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."

Red Bull still managed to get on pole for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, with Sergio Perez topping the timesheets after Max Verstappen's driveshaft issue, and Charles Leclerc conceded the defending champions are "on another planet".

Verstappen was stunningly knocked out of Q2 after the mechanical failure forced him to limp back to the pits.

That left the fight for pole in Jeddah wide open but Perez shut the door for Red Bull's rivals, claiming his second career pole at the circuit where he claimed his first last year with a lap of one minute and 28.265 seconds.

Leclerc was second for Ferrari, but his 10-place grid drop for taking on too many control electronics units will see him start 12th, with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso taking his place on the front row after qualifying third.

While Leclerc, who challenged Verstappen last season before reliability and strategy problems dashed his hopes, was pleased with his performance, he was realistic about the Scuderia's capabilities compared to those of Red Bull.

"It has been a very difficult weekend in terms of pace for us but on my lap I think I put everything into it and it was really on the limit," said Leclerc, who was just 0.155 seconds behind Perez.

"On the other hand, Red Bull are on another planet and we are struggling a little bit, so we need to keep pushing, but that is what we are doing as a team.

"Tomorrow isn't going to be easy. I have a 10-place grid penalty, so we will be starting a little bit further back, but we will focus on the race and hopefully come back to the front as quickly as possible." 

Asked about apparent improvements in race pace in Friday's second free practice session, Leclerc replied: "The race pace looked quite good but it's very difficult to compare because in FP2 everyone is running a different programme, but it seemed a little bit better. 

"We will see but it is not going to be easy because I think everyone is going to be very close on race pace."

Alonso's mood was in stark contrast to that of Leclerc, the two-time world champion clearly revelling in being a car that can compete at the front again.

"Qualifying was our weak spot in Bahrain but we performed very well [here] so let’s see what we can do. It is amazing," Alonso said.

"We are confident, the gap on the long runs [on Friday] was affected by traffic, so we feel very strong. The strongest point of the car is the long-run pace and how we treat the tyres, so it should be better on Sunday."

George Russell will start third for Mercedes after qualifying fourth, four spots ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Russell will have Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz for company on the second row, with Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin behind them on an intriguing grid.

Verstappen, who has won the last two world titles and tasted victory in the Bahrain season-opener, will start in 15th position.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) [has 10-place grid penalty]
3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
4. George Russell (Mercedes)
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
6. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
7. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
8. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
9. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
10. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)

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."

Fraser McConnell began the Grand Finale of the 2022/23 Nitro Rallycross Series with a runner-up finish in the first of three rounds on Friday at the Glen Helen raceway.

“Great start to the nitro rallycross finale with another shiny belt and a silver medal,” said the 24-year-old Jamaican on Instagram after round one.

“Really good points in the bag with two more race days to come,” he added.

The round was won by European Rallycross champion Andreas Bakkerund while Timo Scheider was third. The overall leader and McConnell’s teammate Robin Larsson was eighth.

The second and third races to determine the champion will take place on Saturday and Sunday and can be viewed on Sportsmax or the Sportsmax app.

 

Toto Wolff conceded Mercedes can have "no complaints" if the team fails to improve and Lewis Hamilton seeks an exit.

The seven-time world champion was unable to compete with Max Verstappen for the title last season and a bid for the crown this year appears unlikely.

Mercedes remain behind Red Bull and Ferrari with their cars for the 2023 season and have also fallen behind Aston Martin, with Hamilton finishing fifth in the opening race in Bahrain last time out.

Hamilton remains tied with Michael Schumacher for the most all-time titles in Formula One and Wolff would not be angry at the Briton for walking away if Mercedes continue to fail to provide him with a car with which he could win an unprecedented eighth championship.

"If Lewis wants to win another championship, he needs to make sure he has the car," he said.

"And if we cannot demonstrate that we are able to give him a car in the next couple of years then he will need to look everywhere.

"I don't think he is doing it at this stage, but I will have no complaints if that happens in a year or two."

However, Wolff does not expect Hamilton to jump at an exit and is confident he will sign a new deal, with his current contract expiring at the end of the season.

"I am absolutely confident. We are talking when we want to do it, and how, but we just need to change some terms and the dates basically," he added.

"Lewis is at the stage of his career where we trust each other, we have formed a great bond and we have no reason to doubt each other even though it is a difficult spell.

"It will be so nice when we come out of the valley of tears and return to solid performances."

Sergio Perez has taken new power unit components ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver has taken a new energy store (ES) and control electronics (CE) for the second race of the 2023 Formula One season.

No penalty will be issued for the Mexican driver, though he finds himself in a tricky situation for the remainder of the campaign as only two ES changes are allowed over the course of the season, while three CE's are permitted.

Perez is now in a similar situation to that of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who was forced into an ES change ahead of the season opener in Bahrain and has taken another unit for this weekend – resulting in a 10-place grid penalty.

Leclerc, alongside team-mate Carlos Sainz and McLaren's Lando Norris, has also taken a second internal combustion engine (ICE) for Saudi Arabia, with three permitted during a season, while both Leclerc and Norris have taken an additional MGU-H.

Norris has seen further changes in the form of a new turbocharger, MGU-K and exhaust system for the weekend in Saudi Arabia.

Max Verstappen leads the championship standings ahead of team-mate Perez after a Red Bull one-two in Bahrain, with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso third.

 Fraser McConnell is set to compete in the Grand Finale of the 2022/23 Nitro Rallycross Series this weekend.

(You can watch the final weekend of the championship on Sportsmax or the Sportsmax app)

The 24-year-old Jamaican will contest the final over three action-packed rounds on Friday, March 17, Saturday, March 18 and Sunday, March 19 with championship points at stake.

"It has been a long and exciting season that started way back in June last year in England,” he said. “Initially, getting used to the electric race car was a steep learning curve while competing in a traditional combustion engine Supercar. However, I am very comfortable with the FC1 and look forward to closing the season with a strong performance."

McConnell's teammate Robin Larsson leads the standings. The two-time race champion has finished on the podium in all but one championship round this season. At Glen Helen on October 29 and 30, Larsson had to settle for second behind a dominant McConnell, who dominated qualifying before completing a weekend clean sweep.

He goes into the final weekend in third place in the Championship, 10 points behind European Rallycross champion Andreas Bakkerud. Dubbed 'The Flying Jamaican', McConnell returning to the site of his finest hour opens the door for a real late surge for the championship crown.

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.

Lewis Hamilton has no desire to leave Mercedes but urged the team to make "bold decisions" to close the gap upon their Formula One rivals.  

Having won the Constructors' Championship for eight consecutive seasons from 2014, Mercedes conceded their crown to Red Bull last year.

Hopes of reclaiming that honour in 2023 already seem to be dead in the water after just one race, with Mercedes adrift of Red Bull and Ferrari, while also falling behind Aston Martin.

Those disappointments have led to speculation regarding Hamilton's future, with his contract due to expire at the end of the season, and post-race comments in Bahrain added fuel to the fire – having told Mercedes to "own up" to their mistakes.

Hamilton has since admitted his words were not chosen wisely and, speaking ahead of Sunday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, he expressed his commitment to Mercedes.

"In hindsight, it wasn't necessarily the best choice of words. Of course there are times when you're not in agreement with certain team members but what's important is we continue to communicate, we continue to work together," he told a press conference.

"I still have 100 per cent belief in this team. It is my family and I've been here a long time, so I don't plan on going anywhere else.

"But we all need a kick, we all need to get in. The proof is in the pudding; we've seen what the performance is and how people are extracting the performance. We've got to now start making some bold decisions, some big moves in order to close the gap to these guys.

"[Red Bull] will run away with it, most likely, this year, unless Ferrari can stop them, which we'll wait and see. But as I said, we're hopeful we'll be able to close the gap, but at that point it will probably be too late in terms of fighting for a championship, but we can still turn some heads."

Hamilton likened Mercedes' position to the one they found themselves in last year and, having seen the team improve slowly throughout that campaign, is optimistic of a similar response.

"We're in a similar mentality to what we were last year, where we're just working as hard as we can as a team, try to remain positive. Obviously it's a shock when you work out the car is not where you want it to be," he added.

"But everyone is working on the solution and I have 100 per cent confidence in everyone doing their job. You don't all of a sudden lose the ability to build great cars. We're just not where we need to be, where we want to be, and we have to keep working on it.

The Formula One season is only one race old and the question is already being asked if anybody can catch Red Bull. Charles Leclerc may already have abandoned that hope for this weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Red Bull coasted to a one-two at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, world champion Max Verstappen prevailing ahead of Sergio Perez to put their history of slow starts to bed in emphatic fashion.

Their superiority was hammered home by familiar troubles for Leclerc, who failed to finish the race due to engine trouble.

Ferrari replaced his control electronics ahead of the race, only to discover the new electronics were to blame for his retirement, meaning they would again need to be replaced ahead of Sunday's race in Jeddah.

Only two sets of control electronics are permitted to be used in a season, and Ferrari being forced to put in a third set will see Leclerc take on a 10-place grid penalty.

Leclerc faces a huge challenge to get on the podium, but Ferrari are set to take updates to Saudi Arabia, with team principal Frederic Vasseur confident they can greatly improve on their efforts in Bahrain, where Carlos Sainz was a distant fourth

"We struggled a bit with the balance over the weekend, it means that we have mega room for improvements on this path with our package," Vasseur said.

"With what we had in Bahrain, I think we had a lot of room for improvement in terms of driveability. For sure we can't be satisfied with the situation, and I want to do a step forward.

"The characteristics of Jeddah are completely different compared to the previous one to Bahrain in terms of grip, in terms of rugosity and layout of the track, so it's completely different story.

"Already it will suit a little bit more to what we have today. And then we'll also bring some updates to Jeddah and I hope that we'll do a step forward."
 

Red Bull eye F1 first

Verstappen won from pole in Bahrain and, if Red Bull top the timesheets in Saudi Arabia and go on to win with either driver, they will make Formula One history.

No team has ever taken pole and won the race in each of the first two grands prix, but Red Bull appear perfectly equipped to change that with their seemingly sizeable race pace advantage over the field.

And they have recent history of triumphing on Saturday and Sunday at Jeddah. Perez qualified on pole last year before Verstappen prevailed in the race.

Alonso on brink of century

Aside from Red Bull, Aston Martin were the team on the receiving end of most praise in Bahrain as Fernando Alonso scored a podium on his debut with the team.

It was the two-time world champion's 99th in F1. Should he make it 100 in Saudi Arabia, he will join Lewis Hamilton (191), Michael Schumacher (155), Sebastian Vettel (122), Alain Prost (106) and Kimi Raikkonen (103) as the sixth man to achieve the feat.

Alonso is hopeful the car will continue to get better, saying: "Sure, we need to wait for Jeddah, Australia. They are very different tracks, so I'm curious to see if we can keep this form in different circuits.

"But, on the other hand, I think the car that we have now is just a very basic car that we launched and we start the season with this completely new concept.

"I think there is a lot more to come in terms of development with this project, so I'm optimistic for that."
 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25

2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 18

3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 15

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 12

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 10

Constructors

1. Red Bull 43

2. Aston Martin 23

3. Mercedes 16

4. Ferrari 12

5. Alfa Romeo 4

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.

Jenson Button will enter three NASCAR Cup Series races in 2023, debuting at Circuit of the Americas on March 26.

Button won the 2009 Formula One world championship with Brawn, later driving for Mercedes before leaving the series in 2017.

The Briton has since tried his hand at rival series but had not until now raced in NASCAR.

Button will drive Rick Ware Racing's No. 15 Ford Mustang in three races, following up his Austin, Texas bow with entries in the inaugural Chicago Street Race on July 2 and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course on August 13.

"Obviously, racing a Cup car is very different than what I'm used to," Button said.

"It's a lot heavier, with a lot less power and, basically, no downforce. It's got a sequential gearbox where you need to blip the throttle, so there's lots of stuff to learn in a very short space of time.

"But I just get excited about that new challenge, and when I throw myself into something, I am 100 per cent in.

"I'm not just doing it for fun in some one-off. I want to be competitive, and I know that to be competitive, it's going to take a bit of time. That's why doing these three races works very well this season."

Lewis Hamilton urged Mercedes engineers to "own up" for their performance issues after a slow start to the season.

The seven-time world champion finished fifth in the opening race of the 2023 Formula One season in Bahrain, behind both Red Bull cars, Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz.

Any hope that Mercedes would be able to compete at the front of the grid following a woeful campaign in 2022 is already on the back burner, with the zero-pods concept continuing to attract criticism.

Team principal Toto Wolff admitted on Sunday that "radical" changes are needed, a view that Hamilton clearly shares.

Major improvements for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix later this month are unlikely, but Hamilton is keen for the engineers to own up to their errors.

"Last year, I told them the issues that are with the car," he told the BBC's Chequered Flag podcast.

"Like, I've driven so many cars in my life, so I know what a car needs, I know what a car doesn't need.

"And I think it's really about accountability, it's about owning up and saying 'yeah, you know what, we didn't listen to you, it's not where it needs to be and we've got to work'.

"We've got to look into the balance through the corners, look at all the weak points and just huddle up as a team, that's what we do.

"We're still multi World Champions you know, it's just they haven't got it right this time, they didn't get it right last year, but that doesn't mean we can't get it right moving forwards."

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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