Lewis Hamilton (Qualifying – Hamilton 4/7, Verstappen3/1) set the quickest time in both of Friday’s practices for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as the 2021 Championship heads into its penultimate qualifying session.
It is the first time the F1 entourage has headed to Saudi Arabia for the race which will take place at the fast Jeddah street circuit.
Hamilton topped the times in free practice one and he repeated the trick in the second session.
Valtteri Bottas was second as he races for the penultimate time in Mercedes colours, while Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly had a good hour, coming third.
Hamilton’s main title nemesis Max Verstappen (Race – Hamilton 4/7, Verstappen 9/4) could only manage fourth, despite being less than two-tenths of a second slower than Hamilton.
Alpine duo Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon rounded off the top six.
Charles Leclerc’s massive shunt caused the red flags to come out with five minutes to go, as he had a 150mph accident at the challenging 22nd corner, one identified by drivers as particularly tricky to negotiate.
Unusually, Hamilton and Bottas did not set their fastest time on the soft tyres, as both major teams struggled to get their cars to work on the theoretically grippier tyre.
Verstappen also complained about the front end of his car.
The Dutchman leads the championship by eight points and still has the advantage going into the Gulf races.
However, Hamilton is in better form after winning the two previous races in Brazil and Qatar, and his car is expected to be quicker in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi next weekend.
The Brit is gunning for an eighth world title (Championship – Hamilton 4/6, Verstappen 11/10) which would surpass the record her currently shares with Michael Schumacher.