Lewis Hamilton takes Saudi Arabia GP practice double ahead of crucial weekend on 'crazy' track

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·27-min read
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  • Lewis Hamilton
    Lewis Hamilton
    British racing driver
  • Max Verstappen
    Max Verstappen
    Dutch-Belgian racing driver
  • Valtteri Bottas
    Valtteri Bottas
    Finnish Formula 1 racing driver
Lewis Hamilton takes Saudi Arabia GP practice double ahead of crucial weekend on 'crazy' track - REUTERS 
Lewis Hamilton takes Saudi Arabia GP practice double ahead of crucial weekend on 'crazy' track - REUTERS

With all the talk about how this season’s title race is headed for a thrilling finale in Abu Dhabi next week, it has been almost overlooked that it could end on Sunday.

Should Lewis Hamilton finish outside the top 10 in Saudi Arabia - or more likely fail to finish - Max Verstappen needs only place in the top two to be sure of claiming his maiden title.

How likely is that? Well, not very if you look at the season so far. Mercedes have been a model of consistency with Hamilton finishing every grand prix bar Monza where he ended up with Verstappen’s Red Bull on top of his head. Plus he is coming off the back of successive victories in Brazil and Qatar. He is the favourite heading into the weekend.

But this is not any old track. The Jeddah Corniche Circuit, a new purpose-built street circuit on the banks of the Red Sea, is so green it was still being completed earlier this week.

It is also extremely fast, and extremely unforgiving, making the race on Sunday much more of a lottery.

All week drivers and team principals have been talking about how dangerous the Jeddah circuit could be.

“The first sector is basically a bit like the first section [the Esses] from Suzuka only between the walls,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Telegraph Sport, adding: “There will be plenty of incidents I’m sure.” McLaren’s Lando Norris agreed. “You’ve just got walls as an apex,” he noted.

Former world champion Nico Rosberg only tried it on his simulator at home and that was enough. “Honestly, this is so crazy that I’m happy not to be in the car this weekend,” said the German.

Of course, these things can often be hyped up only for the race itself to prove uneventful. But Friday's first glimpse of the cars in action suggested we are unlikely to get through the weekend without a few red flags at least.

Almost everyone predicted that Turn 22, a seriously quick left-hander, was the biggest source of potential danger. And so it proved.

First American driver Logan Sargeant crashed at high speed in F2 practice. Then Charles Leclerc totalled his Ferrari after losing control around the outside of the high-speed corner, bringing out a red flag.

Fortunately, no one followed him into the barriers, and his car did not block the road. But that is a serious concern for drivers heading into the weekend. The closing speeds here are such that there is virtually no chance a following car will be able to take evasive action, and no runoff in any case.

"Obviously, as a driver, you try not to think too much about this," said Sainz, when asked if he had any safety concerns by Motorsport.com.

"The only thing that as drivers we've talked about is that if there's a crash in front of you, three seconds in front of you, we are doing above 250km/h in every corner, and there's not going to be time for us to react because there's a wall in between the crash and ourselves, and we cannot see through walls.

"And this is maybe the only big point to raise with the FIA, just to stay sharp with yellow flags and safety cars, red flags, because it's gonna be an interesting one."

Hamilton, who topped both practice sessions on Friday, declared himself a fan of the circuit. “Once you get the rhythm it is really beautiful to drive,” said the seven-time world champion, who heads into the race trailing Verstappen by just eight points. But he - and his pitwall - will be on red alert all weekend.

Even if Hamilton keeps his nose clean, the potential for carnage behind him is great. If one were being cynical, one could even imagine a scenario whereby drivers deliberately caused an incident to engineer an advantage.

This is a sport, after all, in which a young driver was ordered to crash into a wall in Singapore not so long ago, purely to bring out a safety car so as to give his team-mate a leg up.

Asked whether he could be more aggressive with his driving than Verstappen as he had “less to lose", Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas refuted any suggestion he would cross the line of acceptability.

“Every point in this championship is obviously super important and both me and Lewis will try to get every point we can," he said.

“But also, we are racers that have respect and I also think in that situation Max wouldn’t do the calculations and what it would do in the points. We’re going to race as hard and as well and as professionally as we can to get the best result.”

Fasten your seatbelts.

Saudi Arabia Grand Prix second practice classification

  1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 1:29.018

  2. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes +0.061

  3. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri +0.081

  4. Max Verstappen, Red Bull +0.195

  5. Fernando Alonso, Alpine +0.423

  6. Esteban Ocon, Alpine +0.537

  7. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari +0.571

  8. Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri +0.579

  9. Sergio Pérez, Red Bull +0.750

  10. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari +0.754

  11. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren +0.950

  12. Lando Norris, McLaren +0.986

  13. Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo +1.092

  14. Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo +1.258

  15. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin +1.424

  16. Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin +1.484

  17. George Russell, Williams +1.488

  18. Mick Schumacher, Haas +1.634

  19. Nicholas Latifi, Williams +2.021

  20. Nikita Mazepin, Haas +2.611

Saudi Arabia GP, Friday practice, as it happened

06:23 PM

That is it from me today

I will be back tomorrow around 4pm for qualifying, which begins at 5pm. Thanks for joining me again today and stay tuned for our practice report and more.

06:19 PM

A few photos from the session under lights

Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany In action during practice session for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jiddah, Friday, Dec. 3, 2021 - AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany In action during practice session for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jiddah, Friday, Dec. 3, 2021 - AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc stands next to his car after crashing during the second practice session of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Jeddah on December 3, 2021 - GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images
Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc stands next to his car after crashing during the second practice session of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Jeddah on December 3, 2021 - GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W12 during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 03, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W12 during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 03, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

06:11 PM

Christian Horner speaks to Sky Sports F1

"You can see it's pretty tight. It's a challenging circuit. It's about who gets the most out of the tyres... a clean lap. Qualifying is going to be crucial... anything can happen in the race itself. "

On the soft tyres:

"We felt very strong on the hard tyre. There will be a lot of analysis going into that tonight. I don't think from listening to the comments we were alone in that. Once you unlock that there's a lot of performance there. "

On Verstappen's approach:

"I think he's just got to go for it. He's worked incredibly hard to get into this position. This is Max's kind of circuit. High speed, walls, kerbs. He is certainly enjoying it."

06:08 PM

Again... I ask, what did we learn from that?

That Hamilton and Verstappen had their quick laps compromised means it is a muddier picture than it might have been. But I think that Mercedes looked the quicker by a small-ish margin, as has been the case for the past few races.

06:02 PM

FP2 - CLASSIFICATION

  1. HAM 1:29.018

  2. BOT +0.061

  3. GAS +0.081

  4. VER +0.195

  5. ALO +0.423

  6. OCO +0.537

  7. SAI +0.571

  8. TSU +0.579

  9. PER +0.750

  10. LEC +0.754

  11. RIC +0.950

  12. NOR +0.986

  13. GIO +1.092

  14. RAI +1.258

  15. STR +1.424

  16. VET +1.484

  17. RUS +1.488

  18. MSC +1.634

  19. LAT +2.021

  20. MAZ +2.611

06:01 PM

CHEQUERED FLAG - FP2 ENDS

Lewis Hamilton ends it quickest ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly. Max Verstappen fourth.

06:00 PM

Thankful that he's out

But that could have been nastier.

If there is one criticism of Leclerc it is that he crashes it a bit too much. Not necessarily in races or qualifying, but in practice.

05:58 PM

FP2 - RED FLAG

Don't think the Ferrari mechanics will thank him for it but better to do it at the end of FP2 than the beginning of it. Or at the end of FP3...

He lost the rear on entry pretty much to turn 21 and went in backwards. Nothing he could do about it once it started...

05:57 PM

FP2 - RED FLAG

Someone in the wall?

It's Charles Leclerc and it looks like a big crash...

He's out of the car thankfully but that will likely be it for the session. The rear end is totally wrecked. And more.

05:55 PM

FP2 - Six minutes remain

Verstappen has dropped into the 1:34s for the first time on his stint, Hamilton well into the 1:33s.

05:52 PM

FP2 - Mazepin spins?

Not for the first or last time. Doesn't look like he's hit the wall. No visible damage to his Haas. Lost the rear in the middle of turn two and Hamilton had to take avoiding action and go off the track.

05:51 PM

FP2 - Verstappen starts his longer run on mediums

Hamilton is three laps into his, also on mediums. Mercedes splitting their drivers by putting Bottas on softs. Red Bull have not done similar.

Perez not having a jolly time of it at all. Way off the pace at the moment. Not good for Red Bull.

05:48 PM

FP2 - Longer runs under way now

So, again, lap times are unlikely to tumble and the order unlikely to change.

05:45 PM

FP2 - That's a good lap from Alonso

Think he has been in excellent form for the past seven or eight races, capped off by that podium in Qatar two weeks ago. He's a tenth ahead of his team-mate and in fifth.

Sparks fly behind Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Alpine A521 Renault during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 03, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - Lars Baron/Getty Images
Sparks fly behind Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Alpine A521 Renault during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 03, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - Lars Baron/Getty Images

05:42 PM

FP2 - Updated full order with 18 mins left

  1. HAM

  2. BOT

  3. GAS

  4. VER

  5. ALO

  6. OCO

  7. SAI

  8. TSU

  9. PER

  10. LEC

  11. RIC

  12. NOR

  13. GIO

  14. RAI

  15. STR

  16. VET

  17. RUS

  18. MSC

  19. LAT

  20. MAZ

Mazpin has now closed to within a second of his team-mate.

05:40 PM

FP2 - Verstappen continuing on the hard tyres

On his sixth lap on them at the moment. He improves by a small margin but stays fourth.

05:39 PM

FP2 - Gasly goes quickest in the first sector

His best time in the second sector. He improves to go third overall, 0.081s slower than Hamilton but ahead of Verstappen.

05:37 PM

FP2 - Updated top 10

Not that much has changed at the top.

  1. HAM 1:29.018

  2. BOT +0.061

  3. VER +0.272

  4. ALO +0.423

  5. TSU +0.579

  6. LEC +0.754

  7. SAI +0.782

  8. GAS +0.843

  9. PER +0.924

  10. RIC 0.950

05:34 PM

FP2 - Verstappen does not improve on his second attempt

We haven't really learned much, then.

Alonso goes fourth with the quickest first sector of anyone. Traffic turning out to be a big problem here. Will likely be worse tomorrow for qualifying.

05:33 PM

FP2 - Not a brilliant lap from Hamilton

There's a car ahead of him at the final turn and it puts him off as he runs deep. He aborts and crosses the line more than three seconds slower. Coming into the final corner there were cars top-toeing to the final corner and Hamilton was approaching at pace. It looked pretty scary. He had a similar situation on his previous attempt, too.

05:32 PM

FP2 - Hamilton 0.035s down on his best after sector one

He hit a bit of traffic earlier on. Verstappen had trouble on his lap and seems to have aborted it.

05:27 PM

FP2 - Qualifying simulations about to get going

Suspect it will be close at the front, as usual.

Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 03, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - Rudy Carezzevoli - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)
Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 03, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - Rudy Carezzevoli - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

05:22 PM

FP2 - Verstappen's floor being checked again

It happened in the first session. He has been particularly aggressive over them so far today.

05:21 PM

FP2 - Brake-by-wire failure for Russell?

Nope. He says the pedal was "so long". Seems to be coming back to him, though. He's currently down in P18 and starting another hot lap.

05:20 PM

FP2 - Hamilton sets a 1:29.018

That puts him quickest by 0.061s ahead of his team-mate. Track evolution is going to be strong this session.

05:19 PM

FP2 - Hamilton starts another lap

And goes quickest of anyone after one sector. He backs off in the middle sector though, or does he? No, that must have been a replay of Bottas. Hamilton still up after two sectors, can he finish it off?

05:18 PM

FP2 - Bottas now quickest

0.211s quicker than Verstappen, on his eighth lap on the medium tyres. Hamilton locks up at turn one and runs straight on before rejoining the track.

05:17 PM

FP2 - Tsunoda into first, briefly

On the hard tyres, too. Verstappen then takes top spot back by three tenths. Ricciardo now up onto fifth behind the two Ferraris.

"The car feels quite good," Tsunoda says. A tough first season from him with some decent moments. Very little that stands out as stellar.

05:16 PM

FP2 - Top 10 after 15 mins

  1. VER 1:29.706

  2. LEC +0.112

  3. SAI +0.462

  4. ALO +0.483

  5. HAM +0.509

  6. OCO +0.514

  7. NOR +0.574

  8. PER +0.612

  9. RIC +0.692

  10. TSU +0.715

Mazepin still 1.6s off Mick Schumacher...

05:15 PM

FP2 - Here's what the track looks like under lights

In fairness, all street circuits look good under lights. All circuits, in fact.

05:13 PM

FP2 - Verstappen improves

He did this a lot in the early part of FP1. Anyway, he dips into the 1:29s for the first time today. That leaves him ahead of the two Ferraris currently, Leclerc now 0.112s off the Dutchman's pace.

05:11 PM

FP2 - Leclerc into second

Within a tenth of Verstappen. Norris improves but goes fourth, Ricciardo fifth and Gasly now sixth. Hamilton on another hot lap. After two sectors he is 0.079s down on Verstappen. Tight.

Where does he end up?

His time of 1:30.215 puts him third, 0.111s off Verstappen.

05:09 PM

FP2 - That lap is good enough to put Verstappen first

0.667s quicker than Norris.

Ocon on another good lap, quickest of anyone in sector one and a personal best in sector two.

He crosses the line second, 0.116s slower than Verstappen.

05:08 PM

FP2 - Hamilton's first lap is decent

He's 0.243s off Norris but on the medium tyres. Norris is the only driver to set his lap time on the soft tyres. Softer and quicker. Bottas locks up at turn one, saying his tyres were not ready.

Verstappen getting quite aggressive on the kerbs and runs wide. Doesn't stop him going fastest in the middle sector. He was giving it full beans in first practice earlier on.

05:06 PM

FP2 - Bottas about to cross the line

He goes fifth fastest but with the final fastest sector of anyone so far. Lando Norris now tops the time sheets with 1 1:30.771.

05:05 PM

FP2 - 56 mins remain

Ocon leading the way with a 1:31.223 currently. But only three drivers have set times.

05:03 PM

FP2 - 58 mins remain

This is an important session as it is done in the same conditions as qualifying tomorrow. Not the case for FP3 tomorrow.

05:00 PM

GREEN LIGHT: FP2 BEGINS

The usual drill. 60 minutes long.

04:59 PM

Second practice about to get under way

The track looks good under lights.

04:52 PM

More Frank Williams tributes

04:34 PM

Potential danger zones on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit

04:30 PM

Will we see this in F1 qualifying?

Probably...

04:27 PM

FP2 begins in just over 30 minutes

Under lights. Should give us a bit of a better clue as to who might have the upper hand. Might.

02:48 PM

What to make of that, then?

Very much as you were at least at the front. Hard to say at this point - as it ever is - whether any car has an advantage. It's a new track and drivers were feeling their way around this new track and its dangers. Verstappen did not improve greatly on the soft tyres from the hards, so maybe some set-up work to do for Red Bull.

I'll be back at around 4.15pm for the build-up to the second practice session, which takes place under lights.

02:37 PM

Mazepin well and truly adrift at the bottom there

Mick Schumacher was almost closer to Hamilton than Mazepin was to Schumacher...

Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 3, 2021 Haas' Nikita Mazepin during practice - REUTERS 
Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 3, 2021 Haas' Nikita Mazepin during practice - REUTERS

02:35 PM

FP1 - CLASSIFICATION

  1. HAM 1:29.786

  2. VER +0.056

  3. BOT +0.223

  4. GAS +0.477

  5. GIO +0.532

  6. SAI +0.778

  7. LEC +0.814

  8. RIC +0.822

  9. ALO +1.056

  10. VET +1.100

  11. PER +1.174

  12. OCO +1.237

  13. NOR +1.243

  14. STR +1.258

  15. TSU +1.313

  16. RAI +1.510

  17. RUS +1.557

  18. MSC +1.739

  19. LAT +2.035

  20. MAZ +3.678

02:32 PM

CHEQUERED FLAG - FP1 ENDS

Lewis Hamilton ends it quickest ahead of Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas. Gasly in his customary position of fourth again. Giovinazzi in a surprising fifth.

02:31 PM

FP1 - Verstappen improves

But only to second. 0.056s off Hamilton. Not a great improvement between the hard and soft tyres.

02:30 PM

FP1 - There has been a lot of this this session

Especially from Verstappen.

He goes again on the soft tyres and is 0.060s quicker than Hamilton after two sectors. He reaches traffic at the end of the lap so gets a tow, which might help...

02:28 PM

FP1 - Ocon gets in the way of Verstappen

Not close to a crash but they fell over each other at the start. Ocon currently down in 15th, 1.5s off Hamilton's quickest. Almost everyone has completed at least 20 laps. Only Verstappen and Hamilton are in the teens. 18 for Hamilton and 19 for his rival.

02:22 PM

FP1 - Doesn't look like Verstappen is going to improve

Several tenths down after two sectors.

Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 3, 2021 Red Bull's Max Verstappen during practic - REUTERS
Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 3, 2021 Red Bull's Max Verstappen during practic - REUTERS

02:19 PM

FP1 - Verstappen out again on a set of softs

Possibly a set-up change between runs. Let's see if he gets a representative lap time in.

11 mins remain.

02:16 PM

FP1 - Hamilton goes fastest by two tenths

Toto Wolff looks happy in the garage. He's the first man in the 1:29s and ends up 0.223s quicker than team-mate Bottas.

Verstappen didn't improve from his hard tyre run, so something a bit odd there. He did abort one lap, though, but it didn't look especially quick anyway.

02:15 PM

FP1 - 16 mins remain

Here's the current top 10:

  1. BOT 1:30.009

  2. VER +0.005

  3. SAI +0.555

  4. GAS +0.559

  5. LEC +0.591

  6. HAM +0.669

  7. VET +0.877

  8. RIC +0.972

  9. NOR +1.020

  10. GIO +1.027

Hamilton starting a hot lap.

02:13 PM

FP1 - Perez not really pulling up any trees

His latest lap was good enough for 13th only 1.576s off the pace. Got a bit wobbly in the tight final turn.

02:12 PM

FP1 - Bottas having fun

"F---, this track is cool," he says. His 100th race for Mercedes. Hamilton did not complete a hot lap on his last run, doing an out and then an in. He is now out again, though.

02:11 PM

FP1 - Ferrari into second and third

As Bottas looks good on his hot lap to go quickest overall by 0.005s.

Sainz now third, Leclerc fourth.

Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 3, 2021 Ferrari's Charles Leclerc during practice - REUTERS
Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 3, 2021 Ferrari's Charles Leclerc during practice - REUTERS

02:10 PM

FP1 - Verstappen a little off his best first sector time

Still pretty aggressive. He's 0.133s off after two sectors so has some time to make up to make into the 1:29s.

He gets a bit of a tow towards the end of the lap but appears to back off on the start/finish straight.

02:08 PM

FP1 - Most cars on soft tyres now

And a few laps into their runs. Verstappen has just left his garage on the softs after some work went on. A few drivers backing off quick laps for various reasons, namely traffic.

Hamilton also on a set of softs.

02:06 PM

FP1 - Another observation

This track is going to be an absolute nightmare for traffic during qualifying. It's bad enough now during practice when there are more than 15 cars out there.

Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 3, 2021 Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel during practice - REUTERS
Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 3, 2021 Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel during practice - REUTERS

02:04 PM

FP1 - Lando Norris starts a hot lap on the softs

Looks like he backs off mid-way through it, though. Didn't see that he made a mistake but he hit a bit of traffic and then aborted. Not sure who it was.

01:59 PM

FP1 - Not too many mistakes so far

It's quite open. Hamilton put in a quick middle sector - the quickest of anyone - but ends up with a time around 0.7s off his best of the day so far.

01:58 PM

FP1 - Familiar at the front

Lewis Hamilton has just popped up into second on his sixth lap on soft tyres. 0.664s off Verstappen.

Here's the top 10 at just before the half-way stage:

  1. VER 1:30.014

  2. HAM +0.664

  3. BOT +0.935

  4. NOR +1.141

  5. LEC +1.244

  6. GAS +1.267

  7. VET +1.560

  8. RUS +1.684

  9. RIC +1.745

  10. OCO +1.783

01:55 PM

FP1 - Verstappen quicker again...

1:30.014 is his new best, quickest in all three sectors. He was pretty aggressive throughout the lap, running over a big kerb with sparks flying from the plank beneath the car.

Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 03, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabi - Getty Images Europe 
Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 03, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabi - Getty Images Europe

01:51 PM

FP1 - Thoughts so far

If someone gets it wrong at the wrong place it will be a very big crash.

01:50 PM

FP1 - Verstappen goes quicker still

1:30.354s between him and Norris now. It's his second run though unsure whether it's on the same set of hard tyres (likely) or a new set (unlikely).

01:48 PM

FP1 - Hamilton into third

His lap time is not quicker than Norris and 0.558s off Verstappen's quickest.

01:47 PM

FP1 - Top 10 after 15 mins

  1. VER 1:30.920

  2. NOR +0.497

  3. BOT +0.792

  4. RIC +0.839

  5. GAS +0.868

  6. LEC +1.168

  7. GIO +1.541

  8. RUS +1.577

  9. TSU +1.677

  10. LAT +1.703

01:45 PM

FP1 - Norris on a good run

Could this be quickest? Nope. The fastest middle and final sectors but enough for second. The only man within half a second of Verstappen.

01:44 PM

FP1 - Hamilton crosses the line with a 1:33.241

That puts him seventh.

Verstappen continues into his sixth lap (like most, who are doing long-ish first runs) and improves again with a 1:30.920. He is still top, 0.792s ahead of Valtteri Bottas.

01:42 PM

FP1 - Hamilton starts his first hot lap

He, like Bottas, is on the softs. He's 1.190s off Verstappen in the first sector but what do you expect at this stage?

01:40 PM

FP1 - Verstappen improves again

His second lap time on the hards is a 1:31.736. I think that answers the question about whether pole will be in the 1:30s...

Might be closer to 1:20...

Bottas, on the softs, goes into second but 1.278s off Verstappen. Hamilton just out of the pits for the first time.

01:38 PM

FP1 - Top 10

It's early yet but here we go...

  1. VER

  2. GAS

  3. STR

  4. RIC

  5. GIO

  6. NOR

  7. OCO

  8. RAI

  9. LEC

  10. TSU

01:37 PM

FP1 - Gasly into second

He gets to within 0.151s of Verstappen up top. Hamilton and Alonso the only two men yet to take to the track.

01:36 PM

FP1 - Verstappen now quickest

He is currently 1.8s quicker than the next fastest man Lando Norris.

01:35 PM

FP1 - Daniel Ricciardo the fastest so far

He has set a 1:36.362. I wonder what pole position will end up at. In the 1:30s?

01:34 PM

FP1 - Ricciardo warned that the start of the track is slippery

Yuki Tsunoda struggles to get out of his garage but eventually gets on his way. Looks like Verstappen is starting a hot lap on the hard tyres. A mixture of drivers out so far.

Drivers will have done a good amount of time in the simulator but nothing beats actually getting on track in real life.

01:32 PM

FP1 - 58 mins remain

10 drivers currently out on the new track. And now a few more as Verstappen comes out.

01:30 PM

GREEN LIGHT: FP1 BEGINS

Here we go, one hour of running.

01:26 PM

Practice is about to get under way

In just four minutes.

01:22 PM

Many teams, including Aston Martin, are paying tribute to Williams on their cars this weekend

01:22 PM

Sir Frank Williams 1942-2021

It was announced earlier this week that Sir Frank Williams, founder of the team that bears his name, had passed away at the age of 79.

Sir Frank Williams, founder and former team principal of Williams Racing, has died at the age of 79. Under Williams’ stewardship the team won the F1 drivers’ title seven times and the constructors’ championship on nine occasions. SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 19: Sir Frank Williams looks on from the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 19, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria -  Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Sir Frank Williams, founder and former team principal of Williams Racing, has died at the age of 79. Under Williams’ stewardship the team won the F1 drivers’ title seven times and the constructors’ championship on nine occasions. SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 19: Sir Frank Williams looks on from the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 19, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria - Dan Istitene/Getty Images

You can read Oliver Brown's tribute to him here.

01:13 PM

Current constructor standings

01:01 PM

Current driver standings: Top 10

12:54 PM

Lewis Hamilton calls for Saudi Arabia's 'pretty terrifying' LGBT laws to be changed

Lewis Hamilton has called for Saudi Arabia’s “pretty terrifying” laws on LGBTQ+ and women’s rights to be changed, admitting ahead of this weekend’s grand prix that he does “not feel comfortable” racing in the country.

The seven-time world champion, who has come under pressure in the build-up to the race from groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, both of whom have accused Formula 1 of “sportswashing”, said he felt the sport was “duty-bound” to speak up when it visited countries where groups were discriminated against on the basis of gender or sexuality.

The 36 year-old said for his part he would continue to wear the rainbow-striped helmet he wore in Qatar a fortnight ago, in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. And he urged his fellow drivers to speak up in support of human rights.

 Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks to the media in the Paddock during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 02, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia -  Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks to the media in the Paddock during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 02, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - Mark Thompson/Getty Images

12:42 PM

Good afternoon F1 fans

And welcome again to the resumption of our live Formula One coverage. Just two races to go and the championship - actually, neither of them - are decided. Max Verstappen currently leads Lewis Hamilton by just eight points and Mercedes lead Red Bull by an even smaller margin - five points.

The action resumes for the first time since Qatar two weeks ago with the second part of the season-ending Middle East triple header. This time it's the debut of another new track, in Saudi Arabia at the Jeddah Corniche Street Circuit. It is a fast-flowing circuit that looks exceedingly narrow at certain points, especially for the speed the cars will be travelling at.

After a short delay, the Formula 2 cars have had an outing on it and I would be surprised if we escape either of the first two hour-long practice sessions without a red flag. I do also have some worries about the size of crashes we could see, too. The track and facilities were only finished very recently, but let's hope everything goes smoothly.

Who holds the edge heading into this weekend? Well, Hamilton comes here on the back of two consecutive victories in Brazil and Qatar. They were contrasting in nature (Qatar being dominant but Brazil a charge through the field, twice) but it means he comes to this race the favourite despite his points deficit. The high-speed nature will probably favour Mercedes more but who knows? It could be they take another engine penalty and overtaking could be difficult.

Verstappen can win the championship this weekend, unlike Hamilton, and should Hamilton win with Verstappen second the gap will be just one point heading into the decider next weekend. Or, if Hamilton gets the fastest lap point in addition to that scenario it will be level.

What a battle we have set up. First practice starts at 1.30pm with the second session at 5pm under lights. Let's see how it goes...

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