Saturday, March 18, 2023

By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent, Jeddah

Max Verstappen completed a practice hat-trick ahead of qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The double world champion, fastest in both sessions in Jeddah on Friday, returned to the top of the time sheets in final practice.

Verstappen finished six tenths faster than Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull, with Fernando Alonso third for Aston Martin. Lewis Hamilton finished fifth for Mercedes, one second off the pace.

Verstappen crushed his opponents to win the season opener in Bahrain a fortnight ago and the Dutchman looks primed to dominate the second round of the campaign.

Indeed, Alonso was the only non-Red Bull driver to be within one second of Verstappen in the concluding running before qualifying, finishing 0.998 sec back. Alonso’s Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll took fourth spot.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team have endured a turbulent start to the new campaign, and they have failed to make any inroads on Red Bull in Saudi Arabia, with George Russell 11th in the order.

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton finished fifth in final practice in Saudi Arabia (Luca Bruno/AP)

Ferrari are short on speed, too, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz sixth and 10th respectively for the Italian team.

Leclerc will also serve a 10-place grid drop for taking on a new electronics control unit.

Qualifying for the second round of the season gets under way at 8pm local time (5pm UK).

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