FP2: Leclerc fastest but Ferrari’s session ends early
Charles Leclerc made it a Friday free practice P1 double before contact with the wall ended his running early in Saudi Arabia.
The Ferrari driver, who leads the World Championship after victory in Bahrain, had been fastest in FP1 and repeated that feat after darkness had fallen on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
But Leclerc’s long-run preparation for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and that of his team-mate Carlos Sainz, was disrupted when both drivers damaged their F1-75 within seconds of each other.
Like a week ago, it was Red Bull who were the closest challengers to Ferrari on the timesheet, followed by Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
The session had been delayed by 15 minutes while Formula 1 and the FIA briefed drivers and team principals about the developing situation outside of the circuit, with reports having emerged in the lead-up to the session that a missile attack had caused a large fire at an oil refinery.
Black smoke had been seen billowing, along with flames, during daylight hours, with Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group reported to have claimed responsibility.
But all drivers chose to run in FP2, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez the last two to head out – seemingly only due to some last-minute preparations rather than any reluctance over security.
After a 15-minute hold, green light for FP2 🟢 pic.twitter.com/R3W171lfTe
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) March 25, 2022
Sainz and Hamilton could be seen bobbing along in their ‘porpoising’ Ferrari and Mercedes respectively, with the seven-time former World Champion reporting “a lot of bouncing” over the team radio, whereas Leclerc enjoyed a smoother ride as he set the early pace with a 1:30.216 on the medium tyres.
Hamilton requested “the spare seat that’s higher” to aid visibility on a circuit likened to driving around a cage and while that was being fitted, Verstappen took over at the top of the timesheet by just two thousandths of a second from Leclerc – with Sainz and Perez within a tenth and a half and the rest effectively nowhere at that stage.
As the soft tyres were rolled out, Lando Norris showed some welcome improvement for a struggling McLaren team to temporarily push up into the top six, while Kevin Magnussen, who had been forced to miss the vast majority of FP1, expressed concerns about his VF-22 – with good reason, as it turned out.
The Dane, a magnificent fifth on his F1 return in the Bahrain Grand Prix, pulled over with a suspected hydraulic problem after a heavy contact on the kerb to trigger a Virtual Safety Car period, compounding a much more difficult day for the Haas team.
Leclerc and Sainz were then among drivers to brush the wall, with the Monegasque ominously reporting “my car is broken” in the midst of a long run, having to cruise back to the pits with an opportunity to accumulate race-relevant data having slipped away. It was also, worryingly for Ferrari, ‘session over’ for Sainz because of his impact.
Following both drivers kissing the wall they won’t resume this session due to damages.#SaudiArabianGP #FP2 pic.twitter.com/soVHd33J99
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) March 25, 2022
Nico Hulkenberg, deputising again for Covid-19 victim Sebastian Vettel, batted off a question from his race engineer about aero balance in the Aston Martin by saying: “I don’t know…I’m busy driving!”
But neither he nor his team-mate Lance Stroll were threatening the top 10 as the order at the top bore a big resemblance to last weekend, despite the different variety of circuit.
That extended to Hamilton and Russell being P5 and P6, which meant FP2 ended with the top five in the same positions as they started the race in Bahrain – and with yellow flags waving after Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri suffered a failure and stopped on track.
1 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:30.074
2 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 0.140s
3 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 0.246s
4 Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 0.286s
5 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 0.439s
6 George Russell (Mercedes) 0.590s
7 Lando Norris (McLaren) 0.661s
8 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) 0.686s
9 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) 0.758s
10 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) 0.812s
11 Fernando Alonso (Alpine) 0.870s
12 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) 0.889s
13 Mick Schumacher (Haas) 1.095s
14 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) 1.298s
15 Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) 1.453s
16 Nico Hulkenberg (Aston Martin) 1.541s
17 Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo) 1.541s
18 Nicholas Latifi (Williams) 1.740s
19 Alex Albon (Williams) 1.792s
20 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) 2.270s