Verstappen beats Leclerc to pole in Saudi Arabia

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen made it two pole positions from two in 2024 with a commanding performance in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, as rookie Oliver Bearman impressed on his debut as a stand-in for Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

Championship leader Verstappen has looked in complete control in Jeddah, the Dutchman looking at one with his RB20 as he popped in two laps that were good enough for pole in qualifying – his best – a 1:27.472s – was 0.3s clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

The second Ferrari of Bearman earned plenty of plaudits, the 18-year-old looking at home from his first lap in final practice and, while he missed out on Q3 by just 0.036s, 11th is nonetheless a very strong result considering he only got the call to drive a few hours before he hit the track.

Sergio Perez, winner last year in Saudi Arabia, was third, the Mexican failing to improve on his second timed lap with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso cleverly sneaking a tow from Lewis Hamilton on his final run to leave him with a tenth of pole heading into the final sector before crossing the line fourth.

Oscar Piastri outqualified McLaren team mate Lando Norris for the second successive year in Saudi Arabia, with the papaya cars locking out the third row, while both Mercedes’ failed to improve on their second runs and could only manage seventh and eighth respectively.

Yuki Tsunoda responded well to a frustrating end to the Bahrain Grand Prix with a superb performance through qualifying, the Japanese driver outperforming RB team mate Daniel Ricciardo to take ninth with Lance Stroll closing out the top-10.

The top three for tomorrow’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Further back, Nico Hulkenberg couldn’t repeat his Bahrain qualifying heroics as a power issue ended his session early, the German set to start Saturday’s race 15th.

Meanwhile, Alpine’s woes continued as they both exited Q1, along with the Sauber pair, the Swiss team doing a fine job to repair Zhou Guanyu’s car after a big crash in final practice – however, the Chinese driver didn’t have time to set a lap time and will start last.

Q1

Bearman looked like a seasoned pro as he bolted out of the pits and got up to speed from his first timed lap as Sainz’s stand-in, the British driver coming so close to kissing the barrier at the final corner before punching in a time that was good enough to see him progress into Q2.

Further ahead, Verstappen pumped in the quickest time of the session to end up 0.079s clear of Stroll – who needed a last gasp effort having sat on the bubble as the chequered flag was waved – and Leclerc.

At the other end of the pack, Kick Sauber did a sensational job to get Zhou Guanyu’s car repaired in time to get out before the session ended, following his crash in FP3, however, he didn’t have enough time to do an out lap and a timed lap and thus will start lead, alongside the Williams of Logan Saregant.

Alpine’s poor start to the season continued with a double Q1 knock-out.

Esteban Ocon apologised to his team after he was bumped out of qualifying in 17th, one place ahead of his Alpine team mate Pierre Gasly as the French manufacturer’s woeful start to the season continued.

Valtteri Bottas cut a frustrated figure, the Finn was doing enough to creep into Q2 until he came up against traffic in the shape of a Williams and a Ferrari and that cost him. He’ll line-up 16th.

Knocked out: Bottas, Ocon, Gasly, Sargeant, Zhou

Q2

Haas duo Magnussen and Hulkenberg were working together to give each other a tow through qualifying, but as Hulkenberg was catapulted clear down the main straight, just seconds later, he reported a loss of power and pulled over into retirement, bringing out the red flag.

When the running resumed, Alonso continued his strong pace around the sweeping turns of Jeddah, running Verstappen close for the quickest time, with Leclerc comfortably progressing, too.

Bearman finished an impressive P11 on his qualifying debut.

At the other end of the pack, Bearman continued to build confidence, throwing his Ferrari around and attacking the kerbs. His final sector on his final lap of a two-push lap run was particularly good – but it wasn’t quite enough as he missed out on Q3 by just 0.036s. That allowed Hamilton to scrape into the top-10 shoot-out.

Alex Albon was the best-placed Williams in 12th, the Thai driver leaving qualifying at the second stage along with Kevin Magnussen, Daniel Ricciardo and Hulkenberg, who watched the rest of the session from the side of the track following his stoppage.

Knocked out: Bearman, Albon, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg

Q3

Verstappen led a Red Bull one-two after the first runs, with Alonso hanging onto the duo in third and Leclerc failing to improve on his best time in Q2.

The Mercedes headed out earlier on the second run, following up a pair of laps on used tyres with a pair on fresh rubber – however, Hamilton was 0.6s down after the first sector while Russell backed off midway round the lap and they ended up eighth and seventh respectively.

Alonso hailed it a ‘fantastic’ qualifying session as he put his booked a place on the second row.

Norris did a used tyre run before bolting on the fresh rubber but he was pipped by team mate Piastri, whose fifth-place is McLaren’s highest-ever start in Jeddah.

Up front, Verstappen took a brilliant pole, his 34th career pole putting him fifth on the all-time list, surpassing Jim Clark and Alain Prost, with Leclerc joining on the front row – making Saturday’s race the fifth in succession they will line-up alongside each other.

Perez will start in the top-three for only the second time in the last 19 races, with Alonso starting two places higher than he did in Bahrain with fourth.

Tsunoda – who outqualified Ricciardo for the second successive race – and Stroll – who made Q3 for only the second time in the last 12 races – completed the top 10.

The 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is set to begin at 20:00 local time (17:00 GMT) on Saturday. Can Leclerc take the fight to Verstappen and will Alonso bring Aston Martin right into the mix?


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