Ralf Schumacher has told Max Verstappen to either leave Formula 1 or accept the new Sprint Race weekend format, which will debut at the upcoming Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The 'Sprint Shootout' gets introduced this weekend and will set the grid for Saturday's Sprint Race, which means the grid for Sunday's Grand Prix is now determined by Friday's qualifying. 

It leaves just one free practice session in Baku with FP2 and 3 being replaced, and is the first of six Sprint Race weekends in 2023 after only hosting three in 2021 and 2022.

This comes after Verstappen issued a 'quit threat' if F1 continues to make race weekend changes, but Schumacher believes the championship will thrive either way. 

"The past, the present and the future have shown or will show that Formula 1 is much bigger than any individual," he told Sky Sports Germany.

"Bernie Ecclestone is also gone, and without him Formula 1 wouldn't exist - and now it’s more successful than ever.

"So Verstappen should either pack his things and leave, or just accept it as it is. I understand his attitude because there are a lot of risks.

"But still, he gets paid to do it. If he wants to go, then he has to go. Formula 1 will not perish, as much I love him."

Guenther Steiner has hailed the changes saying it is what fans want, and believes F1 could eventually keep adding the format to more race weekends. 

"I don't know if we will do it every race weekend," the Haas team principal told Reuters. "Maybe do a few more or maybe do half of the calendar - the F1 promoter will know what to do.

"At the moment, there is more demand for races [than slots available] so how can you get more races in, more competition, more racing if we cannot do more than 24 events? So just make the event double count."

Will Baku finally have a repeat winner?

In six previous races at Baku, there has been a different winner each time. Nico Rosberg won its inaugural Grand Prix in 2016, before Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez and defending winner Verstappen all stood on the top step.

With two of that six no longer in F1 and Bottas now in an Alfa Romeo, chances are only three of them are in with a shot of victory. However, given Red Bull have dominated the opening three races to this season, they will be odds-on favourite to win again on Sunday.

To many, the battle will be between Perez and Verstappen with the double world champion currently 15 points ahead of his team-mate in the standings. If Red Bull wins again, then that will extend Hamilton’s winless run to 27 - his worst in F1 - after Mercedes have struggled since the start of 2022.

However, Fernando Alonso has stood on the podium in each race this season. Therefore, should Red Bull encounter any problems then maybe the Aston Martin driver will extend Baku's record. 

Charles Leclerc faces worst ever start to F1 season

Charles Leclerc's retirement in Australia means he is the first Ferrari driver since Felipe Massa in 2009 to have two DNFs in the opening three races of a season. For the other round, Saudi Arabia, he only finished seventh which leaves Leclerc 10th in the championship on six points.

It is a stark contrast to this time 12 months ago, where the Ferrari driver was leading the championship by 34 points after winning two of the opening three races. Should he fail to score a point in Baku then that will make it Leclerc's worst start to an F1 season, despite driving for Alfa Romeo in his debut year.

Championship Standings

Drivers

Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 69Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 54Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 45Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 38Carlos Sainz Jr (Ferrari) 20

Constructors 

Red Bull 123Aston Martin 65Mercedes 56Ferrari 26McLaren 12 

Christian Horner has responded to George Russell saying Red Bull are "embarrassed to show their full potential" and enjoy a bigger pace gap than has so far appeared to be the case. 

Reigning champions Red Bull have dominated the 2023 Formula One season after claiming both pole and the race win in each of the opening three races, including one-twos in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. 

Red Bull have almost double the points of Aston Martin in second in the constructors' championship.

However, at the Australian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen dropped from first to third on lap one, allowing Russell to briefly lead before the Dutchman went on to win the race, while his team-mate Sergio Perez rose to fifth following a pit-lane start.

It prompted Mercedes driver Russell to tell the BBC's Chequered Flag podcast: "For sure, they're holding back.

"I think they almost are embarrassed to show their full potential. I think realistically they probably have seven-tenths [of a second] advantage over the rest of the field.

"I don’t know what the pace difference looks like at the moment, but Max has got no reason to be pushing it, nor [have] Red Bull.

"They've done a really great job, to be fair to them. We can't take that away, and we clearly have to up our game."

When Horner was told about the remarks, he made reference to Mercedes' past dominance of winning eight consecutive constructors' titles before Red Bull ended that run in 2022.

"Okay, that's very generous of him," Horner replied. "His team of all people would know too well about those kind of advantages."

Asked if Russell's comments were true, Horner explained both of his drivers were managing their pace in Melbourne given the intended one-stop strategy before the safety car and red flag dramas.

"There's always an element of managing what goes on in any race," he said. "Because it was a one-stop race and a very early one-stop race, of course there was an element of tyre management which was going on, which was what they were doing.

"[But] Checo wasn't hanging about; he wasn’t cruising around, holding back seven-tenths per lap because he didn't want to show it – the grid was certainly a little bit closer at this venue."

Back-to-back world champion Verstappen leads the drivers' standings by 15 points ahead of Perez, with the season's fourth round on April 30 in Azerbaijan.

Max Verstappen was thrilled to seal his first victory at the Australian Grand Prix and emerge unscathed after three red flags caused chaos in Melbourne.

Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to claim his second win from three races in 2023.

The two-time world champion extended his championship lead to 15 points over team-mate Sergio Perez, who recovered from a pit-lane start to finish fifth.

Red Bull have the fastest car on the track, but Verstappen was made to work hard for his latest victory, the team's first in Australia since Sebastian Vettel triumphed in 2011.

He dropped from pole to third as he was passed by George Russell and Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap, which he suggested was partly due to caution on his part.

Verstappen also made a mental note of what he felt were aggressive moves after earlier complaining on team radio that Hamilton had run him wide.

Three red flags and a frantic finish meant Verstappen was unable to coast to victory when his big lead evaporated for a standing restart, but he held off Hamilton.

"No, not straightforward!" he said after the race. "We had a very poor start. Lap one I was careful because I had a lot to lose and they [the Mercedes] had a lot to win.

"From my side, I just tried to avoid a contact [on the first lap]."

Asked about the battle with Hamilton, he said: "It's quite clear in the rules what you're allowed to do now on the outside, but clearly it's not followed.

"It's OK, we had good pace and we passed them anyway, but it's something for the next races to take into account.

"After that, the pace of the car was quick - you could see that straight away. We were always there, waiting for the DRS to open up to have the chance to pass. 

"But with these red flags, I don't know... the first one, maybe you can do it but the second one I don't really understand. So, it was a bit of a mess, but we survived everything and winning is the most important thing.

"It's great to win here - my first win here and it's been a while for the team as well since winning in Australia, so very happy."

Fernando Alonso looked relieved to have claimed a third straight podium after a "rollercoaster" race.

He thought he had lost his third place in the final moments when contact with Carlos Sainz at the second restart appeared to knock him out of contention.

But after immediately issuing a third red flag, the FIA handed Sainz a time penalty and Alonso was reprieved when it was ruled the order from the previous restart should be restored.

Asked if he had experienced a race like that before, the 41-year-old replied: "Probably not! It was a rollercoaster of emotions with many things going on at the beginning and then also at the end. 

"In the last half an hour it was difficult to understand what was going on.

"Mercedes were very fast. Lewis did an incredible job. I couldn't match or get close enough, but we'll take P3.

"The first red flag helped us because George and Carlos came in and we got those places for free. The second one probably didn't help us with the incident. But we got lucky.

"P3 and P4 is an amazing Sunday for the team. We have three third places now, let's get higher on the podium, let's go for a second place at least!"

The last occasions Alonso was on the podium for each of the first three races of a Formula One season were 2005 and 2006, the two years when he won the world championship.

Max Verstappen continued Red Bull's fine start to the Formula One season as he won his first Australian Grand Prix in a chaotic race on Sunday.

The double world champion did not have it all his own way after dropping from pole position to third as he was passed by George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in the resurgent Mercedes on the opening lap.

There were three red flags, with Russell losing the lead amid the drama around the first and he was later forced to retire, with Verstappen overtaking Hamilton to go in front on lap 12.

Verstappen charged clear from there to claim a second win from three races. He finished ahead of Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, though there was more drama and confusion before the final result was confirmed.

Sergio Perez started in the pit lane after opting to change his car under parc ferme regulations due to his issues in qualifying, but he was able to salvage a fifth-place finish.

Russell overtook Verstappen down the inside of the first corner and with the Dutchman on the back foot Hamilton forced his own way through.

Last year's winner Charles Leclerc was in the gravel after contact with Lance Stroll, ending the Ferrari driver's race and bringing out the safety car in a thrilling start.

The safety was car called out again on lap 7 after Alex Albon hit the wall, with leader Russell diving into the pits.

However, that move backfired when a red flag followed soon after, leaving Hamilton and Verstappen – who had not stopped – with an advantage and Russell down in seventh.

Russell promptly got back up for fourth after the restart, but it was not his day as he then lost power with the back of his car on fire.

At the front, Verstappen clearly had the most pace and easily reclaimed the lead by sweeping past Hamilton round the outside in a DRS-assisted move.

A Verstappen victory rarely looked in doubt from there until a late crash for Kevin Magnussen caused a second red flag.

In a dramatic restart, contact between Carlos Sainz and Alonso caused an immediate third red flag and looked to have ended the Aston Martin veteran's podium hopes.

A period of confusion then followed as the FIA determined what rules would be applied and Alonso was reprieved as it ordered the race to finish with the same order as existed before the restart, with Sainz receiving a time penalty.

Lewis Hamilton suspects Mercedes' sensational Saturday in Melbourne may not be achievable at other tracks and is still unsure if he and George Russell can fight to win the Australian Grand Prix.

Mercedes drivers and officials had been pessimistic in their forecasts for the season prior to qualifying in this week's third race.

But Russell secured a place on the front row alongside Max Verstappen, with Hamilton qualifying third-fastest to put the Silver Arrows in a great position to attack Red Bull's world champion.

"I'm a little bit surprised; maybe they are also a little bit surprised," Verstappen said in Saturday's press conference. "But I guess it's a good thing."

It is certainly a good thing for Mercedes, although Hamilton is not convinced this means all their issues have gone away.

"I think it's perhaps track-specific," he said, "but I think ultimately there's no one in the team that's had their heads down, in terms of giving up.

"Everyone's been working incredibly hard to try to squeeze the most out of what we currently have."

Verstappen had not previously qualified on pole in Melbourne, where he is still waiting for his first win.

Hamilton has a joint-record eight poles at this event, winning twice, and added: "I think this gives everyone in the team a boost and a glimpse of hope and this will spur everyone on and will inspire everyone to continue to push.

"We know that if we can just bring a little bit of performance, we can close the gap to the front. Still, there are going to be places where the gap is a lot bigger."

Russell did not entirely concur, countering: "For sure, we maximised the job, no doubt about it, but we had a good qualifying last week in Jeddah.

"I didn't put my lap together in the last run in Jeddah and was only a tenth off P3.

"So no, I don't think it's necessarily track-specific. I do think we're making some improvement with the understanding of the car."

But Hamilton and Russell were in agreement that Red Bull, even with Sergio Perez encountering issues and failing to make it out of Q1, remain the team to beat.

Russell said: "I do still think Red Bull are a class ahead of everybody else.

"For sure Lewis and I got the most out of it today, [but] by the sounds of what Max is saying, there was probably still a little bit more in the locker.

"And we're talking that three-tenths is a little bit – normally, they're a second ahead; now, they're three-tenths ahead – that's still a huge amount in the world of F1."

If only for this weekend, though, can Mercedes challenge Red Bull for the top step of the podium? Hamilton still does not know.

"I haven't even done a long run," he explained. "So tomorrow, going into the race, will be the first time I do so.

"And I've not seen where we tally up compared to them. We have to expect they're going to be a quarter of a second, half a second, at least, quicker than us.

"But maybe in the tow, maybe we can just about hold on; maybe the fact that there's two of us and only one Red Bull, maybe with strategy, maybe we can apply some pressure to them. So, we'll see."

Max Verstappen ended his wait for pole position at the Australian Grand Prix, but Mercedes came out of Saturday with their optimism renewed in Melbourne.

While reigning Formula One champion and season leader Max Verstappen remains the man to beat, he is without Red Bull team-mate in support at the front of the grid this weekend.

Instead, George Russell joined Verstappen on the front row, with Lewis Hamilton qualifying third-fastest in a qualifying session the pair acknowledged was "unexpected".

It could have been even better for Mercedes, with Hamilton setting an initial provisional pole in a hotly contested Q3.

Just 0.301 seconds separated the top seven at one stage, before a dominant Verstappen performance took him 0.236s clear.

"The last run was very good," he said, acknowledging a "very tough" weekend.

After finally securing pole in Melbourne, his next aim is a first Australia GP win.

Verstappen added: "I've been on the podium once, but I want to be on a different step this time."

Yet Mercedes intend to have something to say about that, even if merely getting this close to Verstappen was far beyond their expectations.

"We weren't expecting that, that's for sure," said Russell. "There's a lot of hard work going on back at the factory here in Melbourne, and what a session for us. The car felt alive.

"The lap at the end was right on the limit, and to be honest, I was a little bit disappointed we didn't get pole position.

"It's one of those things, how your expectations change so quickly in this sport. We probably would have been happy with top four, top five yesterday, but the car felt awesome.

"It goes to show we've definitely got potential still to come."

Hamilton suggested this week it would take "the rest of the year to potentially close that gap" to Red Bull, yet the Silver Arrows are suddenly back in contention.

"I'm so happy with this. This is totally unexpected," Hamilton said. "I'm really, really proud of the team.

"George did a fantastic job today, so for us to be up there on the two front rows is a dream for us.

"We're all working as hard as we can to get right back up the front, so to be this close to Red Bull is honestly incredible. I hope tomorrow we can give them a bit of a run for their money."

Absent from the Q3 battle was Perez, who is on a career-best run of three straight podiums and had talked up his title aspirations this week.

But he endured problems right from the outset on Saturday, delayed in his start to FP3 and then running into trouble at Turn 3.

Perez locked up again at the same corner early in Q1 and ended in the gravel, his session over as he bemoaned "the same issue again" over the team radio.

McLaren's home favourite Oscar Piastri, making his Australian GP debut, fared little better, out in Q1.

A strong start to the season for Fernando Alonso continued as the veteran qualified fourth, ahead of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. George Russell (Mercedes)
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
4. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
6. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
7. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
8. Alexander Albon (Williams)
9. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
10. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)

Max Verstappen is relieved there is a break in the Formula One calendar coming up as the drivers' champion battles back from an illness that left him feeling as thought one lung was incapacitated.

The Red Bull driver, seeking a third consecutive title this season, was left stricken ahead of the last race in Saudi Arabia and only just hauled himself together to be able to compete.

In the end, he pulled out something special, finishing second after starting in 15th place on the grid, having dropped out in Q2 due to a mechanical failure.

Verstappen also retained his place at the top of the drivers' season standings by recording the race's fastest lap right at the death, so he leads the way heading into this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

After competing in Melbourne, there will be a break before F1 resumes in Azerbaijan across the April 28-30 weekend, a gap that was created by the cancellation of a planned race in China.

Three clear weeks without competition should allow Verstappen to get back on an even keel, although he signalled the worst of the illness has already passed.

"I was not looking forward to the break, but then I got really ill and have just been struggling a bit since that time, especially last race out," Verstappen said.

"So I think for me now these three weeks are just about getting back to full fitness, getting a full programme in."

Reflecting on his tough experience prior to racing in Jeddah two weeks ago, Verstappen said: "At home I was really ill, I could barely just walk around. It felt like I was just missing a lung, and I got to the weekend really believing that it was gone.

"Normally when you get sick like two, three days after, you’re normally all right – you can just do your workouts – but then when I jumped into the car in FP1, even just one performance lap, I felt like I had to recover for two laps to be able to breathe normally."

He added: "It definitely did affect me throughout the weekend, which I didn't like. It was one of the first races where I felt I was physically limited, and that's really frustrating when you're in the car.

"Since then I've been trying to work on it, trying to improve it, and I do think it has improved a lot, so this weekend should be all right."

Verstappen has yet to have a win at the Australian Grand Prix, with third place in 2019 being his best finish to date.

The 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year Verstappen retired from the race at Albert Park as Charles Leclerc claimed a dominant victory for Ferrari.

Sergio Perez is adamant Red Bull will not steer him away from a battle with Max Verstappen for the Formula One title.

Red Bull have dominated the opening two rounds of the season, securing one-two finishes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with Verstappen holding a narrow one-point lead over his team-mate courtesy of the fastest lap in Jeddah.

Verstappen's push for the extra championship point last time out saw sparks flying at Red Bull, with Perez unhappy he was not given a similar message over team radio and ultimately not making a bid himself to set the fastest time.

Suggestions that tempers are flaring in the paddock have been downplayed, however, and Mexican driver Perez feels he has support within the team to launch his own bid for the title.

The season continues this weekend at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

"When I first came to the team [ahead of the 2021 season], things were very different.  Basically, they were just going racing with two cars because they had to," Perez said, quoted by BBC Sport.

"I can now say that I really feel part of the team, have my place and am well respected.

"I really believe I have the team's full support, as much as Max does, and that I will have every opportunity to win the championship, as much as Max."

While going wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen could lead to tensions over the course of the season, Perez feels the pair have the maturity to deal with any rivalry that could emerge on track.

"I'm here to do the best possible thing for myself as well. To be honest, we have a lot more respect for each other than people might think," Perez said.

"Inside the team, there is a very high level of respect with each other. I think we are both mature enough to know what's right and what's wrong and, as long as that keeps being the case, I don't expect anything to change."

Max Verstappen revelled in his impressive recovery at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix while Christian Horner lavished Sergio Perez's "best ever race".

Perez claimed a fifth race win of his Formula One career on Sunday, bouncing back after briefly losing the lead to Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso early on.

Red Bull team-mate Verstappen had plenty of work to do – starting in 15th after dropping out in Q2 on Saturday due to a mechanical failure – but he charged through the field to make the podium.

Verstappen, who reported an issue with his car with around 12 laps remaining, also retained his place at the top of the drivers' standings by recording the race's fastest lap right at the death, leaving the two-time reigning champion to reflect on a satisfying outing. 

"It wasn't very easy to get through the field, through the first sector it was very difficult – a lot of sliding around," Verstappen told Sky Sports.

"Once I cleared them one by one, we got into a good rhythm, and of course I'm very happy to be here on the podium.

"I was second and we had a big gap behind us, so at one point we decided to call it a day and settle for second, which I think was a great recovery anyway so I'm happy with that."

While Verstappen battled his way through the grid, Perez held firm to ensure Red Bull became the first team to win both races and both qualifying sessions in the first two contests of an F1 season.

Perez added: "It turned out to be tougher than I expected. We really did a good job in the first stint, that safety car tried to take it away from us. 

"I was after the victory last year and finally I got it. The team did a fantastic job, they worked so hard during the week, we had a lot of mechanical issues, so I'm really happy for them.

"We will keep pushing hard. The important thing is we were the fastest car out there today. We're very pleased with that."

Horner rated Perez's display as his best in F1, telling Sky Sports: "The team – all credit to them – have built an incredible car.

"We've got a great car and two great drivers. What we saw today [was] two drivers pushing each other. Max coming through from 15th on the grid… by half distance, he was already in P4!

"Checo, I think that was his best ever race, managing the pace and the restart... those guys were going absolutely flat out.

"They were both pushing hard and Max got the fastest lap of the race, but what a weekend for him. He was patient, he picked the cars off, it was a phenomenal recovery from him."

Sergio Perez claimed glory in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as Max Verstappen charged through the field to maintain his lead in the Formula One championship.

Polesitter Perez initially fell behind to Fernando Alonso at the start of Sunday's race in Jeddah, yet the latter was handed a five-second penalty for an incorrect starting position on the grid.

Perez did not relinquish the lead again, holding firm to seal his fifth F1 win, and his second in the space of seven races following his success in Singapore last season.

Red Bull team-mate Verstappen, starting 15th, had work to do after dropping out in Q2 on Saturday, though the two-time reigning champion displayed his supreme skill – and the power of his engine – to charge up to second.

He had overtaken long-time rival Lewis Hamilton for P8 by the 12th lap, and after Lance Stroll was told to stop on the track, bringing out a safety car, Verstappen was attempting to overtake George Russell's Mercedes.

Russell held him off once but could not do so again, with Verstappen cruising beyond Alonso to take hold of second in the 25th lap.

Verstappen, who had his rear suspension and both driveshafts changed prior to the race, was troubled by what he called a "weird noise" with 12 laps remaining, though Red Bull's engineers instructed the Dutchman to stay out.

That did not seem to ease Verstappen's fears, though he pushed his car as far as it would go in the final lap, and that decision paid off as he claimed the fastest time in the race, keeping himself at the top of the standings after two races.

Alonso fended off Mercedes duo Russell and Hamilton to round out the podium – the Spaniard's 100th of his F1 career.

After failing to finish in 2022, Alex Albon suffered another disappointing race in Jeddah as a brake issue forced him to retire.

Charles Leclerc endured a frustrating grand prix and had to settle for seventh, behind Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz.

Fernando Alonso will occupy the front row of the grid for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix but is not harbouring dreams of a first victory since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.

Alonso and Aston Martin continued their strong start to the season as the Spaniard qualified third in Jeddah behind Red Bull's Sergio Perez and the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc after defending world champion Max Verstappen failed to make it out of Q2 because of a driveshaft issue.

Leclerc's 10-place grid penalty will see him start 12th, promoting Alonso to his first front row start since last season's Canadian Grand Prix for Alpine.

Alonso endured a disappointing race on that occasion, finishing ninth.

Though Alonso is confident of greater fortune in the Aston Martin on Sunday, the two-time world champion does not believe he can challenge Perez for victory and anticipates eventually being caught by Verstappen, who will start 15th.

"I don't know. I think we are not in that position yet," the 41-year-old said when asked if he felt he could beat Perez. "I think on pure pace, I think Red Bull is in another league. And I think we have to concentrate more on the teams behind.

"So Ferrari will be very strong. Mercedes, they are strong, and also Alpine, they are fast here. So I think our race is just behind us. We saw today, Max probably was in his league today in qualifying and he could not complete the qualifying with a mechanical issue apparently, so we will try to take the opportunity for sure.

"I don't want to sound pessimistic but if we see the pace the whole weekend in free practice, we see the Bahrain race, we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a little bit ahead of everyone. So that's not, let's say, the target tomorrow, you know, to fight for the win with Checo.

"But as I said before, Formula One is not exact mathematics, you know, anything can happen and today no one of us will put Verstappen P15, but these things happen sometimes.

"So, for us, the most important thing is to score points. We are starting both cars in the top five. We try to finish both cars in the top five and keep accumulating points for the constructors' championship. That's the main goal for Aston Martin this year.

"I think Max will come eventually in the race. They have this advantage. I don't know which race it was last year that he started last, so he changed the power unit and still finished P2 or even won the race. So, I think tomorrow, there is no doubt that he will be in the podium, probably, minimum."

Verstappen won from 10th in Hungary last season and 14th in Belgium, results that underlined his dominance once Leclerc's title challenge dissipated, and he is not giving up hope of another charge through the field even at a tight circuit where overtaking may prove difficult.

"We now have a bit more work ahead of us tomorrow, but it is what it is," said Verstappen. 

"It is a long championship and we will stay positive. I think a win is tricky from that position but I will try to score as many points as possible. It will be hard to get to the front, but we won't give up.

"Anything is possible at this track, we have seen some crazy things here, but we have to be realistic. It will be tough but we have good pace so, for sure, we will move forward."

Max Verstappen's early dominance of the Formula One season was interrupted as he was knocked out of qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix with a mechanical issue.

The reigning world champion was the class of the field two weeks ago in Bahrain, with Red Bull enjoying a significant advantage in pace over their rivals.

But Verstappen will need to work his way through the field at the tight street circuit in Jeddah if he is to prevail at this race for the second successive year.

The Dutchman limped to the pits in the second qualifying session with what appeared to be a driveshaft issue.

His mechanics did not have the requisite time to fix the problem and get him back out for a flying lap, meaning Verstappen will start 15th, unless Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who has a 10-place grid penalty, qualifies no higher than fifth.

There had been no prior indication of a problem in that area of the car, according to Verstappen, who accepts it will now be difficult for him to replicate his 2022 victory.

"No, it's the first time I heard about it [the problem] as well," he said. "Coming out of turn 10 it happened. It will be a bit more tricky to get to the front. Anything is possible at this track, it's going to be tough."

Max Verstappen will arrive late to Saudi Arabia due to illness and missed pre-weekend media duties on Thursday.

The back-to-back Formula One world champion took to social media to confirm he had been battling a stomach bug and will not arrive in Jeddah until Friday.

"Feeling fine again, after not being fit for a few days because of a stomach bug," he wrote on Twitter.

"Therefore, I unfortunately had to postpone my flight for a day, so I won't be on the track until Friday. See you in Jeddah!"

Red Bull later issued a statement confirming that the FIA granted permission for the Dutchman to miss Thursday's pre-race media duties.

Verstappen tops the early championship standings after victory in the opening race of the season in Bahrain last time out, finishing ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez.

Charles Leclerc will receive a 10-place grid penalty at this weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after Ferrari fitted a third electronics control unit. 

At the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Ferrari needed to use a second ECU before Leclerc retired from the race after suffering another problem with the component.

Across a season, drivers are restricted to using just two ECUs and going over the permitted amount results in a grid penalty.

Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur said: "On Sunday, we had two different issues. The first one was on the Sunday morning, when we did the fire up, and the second one was in the race.

"Unfortunately, it was two times the control electronics box and it’s something that we never experienced in the past.

"I hope now it’s under control. We have a deep analysis on this.

"Unfortunately, we’ll have to take the penalty in Jeddah because we have only a pool of two control units for the season."

Leclerc was a dejected figure in Bahrain, where championship favourites Red Bull claimed a dominant one-two with winner Max Verstappen coming in a huge 39 seconds ahead of third-placed Fernando Alonso.

The Ferrari driver, who was third at time of his retirement, described Red Bull as being "on another planet" but Vasseur has no worries about Leclerc's mindset or his team's chances this season. 

"It’s obvious Charles is motivated," added Vasseur, who is in his debut year as Ferrari boss.

"We have done one race of 23. He’s full push with the team, trying to get the best for everyone.

"The penalty is not good news, but it’s not the end of the season. Let’s see what happens in Jeddah, and what could be the outcome, even with the penalty.

"But don't imagine for even half a second he could be demotivated.

"He's fully convinced, he's working with us, pushing the team, pushing everybody in a positive way and nothing else."

If Ferrari need to replace any further parts of Leclerc's car in Saudi Arabia, the grid penalty will increase further than 10 grid spots.

Max Verstappen believes Fernando Alonso can end his decade-long wait for a Formula One win this season after an encouraging start for Aston Martin.

The Spaniard finished third in his first race for his new team at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix last Sunday, which Verstappen won ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

Alonso signed a multi-year deal to replace Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin, making the move from Alpine.

The 41-year-old, who took a two-year sabbatical from F1 before returning in 2021, has not taken the top step of the podium since his victory at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix on home soil.

But reigning champion Verstappen thinks Alonso can add to his tally of 32 wins this year.

The Dutchman said: "I hope so for Fernando as well because he has had a few years where there was not really a possibility to fight at the front, so I'm happy to see him sitting here already in race one.

"I think also again, I mentioned it before, but at Aston Martin, they really have the spirit and drive, they want to win and they've hired a lot of good people.

"So I guess it can only get better for them. And I think for this year, difficult to say if they're going to challenge for the championship, but race wins are definitely on the table.

"I've been in the same position where some races I'm finishing 20 to 40 seconds behind the winners and you still win two or three races a year because sometimes there are some tracks which really suit your car and everything just comes together and you can win a race with maybe sometimes a bit of help or luck.

"But for sure they have a really strong package. And now of course it's all about developing it further."

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