Max Verstappen tops opening practice for Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen arrives to the paddocks at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Jeddah ahead of the Saudi Arabian Formula One Grand Prix

Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen arrives to the paddocks at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Jeddah ahead of the Saudi Arabian Formula One Grand Prix. Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP

Published Mar 7, 2024


Three-time world champion Max Verstappen shut out the noise surrounding his Red Bull team on Thursday to clock the fastest lap in opening practice at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Verstappen topped the times in one minute and 29.659 seconds to finish ahead of two-time former champion Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin by 0.186 seconds.

The 26-year-old Dutchman's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez was third ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell and the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz with Lando Norris seventh for McLaren.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was eighth in the second Mercedes ahead of Lance Stroll, in the other Aston Martin, and Alex Albon of Williams.

On a hot day at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, a high-speed smooth-surfaced track that makes very different demands to those experienced in Bahrain last week, the air temperature was 27 degrees and the track 42.

Many teams brought upgrades with them. Ferrari taking their 2023 rear wing in a bid to capitalise on their straight-line speed at the second-fastest circuit on the calendar.

After another morning of much paddock gossip about the Christian Horner affair, which seemed to have divided not only his Red Bull team, but most observers, it was a relief to see cars on track.

The latest twist in the Horner saga came ahead of FP1 when his accuser was suspended on full pay by Red Bull. Horner was cleared last week of any inappropriate behaviour levelled at him by the female colleague after an internal investigation.

"The company cannot comment," said a Red Bull spokesperson shortly before Horner, who has denied all the claims made against him, took his place on the pit wall. His wife former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell was not present.

Hamilton, who on Wednesday said F1 faced a "pivotal moment" as it tackled both the Horner controversy and another concerning FIA president Mohamed Ben Sulayem’s alleged interference with last year’s result, was the first man to clock a lap time after four minutes.

He was soon followed by Leclerc, Perez and Alonso before Russell took command, all of them running on hards. As Russell shone, Mercedes team-mate Hamilton grumbled about bouncing.

With half an hour gone, Norris went out on softs and soon leapt from 14th to top in 1:30.424 with Albon going third on softs in his Williams.

Lance Stroll glanced a wall in his Aston Martin and pitted for repairs as Verstappen joined the switch to softs. On his first run, he went top in 1:30.014, four-tenths clear.

Russell, on softs, then took over, 0.003 faster than the champion to bring a flicker of a smile to the face of team boss Toto Wolff before Verstappen responded in 1:29.659.

Leclerc joined the fray for Ferrari, but his lap was affected by an errant plastic bag that blew into his car’s front suspension as Alonso took second spot in 1:29.845, adrift by 0.186.