Motor racing-Verstappen fastest in final Saudi practice as Bearman debuts

By Thomson Reuters Mar 8, 2024 | 9:26 AM

JEDDAH (Reuters) – Triple world champion Max Verstappen lapped fastest for Red Bull in a red-flagged final practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Friday as Oliver Bearman prepared for his Formula One race debut with Ferrari by going an impressive 10th fastest.

Britain’s Bearman, 18 and the Italian team’s youngest ever rookie, was drafted in to replace Carlos Sainz after the Spaniard was hit by appendicitis and required surgery.

The session was halted for 10 minutes when Sauber’s Guanyu Zhou crashed heavily into the wall at turn five, the track reopening with just enough time for a flying lap.

Verstappen, winner of the Bahrain opener last Saturday, produced a best time of one minute 28.412 seconds with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc 0.196 slower and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez third on the timesheets.

George Russell lapped fourth quickest for Mercedes with McLaren’s Lando Norris fifth and Fernando Alonso sixth for Aston Martin.

Spaniard Alonso, 42, made his Formula One debut in 2001 and with Renault was standing on the podium as second placed finisher in his home grand prix on the day Bearman was born.

Lance Stroll was seventh, also for Aston, with McLaren’s Oscar Piastri eighth and seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton ninth for Mercedes.

Britain’s Bearman, Ferrari’s youngest rookie at 18-years-old, did 22 laps with a best time of 1:29.306, 0.698 seconds off Leclerc’s time.

The race is being held on Saturday to accommodate Ramadan, which starts on Sunday.

(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)