Max Verstappen fastest in first practice as Red Bulls lead Aston Martins in Jeddah


Saudi Arabian GP: Reigning world champion Max Verstappen comfortably clear of rivals in first Jeddah practice session; Fernando Alonso splits Red Bulls to take second; George Russell fourth ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton; Watch Practice Two live on Sky Sports F1 at 5pm

Max Verstappen delivered another ominous display of speed to lead a Red Bull one-two in first practice at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Verstappen showed no signs of the illness that caused him to miss media duties in Jeddah on Thursday as he delivered a 1:29.617 to finish almost half a second clear of team-mate Sergio Perez at F1’s fastest street circuit.

Completing a repeat of the top three from the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix earlier this month, Fernando Alonso was third for Aston Martin, who enjoyed another hugely encouraging session with Lance Stroll fourth.

Attempting to regroup after a demoralising start to their season in Bahrain, Mercedes had George Russell in fifth a place ahead of Lewis Hamilton, but both cars were more than a second off Verstappen’s leading time.

Carlos Sainz was seventh for Ferrari, who confirmed during the session that they have installed new power units on both of their cars for the second round of the season following Charles Leclerc’s retirement in Bahrain.

Leclerc, who has incurred a 10-place grid penalty for installing his third control electronics unit of the season, finished 11th.

Pierre Gasly was eighth as he continued his acclimatisation to new team Alpine, while Alex Albon provided more encouragement for Williams as he backed up a point-scoring start to the season with ninth.

There was little sign of improvement for McLaren as Lando Norris finished 2.5s off the pace in last, while rookie team-mate Oscar Piastri fared little better in 14th.

Having impressed in Bahrain, Alfa Romeo showed a concerning lack of pace with Valtteri Bottas 18th and team-mate Zhou Guanyu a place below him.

While reigning world champion Verstappen’s speed may appear ominous for rivals, Friday’s second session, under the lights, will provide conditions representative of those that will be seen in qualifying on Saturday and Sunday’s race.

Verstappen had posted on social media on Thursday that he was “feeling fine again” after a stomach bug had caused him to delay his flight to Saudi Arabia, and he backed up that claim on Friday.

The Dutchman, who is seeking a third successive drivers’ title, was the last car out on track in the extreme late-afternoon heat, but took little time to rise to the top of the timesheet.

Despite complaining of balance issues, he continued to improve throughout the session and set his fastest time in the closing moments to leave no doubt about his status as the clear favourite for this weekend’s race and the world championship.

With Mercedes and Ferrari both having started the season on the back foot, Aston Martin appear to be the team most capable of challenging Red Bull at this early stage of the 23-race campaign.

Alonso spent much of the session ahead of Perez before being dislodged from second late on, while team-mate Stroll backed up his heroic comeback from a cycling accident in Bahrain to slot into fourth.