Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow’s priority on the first day of practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend was to get to know the Jeddah Corniche track. It lived up to expectations in being completely different to any other, both in terms of having a very fast layout, even with its 27 corners and because of the way the tyres performed, with unusually, the Hard compound so far proving to be the best in terms of outright performance. The team’s day got complicated just a few minutes from the end of the second session, when Charles Leclerc crashed heavily into the barriers at Turn 22. The driver emerged unscathed, but there was considerable damage done to the number 16 SF21. However, the chassis and power unit do not need to be replaced and will be used for the race as planned.
In the first session, both drivers ran just the softest of the three Pirelli compounds, due to concerns that the very dusty track surface would not offer much grip, although actually it was better than expected. Carlos set a best time of 1’30”564, 36 thousandths faster than his team-mate. They each did 26 laps, meaning that between them they covered just over the distance of Sunday’s 50 lap Grand Prix, which starts at 20.30 local (18.30 CET).
In the evening session, Carlos (22 laps completed) and Charles (23) continued with the world of evaluating the tyres, splitting the task in the first half of the session when the former ran the Hards and the latter the Mediums. They both improved constantly as they got to know the track and as a function of the grip improving as the track gradually rubbered in, also helped by the temperature dropping over the hour. Carlos got down to a 1’29”804 and Charles posted a 1’29”818. They then turned their attention to qualifying simulation, running the Soft compound to set their best times, which, as was the case for other drivers, were only slightly quicker. Sainz did a 1’29”589 at his second attempt, while Leclerc managed a 1’29”772. As usual, the session ended with long runs in race configuration, ending slightly early because of Charles’ accident.
‘Very exciting day in general, just getting to know the track and getting used to such a different kind of circuit. Going at these speeds between walls is really intense and gives you a big rush of adrenaline. The car felt quite good today so now it’s all about fine tuning, understanding the tyres, the setup of the car and what is the right strategy for the rest of the weekend.
‘Blind corners are obviously an issue whenever someone is cooling down and you are on a push lap because of the huge speed difference so we all need to be super focused even when we are not pushing. The track leaves very little margin for mistakes and Charles was unfortunate today. I’m sure the team can fix his car for tomorrow and we can both push hard come Qualifying.’
‘A day that unfortunately did not end up the way we would have wanted. On the upside, we ran through our planned programme and completed all the tests we wanted to in our two sessions. The potential is there and if we can put it all together tomorrow, we should have a good day. I am sorry for the team who will have to put in a lot of work to have the car ready tomorrow and I will do everything I can to bring home the best possible result to thank them.
‘I really liked the track itself and I’d say that the best part to drive is around the high-speed section. It is however unforgiving and there is no room for any mistakes. The most challenging part is getting into the right rhythm with all the blind corners there are. But, as soon as you do, it’s even more exciting to drive.
‘The grip was better than I expected, and everyone working at the track did a great job in cleaning it up and making it a lot less dusty than it was yesterday. What was peculiar was the track evolution, which was different to what we usually see at city circuits. Tomorrow, it will be key to go out at the right time in qualifying and get a clean lap by avoiding traffic, as the track is very narrow.’