Max Verstappen edges out Charles Leclerc in Azerbaijan Grand Prix practice

By Sports Desk April 28, 2023

Max Verstappen edged out Charles Leclerc to finish fastest in the sole practice session at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Formula One bosses have changed the weekend format in Baku, with the introduction of two qualifying sessions – one to decide the order for Sunday’s grand prix, and the other determining the starting grid for Saturday’s sprint race, the first of six sprint events this season.

Practice has been slashed from three hours to just one, ahead of qualifying for Sunday’s main event at 5pm local time (2pm UK) on Friday.

The reduction in practice is designed to create greater jeopardy with the teams unable to gather as much data as they would like.

And the one-hour running on Friday was suspended for 13 minutes after Pierre Gasly’s Alpine caught fire with the Frenchman leaping out of his smoky machine at Turn 12.

In an incident-packed session, Yuki Tsunoda limped back to the pits on three wheels after he banged the wall, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz also brushed the armco at the tight and twisty street circuit on the Caspian Sea.

Double world champion Verstappen has won two of the opening three rounds to establish a 15-point lead over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

On Friday, the Dutch driver pipped Leclerc to top spot by just 0.037 seconds. Perez finished third, a tenth down on his Red Bull team-mate, while Sainz recovered from his brush with the barrier to take fourth.

Lando Norris provided some encouragement for McLaren to finish fifth, eight tenths down on Verstappen.

But Lewis Hamilton could manage only 11th for Mercedes, 1.5 sec back off the pace with team-mate George Russell also struggling, taking the chequered flag 17th of the 20 runners.

Elsewhere, Nyck de Vries finished sixth in his AlphaTauri ahead of the Aston Martin duo of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso.

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    Christian Horner said he is “absolutely confident” he will ride out the storm of his life and remain as Red Bull team principal for the rest of the season.

    The build-up to the first round of the Formula One campaign here in Bahrain has been overshadowed by allegations whirling around Horner.

    But the 50-year-old, who was joined by his wife Geri in a defiant show of unity ahead of Saturday’s 57-lap race, can take temporary relief from seeing Max Verstappen lead a Red Bull one-two, with Sergio Perez second.

    Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz crossed the line in third, one place ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton a disappointing fifth and seventh respectively for Mercedes.

    Asked if he is confident he will stay on as Red Bull team principal for the rest of the season, Horner replied: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

    During an extraordinary week in the Gulf kingdom, Horner was exonerated by Red Bull Racing parent’s company, Red Bull GmbH, on Wednesday following an internal probe into allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” made by a female colleague.

    But hundreds of WhatsApp messages, appearing to be exchanged between him and the complainant, were then leaked to the F1 world.

    Horner has remained steadfast throughout, and strode hand-in-hand with Geri along the paddock one hour and 45 minutes before the lights went out.

    Red Bull’s majority shareholder and Horner ally, Thai billionaire Chalerm Yoovidhya, also joined the duo on the team’s terrace in a very public show of support for the embattled team principal.

    Horner planted a kiss on wife Geri before he headed to the Red Bull pit wall to watch his team blow away their rivals. Geri later headed to the garage to watch the race.

    The pair stood together smiling underneath the podium as Verstappen celebrated his 18th win from the past 19 races.

    An emotional Horner continued: “I have the support of an incredible family, an incredible wife, an incredible team and everybody within that team.

    “And my focus is going racing, winning racing and doing the best I can.

    “It was a day about starting the season in the best possible way. My focus is on this team, my family, my wife and racing.”

    Horner was also quizzed about the leaked Google file which was sent from an anonymous email account to 149 members of the F1 paddock – including FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali and the grid’s nine other team principals, as well as members of the media.

    Horner said: “I am not going to comment on anonymous speculative messages from an unknown source. I am not going to comment on what motives whatever person may have for doing this.

    “Obviously, it has not been pleasant with some of the unwanted attention, but the focus is very much on the cars and my focus has been on what is happening on track and the result today demonstrates where the focus is and we move onwards.

    “There was a full, lengthy internal process that was completed by an independent KC and the grievance that was raised was dismissed. End of. Move on.

    “You could see what it (the win) meant to the whole team. It is better to do your talking on the track.

    “I have always been entirely confident that I would be here and my focus is on the season, and the races we have ahead.”

    Horner is set to be back in the spotlight in just five days when the cars hit the track in practice for the next round in Saudi Arabia.

  • Max Verstappen eases to dominant Bahrain Grand Prix win Max Verstappen eases to dominant Bahrain Grand Prix win

    Max Verstappen delivered for Christian Horner’s crisis-hit Red Bull team by winning the opening race of the Formula One season in Bahrain on Saturday.

    The build-up to the first round of the campaign here in the Gulf Kingdom has totally been overshadowed by allegations whirling around Red Bull team principal Horner.

    But Horner, who was joined by his wife Geri in a show of unity ahead of Saturday’s 57-lap race, can take temporary relief from seeing Verstappen lead a Red Bull one-two, with Sergio Perez second.

    Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took the chequered flag in third, one place ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton a disappointing fifth and seventh respectively for Mercedes. McLaren’s Lando Norris finished sixth.

    During an extraordinary week in Bahrain, Horner was exonerated by Red Bull Racing parent’s company, Red Bull GmbH, on Wednesday following an internal probe into allegations of “inappropriate made by a female colleague.

    Hundreds of WhatsApp messages appearing to be written by him were then leaked to the F1 world a day later.

    Horner has remained defiant throughout and put on a show of unity with his Spice Girl wife Geri, as they strode hand-in-hand along the paddock one hour and 45 minutes before the lights went out.

    Red Bull’s majority shareholder and Horner ally, Thai billionaire Chalerm Yoovidhya, joined the duo on the team’s terrace in another public show of support for Horner.

    Horner planted a kiss on wife Geri before he headed to pit wall to watch his team blow away their rivals.

    Verstappen has raced to the past three world championships and his crushing streak looks set to continue into 2024 following a commanding lights-to-flag win.

    The Dutch driver saw off team-mate Perez’s challenge by 22.4 seconds to take his 18th win from the last 19 F1 races and, remarkably, his 36th victory since Hamilton last won a grand prix.

    “Great start to the year, guys, a one-two finish, as well so fantastic,” said Verstappen over the team radio.

    Horner replied: “As you say, Max, pole-position, one-two finish, fastest lap, a clean sweep. A brilliant way to start the year. Thanks very much.”

    Such was Red Bull’s stranglehold on last season’s championship, that they were afforded the luxury of turning their attention to this year’s machine earlier than their competitors.

    And revered designer Adrian Newey appears to have built a car which could take Verstappen to another stratosphere.

    After holding off the challenge from Ferrari’s Leclerc on the run down to the opening corner, his victory never appeared in doubt. By the end of lap 11, Verstappen had already pulled 10 seconds clear.

    Behind, Russell was on the move – taking second from Leclerc on the third lap in an encouraging start for the Mercedes man.

    But that would be as good as it got for the Silver Arrows, with Perez moving ahead of Russell on the exit of Turn 4 on lap 14 before Sainz gazumped the British driver for third three laps later.

    Hamilton started ninth and was making little early progress, complaining on lap 25 that his seat was broken.

    He started to make his way through the field, getting past McLaren’s Oscar Piastri on lap 35 and then Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin for seventh on lap 39.

    But the seven-time world champion, who will join Ferrari next year, made no inroads into Norris ahead before Mercedes’ poor evening was dealt another blow when Leclerc took fourth off Russell with 11 laps to run.

    Hamilton finished 50 seconds behind Verstappen.

    For Verstappen, it was another emphatic display, with fireworks exploding into the night sky as he cemented his status as the overwhelming favourite to march to another title – despite Red Bull’s ongoing off-track turbulence.

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    Sauber Academy Driver Zane Maloney, of Barbados, completed a fine performance from eighth on the grid to take his maiden Formula 2 victory in Friday’s Bahrain Sprint for the Rodin Motorsport team.

    Reverse grid polesitter Jake Crawford held onto a podium finish in second for DAMS, and rookie driver and Red Bull Junior Josep María Marti, took a fine third for Campos Racing.

    The 20-year-old Maloney, sped from eighth to first within eight laps, and comfortably controlled the pace from there to register his maiden win in the 23-lap race around the Bahrain International Circuit. He passed the finish line with a plus-five-second advantage over Crawford, while Martí finished a second and a half further back, as he converted an 11th-place starting spot into a podium finish.

    “Of course, I’m very happy to win the race, we started in P8 (position eight), got a great start and the team just gave me an amazing car, so it is all down to them, and we will go for it (on Saturday) in the feature race,” Maloney said after the race.

    “It was an amazing race. Of course, it started with a great start and then a good first two laps. I always put my car in the right place, which was good. After that, to be honest, I was happy to settle in my position and try to save the tyres a bit.

    “While saving the tyres, I was still keeping up so then I decided to just go for it, get in the lead and think about the tyres after that which I did. It worked out very well. The team gave me a great car so that is the reason," he added.

    Formula 2 is the second tier to Formula 1 racing organised by the FIA, motorsport’s world governing body, and held on select circuits on the Grand Prix schedule. The Formula 2 feature race is scheduled for Saturday and Maloney is buzzing with excitement, as he will start third on the grid.

    “I mean that’s always the goal; I didn’t think I would win, but the plan was to try and win (on Saturday). Every day is different so we just need to look at the data and see what we can still do better, try to improve. For sure starting third, I need to have a good start again and go into the race how I did (on Friday). The goal is to win (on Saturday) for sure," Maloney declared.

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