Lewis Hamilton said the difference in speeds between Formula One cars on a flying lap and those running slowly at the new circuit were approaching a “danger zone” after near-misses in Friday’s opening practice for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The Briton, who trails Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by eight points in the overall standings with two races to go and this weekend is gunning for a third straight win, took avoiding action twice to avoid slower moving cars while on fast laps.
“That’s definitely a lot worse than a lot of places we’ve been to,” Hamilton, fastest in Friday’s two sessions, added.
“Monaco-esque – the closing speed on other cars is definitely getting to a bit of a danger zone,” he said referring to the narrow, twisting, albeit it slower, Monaco street track infamous for slower cars getting in the way of faster runners.
The new 6.1-km long Jeddah track is set to be the second quickest on the calendar after Italian ‘Temple of Speed’ Monza.
Its fast, flowing layout of mainly flat-out blasts along the city’s Red Sea waterfront and a succession of high speed corners hemmed in by walls make it difficult for drivers to see slower moving cars, which could prove tricky during qualifying.
Charles Leclerc was caught out by the high-speed track, his Ferrari crashing backwards into the barriers during the second practice session, although the Monegasque, who was unhurt, was running by himself at the time.
“There’s so many kind of blind corners and closing speeds are high,” said McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. You try and get out of everyone’s way. I probably got in some people’s way today, some people got in mine.
“It can get very tricky, very messy, very quickly,” added Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
Despite the risks, drivers enjoyed tearing around the coastal venue, their cars sparking away and looking spectacular under the floodlights.
“Rapid! It really is incredibly fast and a lot of grip as well,” said seven-times world champion Hamilton.
“When you get the rhythm it’s a beautiful track.”
His Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas added: “It’s quite hardcore, it’s pretty full gas and close to the walls and high speeds … definitely gives you a bit of an adrenaline rush.”