Lewis Hamilton’s surge to a potential record eighth Formula One world title continued at pace as he set the fastest time in first practice for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver has won the last two races to close within eight points of championship leader Max Verstappen heading into the final two grands prix of the year.
Hamilton led the way off the track on Wednesday, speaking out against human rights issues and the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia, admitting he was not comfortable racing in the country.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 3, 2021
But he was certainly at home on the track on Friday, as a time of one minute 29.786 seconds saw him beat Verstappen by just 0.056 seconds, with the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in third.
Workers were still preparing the new venue into the late hours of Thursday night, with a planned ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the circuit promptly cancelled as final touches were put into place.
The Formula Two practice session also started late due to a minor “operational issue” before the F1 cars hit the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the first time at 16:30 local time.
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 3, 2021
With the track untested and both qualifying and Sunday’s race taking place in the evening, this session was more of a feeling-out hour for the drivers.
But nevertheless, Hamilton will be pleased to top the timesheets, with Pierre Gasly fourth fastest for AlphaTauri and the Aston Martin of Antonio Giovinazzi fifth.
Ferrari were sixth and seventh in the form of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, as Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel rounded off the top 10.