F1: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on pole for Saudi Arabian GP


F1: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on pole for Saudi Arabian GP

  • Verstappen was fastest by 0.319 seconds ahead of Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, with the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez 0.016s further back.
The pole position puts Verstappen on course for another win on Saturday

Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen qualified in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Friday, extending his strong start to the season even as he faced further questions over the turmoil at the Red Bull team.

Verstappen was fastest by 0.319 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez 0.016 further back.

That all puts Verstappen on course for another win on Saturday to follow up victory at the season-opening Bahrain GP last week. It would be his ninth consecutive win going back to last season, one short of his own record.

“Max has done a tremendous lap. That was not possible for me today,” Perez said.

Fernando Alonso was fourth for Aston Martin, ahead of the two McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris. Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were seventh and eighth, respectively.

Red Bull drama

Verstappen took the pole amid continuing instability at the champion Red Bull team, a week after the team’s parent company dismissed a complaint of alleged misconduct by team principal Christian Horner toward a team employee.

Speaking after qualifying, Verstappen gave strong backing to his longtime mentor Helmut Marko and indicated their futures at Red Bull may be linked amid reports that the 80-year-old Austrian’s position overseeing the two teams owned by Red Bull may be under threat.

“From my side I have a lot of respect for Helmut and what we have achieved together. It goes very far and also, of course, my loyalty to him is very big,” Verstappen said. “And also, I’ve always expressed this to everyone within the team, everyone high up, that he is an important part in my decision making for all the time in the future as well within the team.”

He added: “It’s very important that he stays within the team, including, of course, everyone else, because it’s a whole team effort. And it’s very important that we keep the key people together, because I feel like if such an important pillar falls away, that’s also what I’ve said to the team, that is not good for my situation as well. So, yeah, for sure, for me, Helmut has to stay.”

A day after the Horner complaint was dismissed, a file alleged to contain evidence against Horner was emailed to nearly 200 people in the F1 paddock, including Liberty Media, F1, the FIA, the other nine team principals and multiple media outlets. The source of that leak has not been disclosed.

Asked in Jeddah by Austrian broadcaster ORF if there was a chance he might be suspended and miss the next F1 race in Australia, Marko said: “It’s hard to judge. Put it this way, ultimately I decide for myself what I do.” He added: “Theoretically the possibility always exists.”

Marko has long played an influential if vaguely defined role with Red Bull on behalf of the parent company and was particularly involved in selecting and developing up-and-coming drivers. Verstappen was the youngest driver in F1 history when he competed in his first race in 2015 at 17 for Red Bull’s second team, then known as Toro Rosso.

Marko was a close adviser to Red Bull co-founder and fellow Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz, who set up the Red Bull team in F1 and who died in 2022.

Ferrari’s young replacement

The 18-year-old British driver Oliver Bearman qualified 11th for Ferrari in his competitive F1 debut, just hours after the team announced he was the last-minute replacement for Carlos Sainz Jr. The Spanish driver was diagnosed with appendicitis, requiring an operation Friday.

Bearman missed out on the top 10 qualifying shootout only by 0.064 seconds.

“That was a messy session, sorry about that,” he told Ferrari over the radio.

First Published Date: 09 Mar 2024, 13:08 PM IST

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