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F1: Verstappen wins Saudi GP, impressive Bearman debut

March 9, 2024

Reigning champion Max Verstappen has won the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on another difficult weekend for his Red Bull team. Rookie replacement Oliver Bearman finished seventh deputizing in Carlos Sainz's Ferrari.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands celebrates with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner after winning the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on March 9, 2024.
Max Verstappen finished 13 seconds clear of the field as he looks to extend his domination into the nascent 2024 seasonImage: Darko Bandic/AP/picture alliance

Dutch world champion Max Verstappen won the second race of the 2024 F1 season in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, stretching his lead in the championship standings. 

Verstappen finished 13 seconds clear of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who was able to hold second place despite a five-second time penalty for an unsafe release from the pit lane. 

"It's one of the more physical races, a tough one," Verstappen said after his second win of the season.

Red Bull tense off track but still dominant on it

Excluding the shorter so-called sprint races, Verstappen has won every main F1 race since last September's Japanese Grand Prix and 21 of the last 24 races.

The smooth 1-2 finish defied the more difficult recent weeks behind the scenes for the Red Bull team.

Verstappen celebrated with team principal Christian Horner and Horner's wife Geri Halliwell after weeks of controversy surrounding allegations of improper conduct against Horner and an investigation that culminated in Red Bull clearing Horner and suspending his accuser this week. 

Red Bull sought to calm waters ahead of the race by confirming that Austrian Helmut Marko would be staying with the team, after Marko had implied he too could face suspension and Verstappen had voiced his disapproval at the prospect. 

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is flanked by his wife Geri Halliwell after the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on March 9, 2024.
Despite the conclusion of an internal investigation at Red Bull, a rift between Horner and other leading figures in the organization seems apparentImage: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/AP/picture alliance

Ferrari stand-in Bearman bags debut points

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc rounded out the podium in third, on a weekend marked by a particular focus on the Italian team. 

"It was a bit boring because the Red Bulls were too quick," he said after the race.

Leclerc's teammate Carlos Sainz could not compete in Saudi Arabia because he was suffering from appendicitis, meaning that 18-year-old British reserve driver Oliver "Ollie" Bearman took his place for the weekend. 

Bearman finished seventh, becoming the third-youngest points scorer in F1 history and the youngest driver and points scorer in Ferrari's history. 

"Ollie did an incredible job," Leclerc said of his replacement teammate after the race. "Today, seventh in his first race — it's hugely impressive. He is hugely talented." 

Oliver Bearman putting on his helmet in the Ferrari F1 team garage. March 9, 2024, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Ollie Bearman typically races in the junior F2 series with Prema Racing and is seen as a likely candidate for a permanent F1 seat some dayImage: Darko Bandic/AP/picture alliance

Solid points for Piastri, Alonso, Russell

Oscar Piastri of Australia finished a strong fourth for McLaren on Saturday in Jeddah. 

Fernando Alonso claimed fifth for Aston Martin, and George Russell was the top-placed Mercedes driver in sixth. 

Bearman followed for Ferrari, then his compatriots Lando Norris of McLaren and Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes

It was the first time since 1968 that four different British drivers scored points at the same F1 race.

Ferrari driver Oliver Bearman of Britain steers his car during the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on March 9, 2024.
Bearman was one of four British drivers in the top 10 in Jeddah on SaturdayImage: Darko Bandic/AP/picture alliance

German driver Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the top 10 and scored a rare and welcome point for the Haas F1 Team. 

Saturday race to avoid Ramadan clash

Though F1 weekends tend to culminate in a Sunday feature race, this weekend's race in Saudi Arabia was brought forward by one day to avoid a clash with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

The new moon that marks the start of Ramadan will be visible in places as soon as Sunday, and the start of the fasting month might be declared from Saudi Arabia that evening. 

msh/mm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Australian driver Oscar Piastri was from New Zealand. The text has been corrected. DW apologizes for the error.