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Verstappen wins Saudi Arabian Grand Prix


Well, in all honesty, there is little we've seen thus far to suggest that Mas Verstappen isn't going to make it two out of two today, the Dutchman showing strong pace all weekend at a circuit he hasn't always performed well at.

Indeed, the only potential threat, other than losing the lead at the very start, is that the Dutchman pulls off track twenty or so laps into the race as sick to death of the ongoing dramas at Red Bull as the rest of us.

Seriously, every day it gets a little more sordid as this tawdry tale takes another twist.

Yesterday Helmut Marko claimed that he was facing suspension, at which point Max leapt to his defence.

The Austrian left the paddock, presumably for the weekend, but has today shown up with Oliver Mintzlaff, the managing director of Red Bull GmbH.

Adding to it all, Toto Wolff suggested that countryman Marko would be welcome at Mercedes - assuming he brings Max with him - but ignoring the fact that Wolff will be revelling in the chaos damaging his rival team does anyone seriously believe he and Marko could really work together.

If nothing else, amidst speculation that it was Marko who released the documents relating to Horner last week, isn't it somewhat ironic that Red Bull's Lord High Executioner could himself be facing the chop.

In many ways the situation is similar to that of so many successful bands, not least the Beatles, leaving one to ponder which of the leading characters in this sorry saga is Yoko.

Charles Leclerc has looked good - but then again he did last week until Saturday - as has Fernando Alonso and (2023 winner) Sergio Perez.

Only marginally off the pace are the McLarens with the Mercedes pair around 0.2s behind, Russell and Hamilton both encountering bouncing in the W15.

It's difficult to see any surprises in terms of strategy as a one-stop is almost obligatory. The only unknown might be what compound to run alongside the medium, which contrary to what we saw in Sakhir last week, is working very well both in terms of performance and degradation.

On paper, the quickest strategy is to use the soft at the start before switching to the medium between lap 18 and 25. Starting on the hard before pitting between laps 25 and 32 to take on softs could also be a competitive strategy, possibly in the hope of a Safety Car, which is highly likely on a track like this, or maybe do the opposite and use the extra grip from the soft for the start and the first few laps before switching to the hard.

While it's all a bit depressing at the moment, what with Max's continued domination and the ongoing implosion at his team, F1 delivered one of those fairy-tale moments yesterday when 18-year-old Oliver Bearman was called up - with just 3 hours notice - to replace Carlos Sainz.

The youngster gave a good account of himself and almost made it to Q3. This is a driver with enormous potential... even if the sight of him makes most of us feel really old.

The other good news is that Sainz was back in the paddock today following his appendectomy... the Spaniard describing it as a "smooth operation".

As we saw with Guanyu Zhou yesterday this is an unforgiving circuit, where mistakes instantly punished and while the opening race passed without any retirements it is unlikely that all twenty will finish today. With that in mind, we could see some of the midfield make it into the points with Albon, Magnussen and Tsunoda the most likely contenders.

The pitlane opens and Verstappen leads the way, followed by Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso, Zhou, Magnussen, Bottas and Ricciardo.

Tsunoda forces his way in front of Norris as they leave the pitlane, the stewards noting the RB driver for an unsafe release. "I almost crashed," says Norris, "that's a penalty, yeh?"

Last to join the grid is Sargeant.

Air temperature is 26 degrees C, while the track temperature is 32 degrees.

With 22 minutes to go there is a lot of work going on on the rear of Hamilton's car.

Of the front runners only Alonso and Bearman have a set new softs, while the Bulls and Norris have two sets of fresh mediums. Verstappen, Perez, Russell, Hamilton, Leclerc and Bearman each have a set of fresh hards. The McLaren and Aston Martin pair each have a set of scrubbed hards.

All are starting on mediums bar Bearman and Bottas who are on softs. Alonso and Stroll the only drivers on used rubber.

They head off on the formation lap... all getting away.

"We'll take our chances," says Gasly. "Could be a crazy one," he is told.

The grid forms.

They're way! Verstappen leads into Turn 1, as Leclerc and Perez battle with Alonso looking out for any mistakes involving the pair. Perez gets slightly ahead in Turn 2 but coming out of the corner Leclerc has the edge on the Mexican.

Behind the leaders, Stroll is all over Hamilton, while Bearman is attacking Tsunoda after running wide in Turn 1.

"Box, box," Gasly is told, the Frenchman believed to have a transmission issue.

At the end of Lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Leclerc, Perez, Piastri, Alonso, Norris, Russell, Hamilton, Stroll and Tsunoda.

Alonso is all over Piastri as he seeks to retake fourth, while Russell is pressurising the second McLaren.

Gasly becomes the first retirement of 2024, as Russell complains that Norris jumped the start.

Perez is hard on the heels of Leclerc, passing the Ferrari into Turn 1 to make it a Red Bull 1-2.

After 4 laps Verstappen leads by 2.3s while Bearman is told that he's "doing well" and advised that he is faster than the cars in front.

In the Ferrari garage, Carlos Sainz Snr stands alongside David Bearman.

As he shadows Stroll, while under attack from Bearman, Tsunoda goes quickest in the final sector.

Stroll is off and into the barrier at Turn 23 on Lap 6, bringing out the yellows.

As the Canadian reports that he is OK, the Safety Car is deployed.

"Box, box," Bearman is told, as replays show that Stroll clipped the wall at Turn 22, breaking the suspension and sending him off into the barrier opposite at the next corner.

Verstappen pits as does Perez, Leclerc, Piastri, Alonso, Russell... indeed all bar Norris, Hamilton, Hulkenberg and Zhou, McLaren and Mercedes clearly avoiding the double-stack.

"I nearly crashed with the Red Bull (Perez), reports Alonso following a close encounter during the pit stops. "So close!"

So, Norris leads Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Leclerc, Piastri, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Russell and Zhou.

All those who pitted have switched to the hards... Hamilton voices his concern that he's been left out and thereby vulnerable.

The Safety Car is withdrawn at the end of Lap 9. Norris is told not to stress his tyres... easier said than done when Max Verstappen is breathing down your neck.

No surprises at the restart, other than Norris holding off the world champion.

Hamilton goes quickest in S2, as he maintains a 0.632s gap to Verstappen.

"what is he doing," asks Albon after being clouted by Magnussen, as Bearman passes Tsunoda for eleventh.

Perez is under investigation for an unsafe release, while Norris's original start has been noted.

"He didn't give me enough space," says Albon, "you need to speak to the stewards about it."

As Verstappen passes Norris for the lead, teammate Perez passes Hamilton for third. In the process the Dutchman posts a new fastest lap (33.321).

The stewards are also investigating the Albon/Magnussen incident.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Jeddah here.


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