Formula One practice in Saudi Arabia delayed by nearby fire in attacks by rebels from Yemen

F1 Saudi Arabia fire
Ayman Yaqoob/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The second practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was delayed by 15 minutes as F1 officials met with drivers after a raging fire erupted at an oil depot nearby in Jiddah on Friday. Yemen’s Houthis rebels acknowledged they launched a series of terrorist attacks on the kingdom.

While Saudi Arabia and its state-run oil behemoth Saudi Aramco did not immediately acknowledge the blaze, it appeared to be centered on the same fuel depot the Houthis attacked in recent days.

An Associated Press photojournalist covering the first practice earlier saw the smoke rising in the distance to the east, just after 5:40 p.m. local time. As the flames rose, the tops of the tanks of the bulk plant were clearly visible.

The second practice was to begin under floodlights at 8 p.m. local time. But it was pushed back to 8:15 p.m. and got under way following a meeting between drivers, team principals and F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali.

Saudi Arabia state TV said there was a “hostile operation” that targeted the Jiddah oil depot, which erupted in flames during the first practice about 11 kilometers (7 miles) away.

Charles Leclerc, who is the PointsBet favorite for the race, posted the fastest time ahead of world champion Max Verstappen in the first practice session.

The Ferrari driver moved to the top near the end and was 0.116 seconds faster than Verstappen for Red Bull.

Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas was third fastest on the 6.2-kilometer (3.8-mile) Jeddah Corniche Circuit and was .312 seconds behind Leclerc. Carlos Sainz Jr. was fourth best for Ferrari.

But Mercedes struggled again with the weight of its car. Seven-time Lewis Hamilton was ninth quickest and Mercedes teammate George Russell was 15th.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen came back to the garage after only a few minutes because of a hydraulic problem and did not get back out on track.

The session was briefly interrupted by a red flag after about 20 minutes when McLaren driver Lando Norris clipped the wall heading into Turn 1 and a board fell onto the track.

Leclerc won last Sunday’s season-opening race in Bahrain, where Verstappen scored no points after retiring near the end of that race.