JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA (REUTERS) - Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton made the early running on the new track in Jeddah as he clocked the fastest time in both practice sessions on Friday (Dec 3) for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver, who will race in support of human rights and the LGBTQ+ community this weekend by wearing a rainbow-coloured helmet, posted a quickest time of 1min 29.786secs in the first session on the new street circuit.
He later eclipsed that with 1min 29.018secs under the lights in the curtailed second session.
It was the first time that the drivers had come up against the new Jeddah Corniche circuit with its series of high-speed bends which proved too much for Charles Leclerc who ploughed his Ferrari into the wall at Turn 22 towards the end of the second session.
The Monegasque, who still pulled the 10th fastest time, confirmed he was okay over the radio but the session was red flagged and was not resumed.
Other drivers appeared to give the thumbs-up to the new track.
"This track is cool," Valtteri Bottas told Mercedes engineers during the first session before clocking the day's second quickest time of 1min 29.079secs, just 0.61secs behind his teammate.
AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly was third quickest, ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen who went round in 1min 29.213secs.
Verstappen takes an eight-point lead over Hamilton into the penultimate race of the season and could potentially win the title on Sunday.
Hamilton has won the last two races in Brazil and Qatar to trim Verstappen's advantage but if the Dutchman wins on Sunday and Hamilton finishes outside the top six it will be the Red Bull man who takes his crown.
The Alpines of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were fifth and sixth quickest, ahead of the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, Yuki Tsunoda in the second AlphaTauri and Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez who appeared to struggle with the circuit.
Qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix takes place on Saturday from 1700GMT (1am on Sunday, Singapore time).