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Leclerc edges out Verstappen in opening practice

NEWS STORY
25/03/2022

Ahead of today's opening session the air temperature is 23 degrees C, while the track temperature is 29 degrees.

As was the case last weekend, due to the fact that this session - and FP3 - take place in totally conditions to qualifying and the race it is mainly redundant, certainly as far as this weekend is concerned.

However, for those teams with issues - basically everyone bar Ferrari - this is the perfect time to work on said issues and see if they've been resolved.

Once again, Nico Hulkenberg fills in for Sebastian Vettel, the four-time world champion having failed to return a negative test for COVID.

The lights go green and Alonso leads the way, followed by Hulkenberg, Stroll, Bottas, Gasly and Ocon. Most are on hards though the Alpine pair are on mediums.

Hamilton is among the early risers, like his teammate he is on the softs.

Hulkenberg gets things going with a 39.317, but this is soon beaten by Gasly, Ocon, Perez, Tsunoda and Ricciardo, who crosses the line at 35.337.

Verstappen posts a 34.167 on the hards.

"In slowly, in slowly and do not shift," Magnussen is warned. Hamilton is warned of a headwind into the last corner.

Indeed, it is quite windy as proven by Gasly who does well to keep his car out of the barriers, just moments after Verstappen had locked-up and run wide in the same corner.

Perez crosses the line at 33.021 having been quickest in the two final sectors. However, Verstappen responds with a 31.885.

PBs in all three sectors see Hamilton split the Bulls with a 32.992.

Tsunoda goes second (32.388) and Perez third (32.689), as Verstappen ups the ante with a 31.298.

14 minutes into the session, there are 14 times on the door, with the Ferrari pair among those still to appear.

In the Haas garage, Magnussen appears to have a hydraulic leak. That's a big blow to the Dane who has no experience of this track, not even in the simulator. The ensuing radiator change is not the work of a moment.

Gasly goes third (32.501), as Norris reports that he "skimmed" the wall at Turn 1. As you do.

As Verstappen improves to 30.888, the session is red flagged after a braking marker board at Turn 1 has fallen on to the track. Indeed it turns out that it was actually the marker that Norris hit not the wall.

The session resumes with 34 minutes remaining, Russell leading the way, from Zhou, Leclerc, Sainz and Bottas. The Ferrari pair are on hards whilst the Mercedes duo continue with softs.

Russell, is one of several drivers, the others being Magnussen and the Ferrari pair, yet to post a time.

The Briton subsequently goes 17th with a 35.821.

Leclerc goes tenth (33.987) and Sainz 15th (34.632).

As more drivers switch to the softs, Hamilton goes fourth with a 32.364, but remains 1.4s off Verstappen's hard pace.

"There's a lot of bouncing," reports Hamilton.

Early days, but the Alfas are at the wrong end of the timesheets, as is Schumacher, the Williams pair and, indeed, Russell.

On softs, Tsunoda goes quickest in S1 before appearing to back off in S2.

The Japanese is demoted when Leclerc posts a 31.470 to go second on the hards.

Moments later the Monegasque is demoted when Gasly (softs) posts a 31.317.

"Did the wind or something pick up, it's really difficult" queries Verstappen after running wide in Turn 8.

The Mercedes pair had been running different rear wings, but Russell is now using the same wing as his teammate.

Stuck behind Russell, Verstappen is urged to push the Briton. "If he wants to ruin his tyres for the first lap, that's fine," he is told. The Dutchman is yet to post a competitive time on the red-banded rubber.

Reporting a "burning smell", Verstappen is assured that it is not his car.

As Sainz reports "a lot of bouncing" there do not appear to be many significant improvements on the softs. That said, Ocon has gone sixth and Alonso 8th.

With 5 minutes remaining, Haas confirms that Magnussen will play no further part in the session.

Bottas improves to tenth with a 32.456.

"We're going to have to box and put fuel in the car," Stroll is told.

PBs in all three sectors - no purples - Leclerc goes quickest with a 30.772, that's 0.116s up on Verstappen's hard pace.

Relay shows the Ferrari driver getting a nice tow from one of the Mercedes.

A late, late improvement sees Bottas go third (31.084).

The session ends. Leclerc is quickest, ahead of Verstappen, Bottas, Sainz, Gasly, Tsunoda, Perez, Ocon, Hamilton and Alonso.

Ricciardo is eleventh, ahead of Stroll, Norris, Zhou, Russell, Hulkenberg, Albon, Latifi, Schumacher and Magnussen.

Check out our Friday gallery from Jeddah, here.

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