Saudi Arabia Practice: Stomach bug and gearbox issue can’t stop raging Verstappen
Updated: Mar 20
If you thought illness or technical issues could stop Max Verstappen on his quest for a third Formula One World Championship, you’d be wrong.
The reigning two-time champ dominated the opening practice sessions in Saudi Arabia overnight to once again send an ominous warning through the paddock ahead of another round.
Verstappen topped both FP1 and FP2, with his time of 1.29.603 set in FP2 the fastest of the day.
The Dutchman had arrived late in Saudi Arabia after complaining of a stomach bug earlier in the week, and also complained of downshifting issues with his gearbox during FP2.
During the second practice on team radio he complained of “really bad” downshifts during the last corner of the Jeddah circuit, something which no doubt will cause a slight concern for him and the Red Bull team.
But despite these issues, there is no denying just how quick he and the Red Bulls look this weekend.
Teammate Sergio Perez, who incidentally had changed components on his gearbox ahead of this race, finished second and third in FP1 & FP2 respectively, backing up the pace the RB19 continues to showcase.
The only driver to split the raging Red Bulls in either practice session was the resurgent Fernando Alonso in his Aston Martin AMR23.
Alonso finished second in FP2, only 0.208 behind Verstappen after finishing 3rd in FP1 by 0.698s.
Fernando Alonso surrounded by Aston Martin mechanics (Photo by PlanetF1)
It looks to be another strong weekend for the green team with Lance Stroll also impressing in both sessions, finishing fourth in FP1 and seventh in FP2.
For both Ferrari and Mercedes however there continued to be struggles.
Lewis Hamilton was frank in the weekend when he said there wasn’t a way he could see the team challenging for the win this weekend, and the pace from both him and teammate George Russell seemed to back that up, with fifth and sixth in FP1 and fifth and 11th in FP2.
Ferrari on the other hand also didn’t really make a dent on the time sheets, with Charles Leclerc 11th and ninth in both sessions and Carlos Sainz seventh and 10th.
Adding to Leclerc’s woes this weekend was complaints of a slight issue after a practice start in FP2, as well as the prospect of a 10 place grid penalty after having to change components on his engine ahead of the weekend.
Outside of the main players, Alpine looked impressive on Friday. With both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly cracking the top sixth in FP2. Ocon’s fourth in FP2 was only 0.436s behind Verstappen’s session topping time in qualifying sim, giving the French team hope of a solid showing for the remainder of the weekend.
Alpine’s main mid-pack rival from the last few seasons McLaren struggled once again, with neither Lando Norris or Aussie Oscar Piastri able to crack the top 10 in either session with another long weekend looking likely for the papaya team.
With one day in the books for Jeddah, all eyes will turn to qualifying day early tomorrow morning Australian time, with only the bravest person betting against Max Verstappen and Red Bull claiming yet another pole position.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:29.617
2 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.483
3 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.698
4 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.960
5 George RUSSELL Mercedes +1.154
6 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +1.170
7 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +1.307
8 Pierre GASLY Alpine +1.332
9 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.413
10 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.493
11 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +1.501
12 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.564
13 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.833
14 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.874
15 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1.935
16 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.949
17 Logan SARGEANT Williams +2.305
18 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +2.353
19 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +2.369
20 Lando NORRIS McLaren +2.532
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:29.603
2 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.208
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.299
4 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.436
5 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.467
6 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.497
7 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.507
8 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +0.578
9 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.738
10 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.989
11 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.996
12 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.118
13 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.173
14 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.207
15 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.217
16 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +1.234
17 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.318
18 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.356
19 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.361
20 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.449
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here