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Verstappen claims pole for Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Pole position qualifier Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Max Verstappen shut out all the distractions surrounding his troubled Red Bull team to take pole position on Friday for Saturday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The three-time world champion clocked a fastest lap of one minute 27.472 seconds to outpace Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by three-tenths of a second with his team-mate Sergio Perez, who had been on pole for the last two years, third in a tense floodlit qualifying session. 

It was Verstappen’s 34th pole position and his first at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, but the day’s action was lit up by the performance of British teenager Oliver Bearman who qualified 11th for Ferrari on his competitive F1 debut. 

The 18-year-old was dramatically called up earlier in the day to replace appendicitis-victim Carlos Sainz.

Fernando Alonso was a bold fourth for Aston Martin ahead of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris and the two Mercedes of George Russell and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. 

Yuki Tsunoda was ninth for RB ahead of Lance Stroll of Aston Martin and Bearman.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” said 18-year-old Bearman. “It was a fun day.”

Verstappen, who won from fourth on the grid last year, was also happy. 

“It was a very good day,” said the Dutchman who swept to victory in last weekend’s season-opener in Bahrain. 

“We improved the car a little bit overnight and that gave me more confidence to attack the high-speed corners.”

Leclerc said: “I put everything together for that lap. I hope Carlos can recover quickly, but on Ollie’s side he has done an incredible job after just one session and he was straight up to speed. I am happy for him.”

Bearman, who had only made his Ferrari debut hours earlier in final practice, was one of the first on track when the lights went green. 

Sainz, who remarkably drove in both of Thursday’s practice sessions, underwent surgery on Friday morning, hoping to recover in time for the Australian Grand Prix on March 24. 

Between the sessions, Audi confirmed their takeover of the Sauber team ahead of a 2026 entry, news that cheered the Swiss team, after Zhou Guanyu’s heavy late crash in third practice. 

Kevin Magnussen set an early Q1 marker lap for Haas before Alonso and then Verstappen, after 10 minutes, set the pace, with Bearman holding his own in eighth place, half-a-second adrift. 

At this stage, Mercedes were switching from mediums to softs while Zhou, his car still being repaired, remained absent until emerging with two minutes remaining to join a frantic Q1 finale. 

Unfortunately, for the Chinese driver, he did not make it to the line before the chequered flag and failed to record a lap time, joining Williams’ Logan Sargeant, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon and Valtteri Bottas in the other Sauber in elimination. 

The Q2 session was red-flagged after six minutes when Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas suffered a power failure. He parked at Turn Eight on the edge of a run-off area from which his car was rescued. 

‘Messy session’

At the re-start, Bearman on fresh softs led the two Mercedes, on used softs, out, the teenager locking up and ruining his first flying lap before Perez and then Verstappen took the initiative for Red Bull until split by Alonso. 

The champion, seeking his first front row start at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, clocked 1:28.078, giving him an advantage of just 0.044 on Alonso ahead of the final runs which saw Bearman finish 11th, just 0.036 adrift of Hamilton. 

He was eliminated along with Williams’ Alex Albon, Magnussen, RB’s Daniel Ricciardo and the luckless Hulkenberg, no disgrace on a debut day with F1’s most famous and illustrious team. 

“That was a messy session,” said Bearman, who had ‘kissed’ the barriers in one section, on Ferrari team radio.

His expected place in the top-ten shootout was taken by Tsunoda of RB, the disruptor among the regulars, as Russell set the pace before being beaten by the Red Bulls, Perez taking top spot before Verstappen swept through in 1:27.472, three-tenths ahead with Alonso third.

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