The first free practice session gives us the first data from the new Saudi track in Jeddah, extremely particular and interesting. The world struggle immediately appears very open, with Hamilton and Verstappen just 56 thousandths apart and which gave alternating signals. A very concentrated Verstappen started the session with a set of hard tires and a lot of fuel aboard his RedBull, still setting absolutely remarkable times. RedBull seemed to be looking for confirmation of the work done at the factory in many conditions, and we also saw the world leader carry out more than one aerodynamic test at constant speed, something that rarely happens at RedBull, probably to verify the combination of parameters of aerodynamic load, flows and drag expected at the table. The Austrian team seems to be focused on making the most of the Saudi round, and the potential in this first session however has been seen. By adding up Verstappen’s best partials (including his best last sector obtained with hard rubber), a better time than Hamilton’s of about 1 tenth is obtained. For their part Hamilton and Mercedes seemed to take care of only finishing aspects for now, but with the impression of having a lot in their pocket to be extracted in the next sessions. Looking at Hamilton’s data then, we had the impression of a clipping often present in a significant way, a sign that perhaps on the W12 number 44 the Interlagos engine has not yet been mounted, leaving room for the unit already used in the last race in Qatar.
Going to see the data in more detail, we show the speed and accelerator graph to analyze the first hint of performance and driving styles of the weekend. The peculiarity of the Saudi track emerges at first glance. Once the first sector has been tackled, the rest of the track is literally made up of only 5 stretches interspersed with 4 braking sections, with the speed track particularly “lively” due to the continuous curvature of the track to the right or left, which is however always tackled in filled by the pilots. The point where it seems we can make a lot of difference from the driving point of view is at the end of the first sector, on the whole which starts from turn 7 and ends with turn 12, where we see in this graph (and we have however seen during the session) interpretations and different driving styles. In this stretch Verstappen makes a really substantial difference, with his car having enough grip to allow him to tackle the entire first part of the complex in full, unlike Hamilton who conspicuously lifts his foot off the gas. The speed measurements are also very much in Verstappen’s favor with differences of even more than 15 km / h. However, Honda remains extremely conservative on the power front on Friday and the top speeds recorded by the number 33 RB16B are particularly slower than all the other riders on the track, including of course Mercedes. It is very evident that the power above certain revs is not exactly delivered by the Japanese engine in almost all the stretches of the track. Then there is an evident oversteer snap of Hamilton at turn 16 (with the British who has to raise his foot conspicuously leaving a lot of time in the traction phase) and then the extremely aggressive passage of Verstappen at turn 23, a good 9 km / h faster of Hamilton, with a trend that has been constant in these terms since the beginning of the session. Hard to say for now who has more between the two contenders. RedBull seems very up to date and in any case with potential to extract, Mercedes seems to have absolutely not pushed to the limit. The track, for now, seems not too selective in terms of driving, with 2 sectors on three routes almost always in full swing, but extremely difficult to manage in many situations such as that of giving way to an oncoming driver, or of accidents or confusing moments. . We will see in the rest of the sessions how both the track and the performance of the cars evolve.