25 March 2022

Charles Leclerc tops first practice in Saudi Arabia as Lewis Hamilton struggles

25 March 2022

Charles Leclerc continued where he left off in Bahrain by posting the fastest time in first practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Five days after winning Formula One’s season opener, Leclerc was back on track and back at the top of the time charts.

Leclerc pipped world champion Max Verstappen by 0.116 seconds, with Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas third. Lewis Hamilton was only ninth in his Mercedes.

Jeddah, 870 miles south west of Bahrain, will play host to the second round of the new campaign.

The sport was last here only in December for the penultimate round of Hamilton’s titanic championship duel with Verstappen.

Hamilton came up trumps that day to take the title race to the wire. But the seven-time world champion, who took advantage of the retirement of Verstappen and the Dutchman’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez a week ago to finish third, was again off the pace here.

The British driver was 1.592 seconds behind as his Mercedes team fight to get on top of the new regulations.

In the closing stages, Hamilton also clipped the wall at the opening bend of the sport’s fastest street circuit, but he escaped without major damage. Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell finished 15th, two seconds back.

Leclerc led team-mate Carlos Sainz home in Bahrain as Ferrari started the season in the best possible fashion. And the Italians look to have the machine to beat, with Sainz fourth in the other scarlet car.

The first running of the weekend was suspended for nine minutes when Lando Norris clipped the wall at Turn 1.

Lando Norris clipped a wall early on (Hassan Ammar/AP) (AP)

Norris’ McLaren was largely undamaged in the accident, but the polystyrene hoarding littered the track, and the red flag was deployed as the marshals swept up the mess.

Norris finished 13th, while Kevin Magnussen, who impressed to take fifth last Sunday, failed to set a lap following a hydraulic issue.

The concluding action of the day starts at 8pm (5pm UK time).

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