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Dominant Verstappen completes practice clean sweep ahead of qualifying

Max Verstappen topped the times ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez for a practice clean sweep as Red Bull registered another commanding one-two in Saturday’s final session at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

It was the defending double world champion’s third successive session-topping lap at the Jeddah Street Circuit, his best in one minute 28.485 seconds beating Perez’s lap by 0.642sec.

Behind the dominant Red Bulls, Fernando Alonso confirmed his pace and potential by taking third ahead of his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll but both were more than a second adrift of the pace.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, whose future remained a hot topic in the paddock, was fifth for Mercedes ahead of Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, who clocked his lap in the final seconds, and the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

Pierre Gasly was ninth for Alpine and Carlos Sainz, after another very late effort, 10th for Ferrari, ahead of Russell, in the second Mercedes and Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo.

The session began in hot conditions with a track temperature of 43 degrees, very different from those expected later for qualifying and for Sunday’s race.

Stroll was the first man out followed by his Aston Martin team-mate Alonso, seeking to maintain or improve on the pace he showed on Friday. 

It was several minutes before both McLarens and Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg joined the fray.

Gasly, on hards, Russell on softs, Verstappen, on hards, and then Perez on softs topped the times in succession in the first 30 minutes, the Red Bulls proving again that they are the pace-setting team, but with the Alpines of Gasly and Ocon third and fourth ahead of Russell.

Perez’s time was 1:29.417, well outside his pole last year of 1:28.200.

With 20 minutes remaining, Ocon survived a dramatic wobble on the kerb at Turn 10, a scare that revived memories of Mick Schumacher’s high-speed crash there last year before Hamilton split the Alpines to go fourth.

‘Louder than a car’

At this stage, neither of the Ferraris was in the top 10 as Perez stretched his advantage but Verstappen, on his first run with soft tyres, blew the rest away.

Much of the pre-session paddock gossip had, once again, centred on Mercedes and Hamilton following team chief Toto Wolff’s revelation that it had been the driver who initiated his unexpected split with performance trainer Angela Cullen after seven successful seasons. 

“Angela was part of the gang for a long time,” said Wolff. 

“I think in every team, whether that is his close circle, or also in the wider group, this is not a static situation that you can freeze.

“We all develop as people, we develop as an organisation and if things don’t work out anymore, then we need to be honest about it and then bring change.

“Angela will always be a mascot of the team. She’s the only one who has a louder voice than a starting car! 

“But if this is what he decides, we will always absolutely support him, whatever direction he wants to take.”

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