Verstappen takes pole for Saudi Arabian GP; debutant Bearman to start 11th


Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was in imperious form as he set pole position at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Verstappen did not need a second lap in final qualifying as he beat Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 0.319 seconds.

Oliver Bearman, 18 and making his debut for Ferrari as the youngest British driver in Formula 1 history, was a creditable 11th, 0.53secs off Leclerc in the second session.

Mercedes’ George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were seventh and eighth.

Leclerc said there was nothing left in the car after jumping from fourth to second with his final lap, underlining the level of superiority enjoyed by Verstappen.

The three-time champion was 0.335secs quicker than Perez on their first runs in the top 10 shootout and when the Mexican failed to improve and Leclerc also failed to approach his time, Verstappen bailed out on his final lap.

“That was a simply lovely qualifying,” he said. “The car was on rails.”

How did Bearman get on?

Bearman was drafted in by Ferrari on the morning of qualifying after regular driver Carlos Sainz was diagnosed with appendicitis, which needed immediate surgery.

The Spaniard is recovering in hospital after a successful operation, the team said before qualifying.

It meant Bearman had just one hour of practice to prepare for his first qualifying session, aged just 18 years and 10 months, making him the third-youngest F1 driver in history.

Bearman was just over 0.3secs off Leclerc on his first lap, a highly impressive start, but he admitted that it was a “messy” session after that.

He brushed the wall on the way into the high-speed chicane of Turns 21 and 22 on his push lap in the second session and his final attempt was just 0.036secs too slow to qualify him for the top 10.

Leclerc said: “I hope Carlos will recover quickly and on Olly’s side he has done an incredible job.

“With only one session in P3, he was straight up to speed and comfortable with the car. I am happy for him. It’s a very special day. And the first race after only one practice session is even more special.”

Verstappen imperious

Dutchman Verstappen is giving every impression he could win every race this year, looking comfortable in the car and out of reach of his rivals.

This was one of only two races last year in which Perez beat him, but there was never a chance of that this weekend, as Verstappen operated on a separate level from his team-mate on the fast Jeddah street circuit.

“A very good day,” he said. “We improved the car a little bit overnight and that gave me a bit more confidence to attack the high-speed corners.

“You need confidence to go to the limit here – it’s incredible how fast we go around here in qualifying.

“My first lap in Q3, I was very happy with how I did that lap, it felt very like the failed ’21 lap. The car was behaving very well.”

That was a reference to his famous lap that never was in 2021, at the height of his bitter title battle with Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen’s driving was so impressive that Fernando Alonso stopped an interview in the TV pen to watch it and indicated to Daniel Ricciardo to do the same. But Verstappen did not finish the lap because he hit the wall on the exit of the final corner.

Perez said: “Max has done a tremendous lap – that was not possible for me today. Being on the front row was achievable but we are in the fight for tomorrow.”

Leclerc said: “The first lap in Q3 we tried doing something different, doing a preparation lap and that didn’t work out for us.

“The second lap I got everything out. It’s a shame we are not as close as we hoped but I hope we can challenge the Red Bulls tomorrow.

“For sure we did a step forward compared to last year. We just have to focus on ourselves.”

Behind Alonso, impressive in the Aston Martin as he was in qualifying a week ago in Bahrain, there was a gap of 0.243secs back to McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, the Australian just 0.043secs ahead of team-mate Lando Norris.

Mercedes were disappointingly off the pace, Russell 0.844secs slower than Verstappen. The consolation for Hamilton, 0.144secs behind him, was that the seven-time champion was at least respectably close to his team-mate after struggling for much of the weekend.

RB’s Yuki Tsunoda and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll – 0.726secs behind Alonso – completed the top 10. (BBC)

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