Max Verstappen set the pace in the opening practice session for the 2023 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, beating Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez by almost half a second as Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso finished third ahead of team-mate Lance Stroll.
The Red Bull drivers were quickly off the block in the early running and Pérez claimed top sport a few minutes in with a lap of 1:32.969. However, unlike the bulk of the field, who stuck to medium compound Pirelli rubber in the opening exchanges, the Mexican driver chose to open on soft tyres.
Alonso joined the Red Bull driver in that choice and he then eclipsed Pérez with a lap of 1:32.838, which was then beaten by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, though his lap of 1:32.665 was perhaps surprisingly, set on hards.
Pérez, still on the same set of softs, then moved back to top spot with a lap of 1:31.486 but he was gain ousted by Alonso on a 1:31.262. Pérez wasn’t done, though, and he took P1 once more after a tour of 1:30.592s.
Defending champion and current title leader Max Verstappen had yet to appear, however, and when the Dutchman eventually made his first appearance it was on soft tyres. He quickly vaulted to the top of the timesheet and gradually worked his way to a time of 1:29.815.
The Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz also put in good laps at this juncture though they were forced to settle for seventh and eight places, behind Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate George Russell.
Alonso emerged on another set of softs and he managed to shave almost two tenths of a second off his personal best to close the gap to the Red Bull. Verstappen improved again though to widen the gap to the then second-place Aston Martin driver and when Pérez at last found enough pace to leapfrog Alonso and get to just over five tenths of the Dutchman, Alonso has to settle for third, as he did not improved on his final flying lap. Verstappen then shaved more time of his personal best to seal P1 with a lap of 1m29.617 while Pérez close to 0.438 off the Dutchman.
With Alonso third, almost seven tenths of a second off P1, Stroll took fourth for Aston Martin with a best time 1:30.577 that left as the last man withing a second of Verstappen.
Russell finished fifth for Mercedes 1:30.771 just 0.016s ahead of Hamilton, with Sainz in seventh. Alpine’s Pierre Gasly finished in eighth place ahead of Williams’ Alex Albon and the top 10 order was rounded out by AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda. In the other Ferrari, Charles Leclerc finished in P11 ahead of the second Alpine of Esteban Ocon and the second AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 18 1:29.617
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing 20 1:30.100 0.483
3 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 22 1:30.315 0.698
4 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 20 1:30.577 0.960
5 George Russell Mercedes 26 1:30.771 1.154
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 26 1:30.787 1.170
7 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 23 1:30.924 1.307
8 Pierre Gasly Alpine 24 1:30.949 1.332
9 Alex Albon Williams 23 1:31.030 1.413
10 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 25 1:31.110 1.493
11 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 26 1:31.118 1.501
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine 22 1:31.181 1.564
13 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 29 1:31.450 1.833
14 Oscar Piastri McLaren 24 1:31.491 1.874
15 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 22 1:31.552 1.935
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas 23 1:31.566 1.949
17 Logan Sargeant Williams 26 1:31.922 2.305
18 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 25 1:31.970 2.353
19 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 22 1:31.986 2.369
20 Lando Norris McLaren 21 1:32.149 2.532