Leclerc fastest in Jeddah FP2, but both Ferraris clip the wall

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari F1-75. 25.03.2022 Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah
ยฉ XPB 

Charles Leclerc continued to set the pace in Friday practice for this weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, ending the evening session with a 0.140s edge over Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

However it was far from plain sailing for Ferrari, with Leclerc clipping the wall on a subsequent run which bent his suspension, and his team mate Carlos Sainz himself also slapping the barrier. It meant both cars ended the evening early without making long distance simulation runs.

Even worse hit was Kevin Magnussen. Although Haas were able to get the Dane out on track after his earlier hydraulic failure in FP1, a new issue saw the VF-22 stop on track midway through the hour-long second session which triggered a Virtual Safety Car.

Held in the daylight of late afternoon, first practice had been largely irrelevant to the conditions drivers can expect to face in Saturday's qualifying and Sunday's race. It meant that Friday evening's post-sunset FP2 session assumed even greater importance for teams seeking to optimise their set-ups, and to see how they were comparing to the other teams in the pecking order at Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A522. 25.03.2022 Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah, Saudi Arabi

However before that could happen there was a 15 minute delay to the start of the session, with the drivers and team bosses having been in a briefing about a reported missile strike by Yemen's Houthi rebels on a nearby oil refinery on the outskirts of the city. Everyone had been seeking reassurances about the safety of the event, but when the lights finally went green at the end of pit lane everyone was committed to getting back down to F1 business.

If nothing else, the delay had benefitted Haas who had now completed the radiator change in Kevin Magnussen's car after hydraulic issues had prevented the Dane from any running in the earlier practice. Track officials had also been happy with more time to make repairs to the circuit after a number of big crashes in the intervening support races.

There were plenty of drivers heading straight out, most of them on medium tyres but a few (including Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso) on hard tyres. It was Hulkenberg's second race for Aston Martin after Sebastian Vettel was once again ruled out with COVIDm, and he was one of three drivers with no prior experience of the circuit along with Guanyu Zhou and Kevin Magnussen and keen to make up the deficit.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W13. 25.03.2022 Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah

The Ferraris picked up where they had left off with Charles Leclerc quick to go top with a time of 1:30.216s three quarters of a second ahead of team mate Carlos Sainz, followed by AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda, Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas and McLaren's Lando Norris. Then it was the two Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell who were a full two seconds off the top time after their first bouncing run. The two Red Bulls were last to head out, Max Verstappen going third quickest but a second off Leclerc while Sergio Perez opened his account outside the top ten.

Further laps saw Sainz close to within a tenth of Leclerc and Verstappen also narrowed the gap in third, while Perez' next tour saw him up in fourth ahead of Tsunoda, Bottas, Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo in eighth. Verstappen then finally displaced Leclerc and went top by two thousandths. After that came a brief lull on track, as the cars returned to pit lane to analyse the data and pick up new tyres for the qualifying simulation part of the evening's proceedings.

The Aston Martins of Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll were first to come out on new sets of the soft compound, soon followed by Russell and Alex Albon - the successor to his former seat at Williams - and then by Norris. But everyone was waiting to see what the leaders at the top of the timing screens could so, and soon both Ferraris had made the change of compound and set off on their runs. However gusty winds and a crowded track were making it difficult to get a clean lap in, as Albon found with a near-miss with a slow-moving Hamilton who was complaining that his W13 was low on power.

Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Alfa Romeo F1 Team C42. 25.03.2022 Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah

Leclerc finally found sufficient space to go back to the top with a time of 1:30.074s. The Mercedes pair also improved, Hamilton and Russell taking up fifth and sixth ahead of Norris and Esteban Ocon. However further runs were temporarily suspended by Magnussen breaking down in sector 2 and triggering a Virtual Safety Car just moments after he had informed the Haas pit wall that the VF-22 was down on power after completing just 13 laps in the session.

Once the Haas was cleared away, cars got back to work with Verstappen setting a purple middle sector but not improving his time overall. Leclerc was also pushing, only to clip the inside wall at the apex of turn 4, bending the steering on the F1-75 and bringing his session to a premature end once he limped home to pit lane. Sainz also dabbed the wall on his own run, and was likewise forced to park up in the Ferrari garage.

The remaining runners turned to long distance race simulations meaning there was little change on the timesheets. Leclerc's existing time was good enough to put him ahead of Verstappen, Sainz, Perez, Hamilton, Russell, Norris, Ocon, Bottas and Tsunoda, who radioed "Trouble, trouble!" as the Alphatauri gave a huge shudder and came to a halt which triggered double waved yellows just as the clock hit zero.

Yuki Tsunoda (JPN) AlphaTauri AT03. 25.03.2022 Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah

Alonso didn't get a clear run on the softs and finished 11th fastest followed by Gasly, Mick Schumacher, Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo, with Hulkenberg 16th tied on times with Alfa rookie Zhou, and the two Williams of Nicholas Latifi (who also tapped the wall in the final moments) and Alex Albon the last of the 19 drivers to set a representative time after Magnussen's early exit.

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