Formula One: Verstappen tops final practice in Jeddah, Ferrari stand-in Bearman 10th

AFP , Friday 8 Mar 2024

Max Verstappen topped Friday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix third and final practice for the troubled Red Bull team after British teenager Oliver Bearman was handed a dramatic debut for Ferrari.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during the third practice session ahead of the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Friday, March 8, 2024. Photo: AP


The defending three-time world champion clocked a best lap in one minute 28.412 seconds to beat Ferrari's Charles Leclerc by two-tenths as he again shrugged aside the controversy around the team, following Christian Horner being cleared of all allegations of improper conduct last week.

Bearman, 18, was called in by Ferrari to replace appendicitis victim Carlos Sainz – who had taken part in both of Thursday's sessions despite great discomfort – on Friday morning and delivered a calm performance to finish 10th.

Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull took third with George Russell fourth for Mercedes ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren, Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, who was fastest on Thursday, and team-mate Lance Stroll.

Oscar Piastri was eighth in the second McLaren ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes and the cool and impressive Bearman.

The session began in hot conditions with an air temperature of 26 degrees and the track at 43 following the unexpected news that Bearman was being handed his competitive Formula One debut with Ferrari after Sainz was diagnosed with appendicitis.

Valtteri Bottas led the way as the lights turned green followed by Bearman. The Finn clocked 1:31.307 and Bearman 1:33.114, a very respectable effort.

"Take your time, take your rhythm and build up from there," his Ferrari engineer Riccardo Adami advised him. "Copy," came the reply.

Hamilton joined the fray after nine minutes and went top before Bottas took control and then Bearman, on mediums, seized his moment with a lap in l:30.277. He kept the initiative until Hamilton regained top spot on softs.

Russell then became the first man under 1:30 before Perez took over with a lap of 1:29.562. Leclerc then established Ferrari's pace in front with 1:29.206 on mediums, three-tenths clear of Perez.


After half an hour, Verstappen delivered a lap on softs that put him in command three-tenths clear of Leclerc with Russell third ahead of Alonso and Bearman, sensibly building his confidence, logged a solid number of laps.

Then with 13 minutes remaining, Zhou Guanyu lost control of his Sauber at Turn Five and smacked the barriers. He was unhurt and climbed out of his car, but the session was red-flagged.

After repairs, the session resumed with four minutes of high-speed qualifying simulation laps to leave Verstappen on top ahead of Leclerc and Perez.

For Bearman, the youngest driver to compete for Ferrari, it was mission accomplished and gave him a base from which to build and prepare for qualifying later Friday.

Sainz reported unwell on Wednesday, but took part in both of Thursday's practice sessions although he felt severely ill with stomach and abdominal complaints.

Bearman, the team's reserve driver, qualified on pole for Saturday's Formula Two race, but his Prema team has now withdrawn him to allow to focus on his new role driving Sainz's SF-24.

He is the first Briton to make his F1 competitive debut in a Ferrari since Derek Bell at the 1968 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Ferrari rarely uses 'rookies' and the last time the Italian team gave a chance to one was with Arturo Merzario at the 1972 British Grand Prix.

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