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Hamilton tops FP1 in Saudi Arabia, as Perez struggles to perform

Hamilton tops FP1 in Saudi Arabia, as Perez struggles to perform

03-12-2021 14:30 Last update: 14:40

Lewis Hamilton has topped the first free practice session of the weekend in Saudi Arabia. Max Verstappen looked to be in control of the session, but his rival for the World Championship increased his pace in the final 15 minutes. The Dutchman eventually finished second after a strong final lap. The Dutchman picked up a tow from a Williams in the final sector. Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top three. 

Verstappen pumped in the laps early. He continued to improve and raise the bar throughout most of the session. In less than 25 minutes, the Dutchman recorded 12 laps but his lap count reduced in the second half. This session took place in daytime conditions, though the floodlights were starting to take over in the final quarter. FP2 this evening will replicate the conditions as best as possible for qualifying and the race. 

Bottas was able to stay close to Verstappen and Hamilton, whereas Red Bull's second driver Sergio Perez was significantly off the pace and couldn't breach the top 10. Going against predictions, the yellow flag only made a couple of brief appearances and all drivers kept their cars under control on the green narrow track to avoid a red flag situation. 

In a similar style to the Qatar Grand Prix weekend, Pierre Gasly knocked on the door of the top three drivers. Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi also had a strong session spending a significant amount of time in the top five places. Once again, Ferrari seemed to have the early advantage over McLaren in the battle for third place in the Constructors Championship. 

High-speed track 

We're set for a lightning-fast Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend in Saudi Arabia. The track is very similar to Monaco, except it's much faster and drivers had to get accustomed to the circuit and the walls. Those who became confident with the circuit quickly will reap the rewards in qualifying. 

Hamilton and Bottas were two of the last three cars to go out on the circuit. Most drivers opted to run some laps early in the session to try and learn the track as much as possible. In those early laps, Verstappen became the first driver to set a marker with a 1:33.614 on the hard tyres. Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll were his closest competitors in the opening 10 minutes. 

Hamilton finally got a lap in but only reached P7 in the initial stages and sat far behind his World Championship rival. Lando Norris became the first driver to really push hard on the circuit by attacking the kerbs and getting closer to the walls. But it was Verstappen who continued to raise the bar throughout the session. 

With 20 minutes remaining, Bottas ensured we'd get a change on the top of the leaderboard by setting a 1:30.009 on a used set of soft tyres. He responded with a "**** this track is good". His counterpart Perez struggled on the circuit and only just climbed into 13th place at this point. Hamilton then took control of the session on a fresh set of softs. On the final lap of the session, Verstappen put on some soft tyres to move to P2 and only 0.056 seconds behind Hamilton, though the number 33 driver picked up a strong tow on this lap. 

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