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Saudi Arabia FP2: Verstappen on top again, Alpine impress

The Dutchman was firing on all cylinders in the second practice session of the weekend. What else did we find out?

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There’s no denying the hefty advantage that Max Verstappen and Red Bull hold early in the 2023 season. But will the Austrian outfit top yet another practice session around the narrow and fast sectors of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit?

Max Verstappen preparing for practice around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit (Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter)

Despite the defending World Champion arriving in Saudi Arabia only earlier today to recover from a stomach bug, he finished FP1 in first with a 1:29.617. Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull car was second, with the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso continuing to impress with third.

In fact, the Aston Martin package still looked very fast with Lance Stroll finishing FP1 just behind his veteran teammate in fourth, showing that the Silverstone-based team’s performance at the Bahrain Grand Prix was no fluke.

Several drivers experienced the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in a Formula 1 car for the very first time. The three rookies in Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant and Nyck de Vries would have been feeling their way around the course in the opening few runs. In the end it was the Alpha Tauri of de Vries who was quickest of the new-timers, posting a time good enough for P13.

A reprofiled Turns 22 and 23 caught many drivers out in FP1, the likes of Stroll and Lewis Hamilton going wide attempting to take the sequence at the same speeds as last year. Many drivers would have been looking to iron out such mistakes going into FP2.

As the sun fell below the horizon leading up to the final practice session of the day, track temperatures began to drop. With conditions more indicative of those expected for the race, all ten teams were determined to make the most of this one-hour session. So how did it turn out? Read on to find out.

Main talking points

A familiar face at the very top of the timing screens, Verstappen lowering his best time in FP1. Both Perez and Alonso managed a time in the high 1:29s to take the next two spots.

Turn 22 and traffic were the two major causes for concern for the field, with many going wide at the reprofiled corner and a few heated radio messages lambasting other drivers for going too slow on the racing line.

Ferrari were expected to improve on their lacklustre FP1 performance, but both Leclerc and Sainz showed little to no improvement in their final positions by ending up just inside the top ten.

Alpine surprised with their sudden turn of pace, Ocon finishing FP2 the session in fourth and Gasly just behind in sixth.

Initial laps

First out on track was the Aston Martin of Stroll, who crossed the line with a 1:32.293 to momentarily top the timing sheets.

Valtteri Bottas suffered an immediate lockup on his first flying lap on the Hard tyre, ruining his chances of setting a fast lap straight out of the gates. Another driver to struggle out on track was Yuki Tsunoda, who brushed the barriers with his Alpha Tauri and aborted his lap.

The Soft tyre was not used in last year’s Grand Prix, thus all drivers opted to run on either the Medium or Hard in the early stages of FP2. It was Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari who took provisional lead of the timing screens, setting a 1:31.080.

The Turn 22/23 complex continued to catch out many drivers; Alonso surfed the underside of his car on the kerb prior to snatching the fastest time with a 1:30.612.

Qualifying simulations

But it was a familiar duo that turned up the heat ten minutes into the session. Verstappen lowered the best time with a 1:30.058, just less than half a second slower than his FP1 time on slower tyres. Perez slotted into second position, with Alonso best of the rest over five-tenths behind the leader.

Alpine looked quick on the Medium tyre, both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly sitting comfortably in the top five with 40 minutes to go. But it was Verstappen who grabbed the limelight once again by dropping into the 1:29s with a near-flawless lap.

It was time for most drivers to switch to the Soft tyre for qualifying runs; times were bound to tumble even more. Alonso was the first on the quickest tyre, but ran wide in the final sector despite setting two purples in the first two sectors.

Logan Sargeant in the Williams moved up to 12th place on the Soft, while Perez stole 1st from his teammate with a 1:29.902 as soon as the Mexican put on the red-walled tyre.

Traffic was an ever-present threat for the 20 drivers out on track, with many complaining on the radio about slower drivers ahead failing to move out of the way. There was a near-collision between Alonso and Sainz as the former attempted yet another flying lap on the Softs, to no avail.

Nico Hulkenberg had a sudden turn of pace in the Haas, a 1:30.181 good enough for fourth with 30 minutes left of the session.

But as soon as Verstappen had a bit of clear air and got the power down, it was only going to be a matter of time before he reclaimed the top of the board. A 1:29.603 almost three-tenths quicker than Perez.

Notably absent from the equation thus far were Ferrari, Leclerc and Sainz were languishing down in eighth and ninth respectively with less than half the session left to go.

Alonso finally managed a proper representative lap time, splitting the two Red Bulls to go second. George Russell for Mercedes was sitting pretty in fourth, before Ocon in the pink Alpine usurped him to that position with a 1:30.039.

Final race runs

With qualifying runs complete, the majority of drivers opted for longer run simulations in the final quarter of an hour.

A slight scare for Leclerc coming out of the pits as he felt something odd with the power unit of his Ferrari. Nevertheless his race engineer assured him that nothing was wrong with the car. the 2022 runner-up continued for the rest of the session with no issues.

With most drivers out on the Medium tyre, lap times slowed and we saw no subsequent changes on the timing screens. The only real action in the final few minutes was the occasional car going wide; Gasly and Leclerc notably falling foul of track limits at Turn 22 and Turn 4 respectively.

A few drivers decided to go on long runs on the Soft tyre; it seemed as though the fastest tyre was also relatively durable. Something to note for possible race strategies on Sunday.

So in the end Verstappen’s 1:29.603 was good enough for the fastest time of the session. Will he make it count on Saturday for qualifying? Make sure to keep an eye out tomorrow.

Full results


Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter

Feature Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter

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