Mercedes topped Jeddah's first ever free practice session. The circuit - which was finished just hours ago - is hosting its first Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, which gives Max Verstappen his first chance of a matchpoint.
Red Bull's driver and Lewis Hamilton are fighting over the championship, with just eight points between them. Verstappen's lap times were not as brilliant as expected, as his engine is seven race weeks older and the Austrian team is not planning to use a new PU. On the other hand, Hamilton has a new engine to use for the last two rounds of the championship. In FP1 just 0.057s separates the two contenders, as in FP2 Lewis topped again the standings, with Verstappen in 4th.
"The track was rapid, unbelievably quick and with a lot of grip as well. Once you get in the rhythm, it’s beautiful to drive. The grip was very high from the moment we went out and was similar in both sessions," said seven time world champion.
"Traffic can be a problem here, it’s Monaco-esque and the closing distances to other cars was definitely getting dangerous. We tried a couple of things with our setup, and although we aren’t rapid on single run pace compared to the others, our long run pace seemed pretty good - he continued - the Medium and Hard tyre both performed well, the Soft is probably a little too soft for the high-speed sections, it feels like the tyre is giving up slightly. I’m generally happy with the setup, we changed a few things in between sessions, and we’ll work with the guys in the factory back home to make sure we have the correct setup for tomorrow."
Not just the drivers' championship: Mercedes and Red Bull are fighting over the constructors' championship as well, where the Brackley team is first with five points of advantage.
Valtteri Bottas can play a big role in both fights: the Finn, which will leave Mercedes at the end of the season, was able to put himslef in 2nd in FP2, with a fastest lap time on mediums. Valtteri explained how much he did enjoy the track, but the biggest surprise were the tyres.
"The track is really cool, it’s full-gas and close to the walls at high-speed which is exactly what you want and enjoy, it’s an adrenaline rush. In FP1 the track was better than I expected, a little bit dusty but thanks to the other racing categories running here this weekend, it was improving step by step. They have done a nice job with the tarmac here, it was very grippy even though it’s new and with no real bumps, nice and smooth," said the Finn.
"It was good to get confirmation of the grip level here, you base your starting setup on the simulations and estimated grip level, and we started in a good place. The biggest surprise today was the tyres, they lasted well and I’m not sure we’ll see many stops on Sunday. All the compounds seemed to work well here, even though you could feel the Softs giving up slightly in the high-speed corners."