Max Verstappen banishes off-track issues by going fastest in Jeddah practice

Max Verstappen followed up his season-opening victory in Bahrain by posting the fastest time in first practice for this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Despite the continued controversy surrounding Verstappen, Christian Horner and the Red Bull team, the Dutch driver saw off Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso by 0.186 seconds in the opening running at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

Sergio Perez finished third in the other Red Bull, with George Russell fourth. His Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton finished ninth.

Verstappen opened up his championship defence with an emphatic victory in Bahrain last weekend.

Following the win, Verstappen’s father, Jos, claimed Red Bull could “explode” if Horner, who was cleared of “inappropriate behaviour” remains in his role.

It emerged here as practice got under way that Horner’s accuser has been suspended on full pay. Horner was exonerated last week and has always denied the claims.

However, Verstappen was able to put Red Bull’s off-track troubles to one side with an impressive display which will see him head into the weekend as the firm favourite to land yet another win.

Mercedes said an engine cooling problem contributed to their underwhelming display in Bahrain with Russell and Hamilton finishing fifth and seventh respectively.

Christian Horner (left) speaks to Max Verstappen before practice in Saudi Arabia (Darko Bandic/AP)
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Christian Horner (left) speaks to Max Verstappen before practice in Saudi Arabia (Darko Bandic/AP)

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Russell finished 0.280 sec behind Verstappen with Hamilton, 0.577 sec back.

The seven-time world champion’s future team Ferrari took fifth and sixth, with Charles Leclerc heading Carlos Sainz. Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren.

Horner is due to speak in a scheduled FIA press conference at 6:30 pm local time (3:30pm GMT) before the day’s concluding session begins at 8pm (5pm GMT).

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