Max Verstappen returned to winning ways in dominant fashion as the world champion cruised to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Having retired last time out in Australia, it was normal service resumed for the Dutchman at Suzuka where he led home a Red Bull one-two as Sergio Perez finished second.

Verstappen twice led into the first corner off the line after the race was restarted following a first-lap incident.

From there he controlled the pace of the race and the result never looked in doubt, with Verstappen taking the chequered flag and the fastest lap to open up a 13-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship as he aims for a fourth successive title.

Perez did well to overcome a minor threat from Ferrari as Carlos Sainz took the last step on the podium with a strong strategy enough for him leapfrog Lando Norris, with McLaren misjudging a call to pit the Briton early for his final stop.

A strong showing from Ferrari saw the sister car of Charles Leclerc come home fourth ahead of Norris, while the fight for the minor points places proved to be the most exciting battle of the afternoon.

Fernando Alonso hung on to take sixth for Aston Martin with a late push from George Russell seeing him pass the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri on the closing lap to secure seventh.

Lewis Hamilton had said after qualifying that his Mercedes felt better than it had in the last three years but he struggled for genuine pace and had to settle for ninth as home favourite Yuki Tsunoda took the final point, coming in 10th for RB.

Lando Norris has dismissed suggestions from dominant Red Bull duo Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez that they could struggle for pace in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen took pole position to continue his run of locking out the first spot on the grid so far this season, while Perez was just 0.066 seconds slower to secure his place on the front row.

Norris emerged from a pack of cars all running very similar times to take the place as best of the rest for McLaren on another Saturday where it was Red Bull who shone.

Despite a 27th qualifying one-two for the Red Bull team, both drivers were quick to point out they are not as happy with their longer race pace.

Having run with their race set-up in the final practice session ahead of qualifying, Verstappen complained: “So far, I haven’t been happy with my long runs. The pace wasn’t what I would have liked, so there’s a bit of a question mark going into tomorrow.

“Our race pace is still not too bad, but it’s not how I have been feeling in some of the races this year, last year, as comfortable, let’s say it like that.”

Perez, meanwhile, echoed the views of his team-mate: “Let’s see what we are able to do tomorrow,” he said.

“I don’t think we are looking great at the moment in our long run pace, but we’ve done some changes and hopefully that will translate into our race pace.”

However, Norris did not seem to buy the suggestions that Red Bull may have any sort of Sunday struggles.

“Obviously last year I was side by side with Max into turn one. So hopefully trying to redo that,” he said of his plans for the race.

“But it’s tricky. They’re quick. They complained about their race pace, but I don’t think they’ve had a bad race in the last four or five years, so I think they’re going to be good tomorrow.

“Of course we’ve got a lot of pressure from behind so we have to keep an eye on the mirrors. But at the same time I want to go forward and I think we have pace to stay where we are, so that’s my goal.

“That will be our target for tomorrow. But I think realistically, we’re still too far away to challenge them. They’re too quick for us. Yes, we are quicker in qualifying, but in the race, normally, they always pull away a bit more.

“So, I think we’ll be realistic. I’m always realistic when I say it. So I think our competition is with the guys behind and at the same time, I’ll do my best to push forward.”

Carlos Sainz won in Australia last time out and will start Sunday’s race fourth for Ferrari, with the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso fifth.

Oscar Piastri was sixth-fastest in the second McLaren, while Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are down in seventh and ninth respectively – with Mercedes later fined 5,000 euros for an unsafe pit-lane release of Russell.

Charles Leclerc is sandwiched between the pair, with home favourite Yuki Tsunoda rounding out the top 10.

Tsunoda scraped into the final session, eliminating RB team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at the end of Q2 to the roar of the Suzuka crowd.

Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas, Alex Albon and Esteban Ocon also failed to make it through and will start 12-15th, respectively.

Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu were knocked out in Q1.

Lewis Hamilton may have only managed to qualify seventh for the Japanese Grand Prix but he insists his Mercedes has not felt better in three years.

The seven-time world champion will start from the fourth row at Suzuka, with team-mate George Russell in ninth.

While from the outside that would suggest Mercedes once again struggled with an underperforming car – like much of the past two years – Hamilton was in good spirits following Saturday’s qualifying.

Having lamented the gap to pole-sitter Max Verstappen over the team radio during the session, he had a more positive outlook in the aftermath.

“The car has been much nicer to drive this weekend… this is the nicest it has felt in three years,” he said.

“I think we did a really good job over the last week, just the analysis we’ve done at the factory to get the car into a sweet spot.

“This weekend it’s much more in the sweet spot and so I hope that continues in the following races. Then we’ve just got to add performance.

“I think we’ve got the car into a much nicer working window and so it’s been really enjoyable driving, it’s just the guys are just a little bit faster.”

Hamilton has amassed just eight points from the opening three races of the 2024 campaign and retired last time out in Australia.

The early signs are Mercedes face another year of chasing the fastest cars rather than challenging for victories – but the Briont, who will race for Ferrari from next year – feels things are starting to look up.

Asked if he believes Mercedes are now heading in the right direction, Hamilton replied: “I personally believe so.

“We were a second or just over a second off last year to the Red Bull and seven tenths is now better,” he added.

“I think what it’s giving us is I know exactly where the car is not strong enough, I can feel it in the car, and I know now to be tell them to ‘push in this particular area’. But I’m hoping the race will be stronger tomorrow.”

Mercedes were hit with a Euros5,000 (£4,290) fine for an unsafe pit lane release of Russell at the start of qualifying.

Russell will start the race from his lowest grid slot this season but he believes it will be a close battle with the cars in and around him.

“I think it’s just so tight out there between ourselves McLaren, Ferrari and Aston Martin,” he said.

“If you nail your lap you are up at the front of that pack, and if you don’t you will be at the back of that pack, we knew that this circuit was going to be a slight challenge for us. We know our limitation in the high-speed corners.”

Max Verstappen stormed to pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix as his dominance in qualifying continued.

The world champion has locked out the first spot on the grid this season and there was no answer to his pace at Suzuka.

His time of one minute 28.197 beat Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez into second place by just 0.066 seconds, while McLaren’s Lando Norris was the best of the rest.

Verstappen’s run of pole positions now stretches back to the last race of last season and he is now toasting a third pole in Japan.

The Dutchman never looked like being beaten and was quickest across all three qualifying sessions – as well as Saturday morning’s final practice.

He is aiming to get back on track after retiring in Melbourne and the rest of the field will be concerned that he could drive off into the distance from the start.

“It was quite close at the end,” Verstappen said of his latest pole lap.

“Overall this track is sensitive with the tyres and when you want to go to the limit it doesn’t always work out but what is important is being on pole. Overall, a very good day, a good starting position tomorrow and of course tomorrow is what counts.

“It is great as a team to be P1 and P2, hopefully we can keep that going tomorrow.”

Carlos Sainz won in Australia last time out and will start Sunday’s race fourth for Ferrari, with the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso fifth.

Oscar Piastri was sixth-fastest in the second McLaren, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell down in seventh and ninth, respectively.

Charles Leclerc is sandwiched between the pair, with home favourite Yuki Tsunoda rounding out the top 10.

Tsunoda scraped into the final session, eliminating RB team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at the end of Q2 to the roar of the Suzuka crowd.

Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas, Alex Albon and Esteban Ocon also failed to make it through and will start 12-15th, respectively.

Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu were knocked out in Q1.

Max Verstappen set the pace in final practice ahead of qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The reigning world champion retired last time out in Australia but he was once again top of the timesheets at Suzuka.

His time of one minute 29.563 was unmatched, with Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez getting closest to the championship leader but still having to settle for a gap of 0.269 seconds.

Mercedes lost both cars at the previous race but looked in good shape here as George Russell went third fastest with Lewis Hamilton next in line.

There was plenty of running in the hour-long session after both of Friday’s practices were affected – one by a red flag and the other by rain.

Fernando Alonso was fifth fastest with Lando Norris’ McLaren sixth and Australia’s race winner Carlos Sainz seventh for Ferrari.

His team-mate Charles Leclerc was down in 10th and was left fuming with his garage after the mistimed his final run on the track, cutting short his chances of improving.

Both Williams drivers were able to run after Logan Sargeant’s car was fixed following a big shunt on Friday – although the American was down in 19th place.

Second practice for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix proved to be a damp squib as McLaren’s Oscar Piastri set the fastest time on a weather-affected session.

Local favourite Yuki Tsunoda and his RB team-mate Daniel Ricciardo were the only drivers to set lap times early on in changeable conditions, but set their times on the intermediate tyre.

The hour-long session began in rain and, although it later stopped, the track was not deemed sufficiently dry enough for most teams to send out their cars.

Piastri was one of them and his time of one minute 34.725 seconds proved fast enough to top the timesheets, with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari the only others to set representative times.

Earlier, Max Verstappen set the pace in first practice as Willams endured another Friday to forget.

Reigning champion Verstappen retired in Melbourne a fortnight ago but was back at it here, his time of one minute 20.056 seconds was enough to see him go quickest at Suzuka, with team-mate Sergio Perez his closest challenger 0.181 seconds back.

A red flag halfway through the session stopped running for 11 minutes as Logan Sargeant crashed off at turn two – further adding to the Williams woes.

Sargeant sat out the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago as team-mate Alex Albon took his car after destroying his own in a practice crash and the team currently have no spare chassis.

Williams team principal James Vowles confirmed the car had suffered “extensive” damage and Sargeant was forced to sit out of second practice – although the lack of running meant there was little that would have been gained from taking part.

“It is pretty significant (damage). So the chassis is OK, fortunately, but I would say pretty much everything else isn’t – so the suspension around, the gearbox is cracked, big damage.

“At the top of the brow of the hill there, he struggled to see where his positioning was on track. So it fundamentally looks like he didn’t quite realise where he was with where the grass was on the outside and put a wheel on the grass.”

Albon went 12th fastest after the action restarted, while Verstappen assumed his usual position as the car to beat.

Carlos Sainz, who won in Australia last time out, was third-fastest for Ferrari ahead of the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Hamilton, while the second Ferrari of Leclerc was sixth.

Max Verstappen set the pace in first practice for the Japanese Grand Prix as Willams endured another Friday session to forget.

Reigning champion Verstappen retired in Melbourne a fortnight ago but still leads the way in the drivers’ standings and the Red Bull driver was once again topping the timesheets.

Verstappen’s time of one minute 20.056 seconds was enough to see him go quickest at Suzuka, with team-mate Sergio Perez his closest challenger 0.181 seconds back.

A red flag half way through the session stopped running for 11 minutes as Logan Sargeant crashed off at turn two – further adding to the Williams woes.

Sargeant sat out the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago as team-mate Alex Albon took his car after destroying his own in a practice crash and the team currently have no spare chassis.

Williams team principal James Vowles confirmed the car had suffered “extensive” damage and that it would be a race against time for the mechanics to prepare it for Friday’s second practice.

“It’s going to be difficult,” he said of Sargeant’s chance of making FP2.

“Obviously we will do our utmost to try and get the car back out there again, but the damage is extensive. So it will take a while.

“It is pretty significant (damage). So the chassis is okay, fortunately, but I would say pretty much everything else isn’t – so the suspension around, the gearbox is cracked, big damage.”

Albon went 12th fastest after the action restarted, while Verstappen assumed his usual position as the car to beat.

Carlos Sainz, who won in Australia last time out, was third-fastest for Ferrari ahead of the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, while the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc was sixth.

Local favourite Yuki Tsunoda was ninth for RB behind both the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri – whose team-mate Lando Norris rounded out the top 10.

Max Verstappen set the pace in first practice for the Japanese Grand Prix as Willams endured another Friday session to forget.

Reigning champion Verstappen retired in Melbourne a fortnight ago but still leads the way in the drivers’ standings and the Red Bull driver was once again topping the timesheets.

Verstappen’s time of one minute 20.056 seconds was enough to see him go quickest at Suzuka, with team-mate Sergio Perez his closest challenger 0.181 seconds back.

A red flag half way through the session stopped running for 11 minutes as Logan Sargeant crashed off at turn two – further adding to the Williams woes.

Sargeant sat out the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago as team-mate Alex Albon took his car after destroying his own in a practice crash and the team currently have no spare chassis.

Albon went 12th fastest after the action restarted, while Verstappen assumed his usual position as the car to beat.

Carlos Sainz, who won in Australia last time out, was third-fastest for Ferrari ahead of the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, while the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc was sixth.

Local favourite Yuki Tsunoda was ninth for RB behind both the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri – whose team-mate Lando Norris rounded out the top 10.

Guenther Steiner has warned Red Bull their dominance of Formula One will end just as Mercedes’ did.

Red Bull have won the last three constructors’ championships with Max Verstappen completing a hat-trick of drivers’ titles, in the process breaking the strangleholds imposed by Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton in previous years.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton has endured a miserable start to the new season with his car lasting just 17 laps of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix as team-mate George Russell crashed out to leave the Brackley and Brixworth-based team 71 points adrift of Red Bull after just three races and pile the pressure on boss Toto Wolff.

But asked about their difficulties, former Haas team principal Steiner said: “Obviously they are struggling a little bit at the moment. For me, they are a good team, I think they’re a good team. It’s just like it’s competition.

“Mercedes was dominating for a long time and you cannot always be dominating, you shouldn’t expect that. Now we say Red Bull is dominating – it will come to an end, like Mercedes came to an end.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘Mercedes is not doing well’ – Mercedes is still in the top four at the moment or top five, they just need to do a little bit better. But it’s how competitive this sport is and you cannot take anything for granted.

“Obviously Toto would love to dominate the sport forever, but nothing is forever. I think it’s good for the sport and shows also how quickly it goes up and down.

“Mercedes is still doing OK, they’re still scoring points. Sometimes you forget there are 10 teams and not only three which are allowed to win. I think all 10 should be allowed to win and those are the things you learn when you are outside of the sport like I am now.”

Hamilton, who is in the midst of his worst start to a campaign, will join Ferrari ahead of the 2025 campaign, leaving a huge gap to plug.

Steiner, speaking after being announced as an ambassador for May’s Miami Grand Prix, was asked if Carlos Sainz – winner in Australia just 16 days after undergoing surgery for appendicitis – would be at the top of his list if he was in charge at Red Bull or Mercedes.

He replied: “Toto has no urgency to sign anybody because everybody is waiting until that seat is filled, but I’m sure a lot of people are speaking to Carlos at the moment.”

Lewis Hamilton said the inconsistency of his Mercedes “messes with the mind” following his worst qualifying performance in Australia for 14 years.

Hamilton, who boasts a record eight pole positions at Melbourne’s Albert Park, will start Sunday’s 58-lap race from a disappointing 11th after he was eliminated in Q2.

Max Verstappen took pole – his third in as many races – as he bids to complete a record-equalling 10 victories, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz joining him on the front row.

Hamilton qualified eighth in Saudi Arabia a fortnight ago, and ninth the week before in Bahrain.

He trails team-mate George Russell, who will line up in seventh on Sunday, 3-0 over one lap this season, and after finishing only seventh and ninth at the opening two rounds, he has scored just eight points to Russell’s 18 so far.

“The inconsistency in the car really messes with the mind,” said Hamilton, who had finished fourth in final practice, less than a tenth off the pace.

“There is a long list of things to fix. Our car is on a knife edge. In the afternoon the wind picks up and the car becomes unstable. But the others can pick their pace up in qualifying and I am not sure why.

“It didn’t feel the same in qualifying from practice even though we had lighter fuel. It is not a great feeling for everyone in the team but we will keep working away.”

Hamilton has not won a race since the penultimate fixture of the 2021 campaign in Saudi Arabia, 57 rounds ago.

Mercedes have adopted a different design philosophy this season, but Hamilton is low on confidence in the last Silver Arrows he will drive before he heads to Ferrari in 2025.

“It is three years in a row where I have had a similar feeling,” continued the seven-time world champion.

“There are spikes like this morning in practice where I think it can be good, and then it disappears.

“If we can make the car more consistent maybe we can be more competitive but there is a lot of work to do and everyone is pushing as hard as they can.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff pulled no punches with his assessment of his team’s performance.

“It’s especially underwhelming because we were within a tenth in final practice,” he said. “The conditions were a little bit different but there is no excuse.

“We have a car that is difficult, and as much as I am annoyed at myself for saying this for a long time, we just need to continue working on it and trying to get better.

“It is not because of a lack of trying that we are where we are, but it’s not good enough.”

At the sharp end of the grid, Verstappen’s third pole in as many races appeared under threat with Ferrari threatening to knock the all-conquering Dutchman off his perch.

But Verstappen upped the ante in front of a record Saturday crowd at a sun-cooked Albert Park of just shy of 131,000, to see off Sainz by 0.270 seconds.

After winning the last nine rounds, stretching back to his victory at September’s race in Japan, Verstappen heads into Sunday’s main event as the overwhelming favourite to take another triumph and match his own record.

“It was a bit unexpected today, but I am very happy with Q3,” said Verstappen. “Both of my laps felt nice and enjoyable. It has been a tricky weekend so far but we managed to be there at the end.”

Sainz, who had emergency surgery in Jeddah to remove his appendix just 15 days ago, added: “It has been a tough couple of weeks, a lot of days in bed, waiting to see if I would be here today, and to make it to this weekend and then to put it on the front row, I almost didn’t believe it.

“I was rusty yesterday but I got up to speed and found the pace and I feel good with the car. I am not going to lie, I am not in my most comfortable state when I am driving out there but I can get it done.”

Max Verstappen is on course to take a record-equalling 10 consecutive victories after putting his Red Bull on pole position for the Australian Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s third pole in as many races appeared under threat with Ferrari threatening to knock the all-conquering Dutchman off his perch.

But Verstappen upped the ante in front of a record Saturday crowd at Melbourne’s Albert Park of just shy of 131,000, to see off Carlos Sainz, who missed the last round in Saudi Arabia with appendicitis, by 0.270 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton holds a record eight pole positions here, but the British driver was eliminated in Q2, leaving him a disappointing 11th on the grid – his lowest starting position in Melbourne for 14 years.

Hamilton failed to progress to Q3 after he finished 0.059 seconds behind George Russell in the other Mercedes.

Russell, who will start seventh, holds a 3-0 qualifying lead over Hamilton who will leave the Silver Arrows at the end of the season to join Ferrari.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez qualified third, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who aborted his last lap after he made a mistake.

Toto Wolff has revealed for the first time that he would love to have Max Verstappen at Mercedes – as Red Bull boss Christian Horner admitted no individual is bigger than the team.

Verstappen’s Red Bull future is in the spotlight amid the in-fighting at Formula One’s dominant franchise.

The Dutchman, who won Saturday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to land his second win of the season – and his ninth in a row – opened the door to sensationally quitting Red Bull if motorsport adviser Helmut Marko is forced out.

It emerged this weekend that Marko could be suspended as a result of Red Bull’s inquiry into Horner, although the 80-year-old Austrian said prior to Saturday’s race that he expects to carry on.

However, the unrest at Red Bull has put Mercedes – seeking a replacement for Ferrari-bound Lewis Hamilton in 2025 – on red alert.

And when asked following Saturday’s race in Jeddah if it would be good for Formula One for Verstappen to switch teams, Wolff replied: “I would love to have him.

“But first we need to sort out our car. We owe it to our current drivers to improve the car and give them equipment that is good before dreaming about the future next year.”

Wolff was then asked if Verstappen, whose deal runs until 2028, was now top of his wishlist.

“Let’s word it like this,” he replied. “It is a decision that Max needs to take and there is no team up and down the grid who wouldn’t do handstands to have him in their car.”

Verstappen has won 19 of the last 20 F1 races and is overwhelming favourite to land a fourth consecutive world championship.

Mercedes have tasted just one victory since the end of 2021, and George Russell and Hamilton finished only sixth and ninth respectively on Saturday.

Responding to Wolff’s comments, Horner said: “I am sure every team in the paddock would love to have Max but, as Toto also said, the best drivers want to be in the best cars.

“We are a team. Max has achieved his 56th win and his 100th podium today – all of which have been in Red Bull Racing cars.

“But you cannot force someone to be somewhere because of a piece of paper. If somebody doesn’t want to be at the team I am not going to force anyone against their will to be here.

“Max has been here since he was 18 and I have no doubt of his commitment and his passion, but no individual is bigger than the team.”

Earlier, Red Bull’s group CEO Oliver Mintzlaff said Verstappen will not be leaving.

Asked by the PA news agency prior to Saturday’s race if the Dutch driver will remain with the team, Mintzlaff said: “Of course. He has a contract.

“Max is a great driver and hopefully we will win tonight. I am here just for racing. That’s it.”

Damon Hill said a star was born after rookie teenager Ollie Bearman beat Lewis Hamilton on his shock Ferrari debut at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Bearman drove into the record books by becoming the youngest British driver to race in Formula One and he delivered by finishing seventh, ahead of both Lando Norris, eighth and Hamilton, ninth.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton waited by Bearman’s Ferrari before embracing the 18-year-old as he climbed out of his scarlet machine at the end of the race.

“A star is born now,” Hill, the 1996 world champion, said on X. “To jump in at such short notice, on a track as intimidating as Jeddah, in a Ferrari of all things, and hold up under immense pressure from Lando and Lewis and keep it together. Wow.”

Max Verstappen raced to his second win in as many weeks, but Bearman, an eleventh hour stand-in for Carlos Sainz, ruled out with appendicitis, stole the show.

With just one hour of practice and Friday’s qualifying session under his belt, Bearman lined up in 11th and made up four positions in a fine drive which saw him voted as driver of the day by the sport’s fans.

Sergio Perez completed a one-two finish for F1’s crisis-hit Red Bull team, with Charles Leclerc third for Ferrari.

“He has done an incredible job,” said Leclerc of Bearman, 18 years, 10 months and one day.

“He was straight on the pace. Seventh in your first race in a new Formula One car is hugely impressive.

“I am sure he is extremely proud and everyone has noticed how talented he is. It is only a matter of time before he is in Formula One.”

Max Verstappen romped to another commanding win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, as rookie British teenager Ollie Bearman completed a dream debut by beating Lewis Hamilton to finish a brilliant seventh.

Despite threatening to quit Red Bull just 24 hours previously, following another twist in the ongoing Red Bull saga, Verstappen followed his win at the season-opening round in Bahrain last Saturday with another comfortable triumph in his all-conquering machine – remarkably his 19th in 20 appearances.

Sergio Perez completed a one-two finish for Red Bull, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc third.

But for Bearman, just three months old when Hamilton made his debut in 2007, this will be a night he will never forget.

Handed his shock debut as an 11th-hour stand-in for Carlos Sainz, the boy from Chelmsford, 18 years, 10 months and one day, drove into the record books as the youngest British driver to start a Formula One race.

Standing at 6ft 3in, the streaky teen followed in the footsteps of British greats’ Mike Hawthorn and John Surtees by racing for the scarlet team – and the first Englishman to do so since Nigel Mansell 34 years ago.

Bearman appeared at ease before the start, smiling with his engineers and grinning from ear-to-ear as he addressed the Sky cameras before taking his position between Yuki Tsunoda and Kevin Magnussen at the front of the grid for the national anthem.

With just one hour of practice under his belt, and a qualifying appearance – labelled incredible by Verstappen – Bearman, starting 11th, was just moments away from competing against the best 19 drivers in the world.

As the lights flicked from red to green, Bearman was slower away that he would have liked but made up for it by being aggressive on his brakes and hanging on to 11th place, despite a slight detour off the track.

Up front and Verstappen had no trouble in keeping Leclerc at bay. Midway through the opening lap he was already 1.3 seconds clear of the chasing pack.

On lap seven, Lance Stroll put his Aston Martin in the barrier. The Canadian broke his suspension by clipping the armco on the entry to Turn 21 before slamming into the tyre barrier on the opposing side of the track.

Out came the safety car and in came the leaders – bar Norris and Hamilton – for fresh rubber.

Bearman, forced to wait as other cars drove by him as he was stationary, dropped three places to 12th.

Norris led when the race resumed, only for Verstappen to swoop past three laps later. Rookie Bearman was also on the move.

He immediately despatched of Tsunoda for 11th and was in a point-scoring position on lap 14 after he swatted aside Zhou for 10th.

Up next was Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg – and Bearman wasn’t mincing his words.

“Mate he is so slow,” said the 18-year-old of Hulkenberg, the German double his age and in his 205th Formula One start.

And on lap 21 he eased past the Haas driver for ninth, with George Russell only 5.6 sec up the road.

Bearman’s engineer Riccardo Adami was swiftly on the radio. “You are doing a mega job out there,” he said. It was hard to disagree.

Norris and Hamilton, both out of strategy sync after electing not to pit behind the safety car, stopped for fresh tyres and Bearman was now seventh and ahead of both of his countrymen.

When Norris stopped on lap 37 of 50, Bearman was 6.1 seconds up the road. Hamilton, was seven seconds adrift.

“At this pace will Norris catch us or not?” asked the teenager on the radio.

“We might have a chance to stay ahead of both of them,” came the reply from the Ferrari pit wall.

The lap counter ticked down but Bearman showed maturity way beyond his years to hold on to seventh place. McLaren’s Oscar Piastri took fifth ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Russell.

Bearman took the chequered flag just 5.7 sec behind Russell and comfortably ahead of Norris and Hamilton.

Max Verstappen will not leave Red Bull, according to the crisis-hit Formula One team’s group CEO Oliver Mintzlaff.

Verstappen cast doubt over his future when he claimed he will quit the world champions if motorsport adviser Helmut Marko is forced out.

The PA news agency understands 80-year-old Austrian Marko, an instrumental figure in Verstappen’s career, faces a Red Bull investigation following the probe into claims of “inappropriate behaviour” against Christian Horner.

Verstappen’s deal with Red Bull runs until 2028 and, when asked by the PA news agency ahead of Saturday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix if the Dutch driver will remain with the team, Mintzlaff replied: “Of course. He has a contract.

“Max is a great driver and hopefully we will win tonight. I am here just for racing. That’s it.”

Horner’s female accuser was suspended earlier this week as a direct result of Red Bull’s inquiry which exonerated the 50-year-old team principal.

Marko is employed by the F1 team’s parent company, Red Bull GmbH.

Asked if he could be suspended following the race in Jeddah, he told Austrian broadcaster ORF: “Ultimately, I’ll decide for myself what I do. The theoretical possibility always exists.”

PA has approached Red Bull Racing for comment.

“I have a lot of respect for Helmut, and what we have achieved together,” said Verstappen after putting his Red Bull on pole position for Saturday’s race.

“It goes very far. My loyalty to him is very big, and I have always expressed this to everyone within the team, everyone high up, that he is an important part in my decision-making for the future.

“It is very important that he stays. I feel like if such an important pillar falls away, and I have told the team this, that it is not good for my situation as well.

“Helmut built this team together with (Red Bull’s late owner and founder) Dietrich (Mateschitz) from day one, and he’s always been very loyal to the team.

“It is very important that you give the man a lot of respect for what he has done, and that comes back to loyalty and integrity, so it is important that he stays.”

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