The opening day of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix failed to throw up any big surprises with the Jeddah Corniche Circuit providing a good amount of grip. Pirelli's three compounds have worked as expected with only the soft tyres causing headaches due to the warm-up difficulties.
For the first visit to the spectacular new Jeddah street circuit in Saudi Arabia, the 34th country to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix, Pirelli is bringing the three compounds in the middle of the range: the C2 as the P Zero White hard, C3 as the P Zero Yellow medium, and C4 as the P Zero Red soft: the most commonly-selected nomination this year.
One of the most demanding of the 27 corners is Turn 13: a left-hander featuring 12-degree banking that should place high g forces on the tyres. Jeddah has more corners than any other track on the calendar, which will keep the tyres working hard.
Many parts of the circuit are quite narrow and unforgiving, with the walls close to the side of the track. This could lead to a reasonably high safety car probability, affecting strategy.
After the first day of the inaugural Saui Arabian Grand Prix, it looks like that the track is in good conditions despite the very late finish to the constractions works, and the tyres seem to cope well with the demands of the high-speed corners. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton went fastest in both free practice sessions yesterday. In FP1, the Briton went quickest on the P Zero Red soft C4 tyre while he set the fastest time of the day on the P Zero Yellow medium C3 in FP2, ahead of his team mate Valtteri Bottas.
With similar temperatures, both sessions could be relevant to what the teams will face in qualifying and the race on Sunday. As expected, the weather was warm and dry all day, with around 29 degrees ambient and 30 degrees of track temperature.
Although there was a high degree of track evolution, the track was surprisingly grippy right from the start of the day also thanks to high-pressure water cleaning
The performance gaps up to now between the compounds are in line with expectations, with an estimated difference of around 0.6 seconds between P Zero White hard C2 and medium, and approximately 0.3 seconds between the medium and soft. The combination of the small gap between soft and medium and the management required on the soft could lead to many drivers selecting the medium in Q2 tomorrow.
Commenting on the opening day, Pirelli’s Head of F1 and Car Racing Mario Isola said: “Free practice today was especially important at this brand new venue with such high speeds, but most of the drivers were surprised by how much grip there was right from the start of the day, although the track continued to evolve.
„With an emphasis on data collection, the teams ran all three compounds in both sessions today. In FP1, we noticed some graining, especially on the soft, and some blistering on all compounds, which was reduced in FP2 as the teams improved their knowledge of the circuit and optimised car setup. This trend is set to continue over the rest of the weekend.
„The drivers seemed particularly confident on the hard and medium tyres, which enabled them to push hard, whereas the soft tyre requires a bit more management and was less favoured, probably due to tread movement. The first read that the teams have on the tyres confirms the reasonably small performance gap here between the soft and the medium tyre, which will definitely have an effect on qualifying strategy tomorrow,” the Italian concluded.