The seven-time world champion, who goes into the final two races of the season eight points behind Verstappen, headed the field with a 1m29.786s around the ultra-fast brand new Jeddah Corniche Circuit. 

Hamilton finished FP1 just 0.056s clear of Verstappen after the Red Bull driver improved on the soft tyre in the closing moments of the session, having led the way early on with a succession of fastest laps on the hards. 

Valtteri Bottas was two-tenths adrift of the championship contenders to make it a Mercedes 1-3. 

Pierre Gasly demonstrated AlphaTauri’s impressive one-lap pace to get within half a second of Hamilton’s benchmark in fourth, while outgoing Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi popped in a lap good enough for fifth. 

Less than a tenth split the Ferrari duo of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in sixth and seventh, while Daniel Ricciardo was the only McLaren driver to feature inside the top-10. 

Fresh from his first podium of the year in Qatar, Fernando Alonso took ninth for Alpine, with Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel completing the top-10 order in FP1. 

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez struggled for pace throughout the session and could not break into the top-10, finishing 11th and over a second down as the drivers got up to speed and began to explore the limits of the new track. 

Despite the fast-flowing nature of the circuit, the drivers managed to avoid the close walls, with only a few yellow flags briefly flashing up during FP1. 

Traffic did prove to be a problem, however, with both Bottas and Lance Stroll nearly being caught out by slow-moving Haas cars.