Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton made the early run on the new circuit in Jeddah as he set the fastest time in both practice sessions on Friday for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver, who will be racing in support of human rights and the LGBTQ+ community this weekend by wearing a rainbow helmet, set the fastest time of 1 minute 29.786 seconds in the first session on the new street circuit.
He later topped it off with 1 minute 29.018 seconds under the spotlight in the shortened second session.
It was the first time the drivers faced the new Jeddah Corniche circuit with a series of high-speed bends which proved a lot for Charles Leclerc, who pushed his Ferrari into the wall at Turn 22 towards the end of the second session.
Monaco, who is still tenth in the standings, confirmed it was fine over the radio, but the session was red and did not resume.
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Other drivers seem to be giving a thumbs up to the new route.
“This track is fantastic,” Valtteri Bottas told Mercedes engineers during the first session before setting the second-fastest time of the day at 1min 29.079sec, 0.61sec behind his teammate.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly came in third, ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who went at 1 minute 29.213secs.
Verstappen has an eight-point lead over Hamilton in the penultimate race of the season and is likely to win the title on Sunday.
Hamilton has won the last two races in Brazil and Qatar to cut back Verstappen’s edge, but if the Dutchman wins on Sunday and Hamilton finishes outside the top six, it will be a Red Bull player who wins the title.
The Alps of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were fifth and sixth, ahead of another Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and Yuki Tsunoda in the second Alpha Tauri and Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez who appeared to be having troubles at the track.
Daniel Ricciardo finished Exercise 1 in eighth place in the timelines, while he did slightly worse in Practice 2, where he finished 11th.