a warning over the incident.

Leclerc was shuffled down to fourth for Ferrari in FP2, with his team-mate Sainz another runner to encounter traffic during his soft-tyre efforts. But Sainz was too sick with food poisoning to push to the limit in his SF-24.

Why Red Bull’s race favourite tag hasn’t been lost in Jeddah

As is typical for a non-sprint weekend, the FP2 action concluded with the pack taking part in lengthy long-run data gathering exercises to prep for the race.

For Mercedes, this was shorter than the rest because its delayed qualifying simulation efforts and subsequent in-garage set-up adjustments meant Hamilton and Russell were sent out into traffic. But the team was nevertheless able to gather its long-run data by making its calculations from the W15s being sent out on a scaled fuel load.

Hamilton’s FP2 nearly ended earlier than his team-mate’s, as he came into the pits having reported a power problem with less than five minutes remaining (he headed back out again for a few laps right at the end of the session).

Motorsport.com has since been informed this was actually a result of Hamilton inadvertently hitting his car’s pit limiter button as he caught a moment at Turns 22/23, rather than a sign of an engine drama at Mercedes.

Medium tyre long-run averages

1 Red Bull 1m34.038s 11 laps
2 Mercedes 1m34.473s 4 laps
3 Ferrari 1m34.741s 7 laps
4 Aston Martin 1m34.867s 13 laps
5 McLaren 1m35.117s 9 laps
6 Sauber 1m35.264s 11 laps
7 Alpine 1m35.449s 10 laps
8 Williams 1m35.611s 11 laps

*N/A RB, Haas

Red Bull's long-run pace appears superior to the chasing pack

Red Bull’s long-run pace appears superior to the chasing pack

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

While Mercedes ends Thursday looking good in the long-run averages logged late in FP2, its low lap count must be kept in mind. Ultimately, the team felt it had a scruffy start to the Saudi event, with a particular concern that its drivers were lacking confidence in the track’s high-speed spots, which is where Russell lost most to Alonso on their respective best flying laps.

Ahead in that table, inevitably, is Red Bull, with Verstappen enjoying a healthy 0.435s medium-tyre-shod advantage over Russell’s Mercedes run on the same tyre and with 0.703s in hand over Sainz.

Again, the Spaniard’s current illness should be remembered when assessing Ferrari’s long-run pace, as this track has a high grip level that increases demand on driver fitness. But Ferrari can take heart from one element in FP2 – it didn’t register near the top of the figures on top speed, which suggests it may take a significant step when turned up to full whack for qualifying.

Unfortunately for the rest, the same is surely said of Red Bull too, given Verstappen was clocked losing time on his best FP2 time compared to Alonso in this track’s less technical second half.

“We know some other teams have a bit more power on the one lap so we’ll look into the data to try and improve our overall performance” Max Verstappen

On Aston, it is just 0.126s behind Ferrari in the medium tyre averages, but there is a suspicion from its rivals that it might’ve been running a touch lighter overall on single lap pace on Thursday. This conclusion arrived because of Alonso’s top speed advantage when braking for Turn 1 on his best lap, where he also benefitted from getting a tow earlier in the straight from Valtteri Bottas’s Sauber.

In the long-runs, Alonso showed signs of steady degradation coming on with the mediums as his times faded from the 1m34s to the 1m35s. He did, however, at least complete a much longer stint compared to Sainz.

On Ferrari’s long-run potential, both its drivers (Leclerc ran the softs that aren’t expected to be a race tyre at this stage) seemed to make considerable effort to start off deliberately steadily and were in fact going quicker even at the end of their stints.

Sainz is battling food poisoning in Jeddah

Sainz is battling food poisoning in Jeddah

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

There was one typical frontrunner missing from the focus so far in Jeddah: McLaren. Oscar Piastri’s best FP2 time came in even behind Pierre Gasly and the beleaguered Alpine squad – for which Gasly said “we seem to be slightly more competitive than last week”. McLaren was also 1.079s slower than Verstappen over a similar-length medium tyre long run, with Lando Norris complaining of his MCL38 “bottoming” at top speed in FP2.

What they say:

Fernando Alonso: “We had a positive day. We’ve shown good pace in both sessions and on different tyres, but it’s only free practice and there are a lot of unknowns in terms of the programmes the other teams were running today.”

George Russell: “We didn’t have the car in the perfect window and FP2 was a little bit of a scrappy session. The times looked good on the single lap, and we’re not too sure yet where we’re at on the long runs. We did a lot of testing in FP1 with different set-ups across the cars. We then made some changes for FP2 to try and learn more about the W15.”

Max Verstappen: “Overall, we learnt a lot and there are always things you look to do better on a one lap performance. We know some other teams have a bit more power on the one lap so we’ll look into the data to try and improve our overall performance and extract as much as we can from this. Looking to qualifying I am feeling good; it will be tight but we are happy with our performance today and looking forward to tomorrow.”

Charles Leclerc: “The track had good grip to start with and we can expect quite a lot of track evolution throughout the day tomorrow. All in all, everyone is really close in times so it will be tight and interesting to see who extracts the maximum from their car and comes out on top.”

Lando Norris: “A reasonable day. A bit of a better feeling than we had in Bahrain. There were certain corners where we’re struggling to get the balance in the right window. There’s a few bits we need to improve but, on the whole, I think it was a pretty decent day. Some work to do but still a good start to the weekend.”

Who will take pole on Friday?

Who will take pole on Friday?

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

This article was originally published by a www.motorsport.com . Read the Original article here. .

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