Fernando Alonso came home third for Aston Martin, who were the surprise package, while the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished fifth and seventh respectively.
Charles Leclerc - who was involved in a thrilling battle with Verstappen in Saudi last year - had to retire in Bahrain, with Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz coming home fourth. This year’s race is the third grand prix held at the lightning quick street circuit in Jeddah. Verstappen was quickest in both practice sessions yesterday, a day when Hamilton parted ways with his long-term performance coach.
Follow qualifying at the Saudi Arabian GP with The Independent - FP3 started at 1:30pm (GMT) before qualifying at 5pm.
F1 QUALIFYING LIVE - SAUDI ARABIAN GP
Qualifying starts at 5pm (GMT) at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit
Verstappen topped the timesheets in both practice sessions on Friday too
F1 LIVE: FP3 DONE!
14:33 , Kieran Jackson
Wow! So impressive from Red Bull once again!
Max Verstappen quickest in every single practice session this weekend - and he’s six-tenths up on team-mate Sergio Perez in second with a 1:28:485.
Aston Martin are their closest competitors though, with Fernando Alonso third and Lance Stroll in fourth.
5-10: Hamilton, Leclerc, Norris, Piastri, Gasly, Sainz
Hamilton - in fifth - a second down on Verstappen!
F1 LIVE: 10:00 left in FP3!
14:21 , Kieran Jackson
It’s the Max Verstappen show once again - he’s nearly five-tenths quicker than team-mate Sergio Perez in second!
Lance Stroll is third for Aston Martin while Lewis Hamilton is fourth; nine-tenths behind the leading Red Bull.
Verstappen forced to apologise to Lando Norris, by the way, for blocking the McLaren on a hot lap. Not the first issue with traffic this weekend... could be problematic come Q1!
As for the Ferraris? Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz yet to set a time on softs for some reason or another...
F1 LIVE: 30:00 left in FP3!
14:02 , Kieran Jackson
Normal order resumed. Sergio Perez goes fastest on softs with a 1:29:417, while Max Verstappen is a tenth down... but on a HARD tyre! Absolutely rapid from the Dutchman!
It’s an Alpine three-four, with Pierre Gasly in third and Esteban Ocon fourth.
5-10: Russell, Albon, Hamilton, Norris, Leclerc, Sainz
Qualifying simulation laps coming right up though!
F1 LIVE: 45:00 left in FP3!
13:48 , Kieran Jackson
It’s a Mercedes one-two early on, with George Russell quickest on softs with 1:30:476, with Lewis Hamilon 0.016 seconds down.
Third is the Alpine of Pierre Gasly, while Max Verstappen is fourth but on HARD tyres - only 0.248 seconds down on Russell!
6-10: Ocon, Magnussen, Bottas, Zhou, Hulkenberg
F1 LIVE: FP3 coming up!
13:28 , Kieran Jackson
We’ve got third practice coming up live from the Jeddah Corniche Circuit!
Can anyone topple Max Verstappen and claim top spot under the beating sun in Saudi?
F1 LIVE: Toto Wolff speaks to the press...
13:22 , Kieran Jackson
Toto Wolff is honest about how Mercedes approached last year’s change in regulations... and persevering with the same philosophy this year.
"At a certain stage we came to the conclusion we got it wrong"
Toto Wolff admits the big decisions Mercedes have had to make with their car 👇 pic.twitter.com/z1dFdEnxmU
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) March 17, 2023
F1 LIVE: Lewis Hamilton ranks Mercedes’ prospects of win in Saudi Arabia
13:15 , Kieran Jackson
Mercedes, so dominant in Formula 1 from 2014-2021 with eight Constructors’ Championships, had a season to forget in 2022 as new regulations caught them out and they finished third in the standings.
The Silver Arrows endured a disastrous start in the opening race of 2023 in Bahrain, with Toto Wolff insisting they will have to ditch their unique “zero-pod” philosophy in order to be competitive again. Hamilton finished fifth, while team-mate George Russell came home a lowly seventh.
And Hamilton – who last won an F1 race at the Jeddah track in December 2021, 24 grand prix ago – admitted it was a “shock” when he first drove the W14 car last month, acknowledging that three teams are currently ahead of them.
“Once I drove the car for the first time, you start to do that [re-assess goals] with the challenges you’re facing,” the 38-year-old said.
“It’s a similar situation to last year - it’s a shock when the car isn’t where you want it to be but you have 100% faith in the people you work with. We’re not where we want to be and we need to keep working on it.
“We need the Red Bulls and Ferraris not to finish the race, maybe the Astons too, to be winning [ourselves]. It doesn’t mean we can’t catch them up...”
F1 LIVE: What is the race schedule this weekend?
13:09 , Kieran Jackson
(All times GMT)
Saturday 18 March
Free Practice 3: 1:30pm
Sunday 19 March
How can I watch it online and on TV?
The entire race schedule will be broadcast live on Sky Sports F1 in the UK, with the race on Sunday live on Sky Sports Main Event too. It will be broadcasted on ESPN in the United States.
Highlights will be aired on Channel 4; for qualifying at at 8:50pm (GMT) on Saturday and for the race at 10:15pm on Sunday.
If you’re not a Sky customer you can grab a NOWTV Day Pass here to watch without a subscription.
F1 LIVE: Martin Brundle evaluates Mercedes’ tough start to the F1 season
12:57 , Kieran Jackson
Having produced a car similar in design to 2022’s troubled challenger – with a unique “zero-pod” approach – Toto Wolff admitted that he is set to ditch this breed of car after seeing the roughly second-a-lap deficit to Red Bull in Sunday’s grand prix.
Lewis Hamilton finished fifth in Bahrain, overtaken late on by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, and the seven-time world champion later stated that the team “did not listen” to his concerns after he recommended changes following last year’s winless season.
“Even Lewis and Toto were openly expressing their disappointment at certain points of the weekend, and normally they only sing the praises of the teams at Brackley and Brixworth. It must be tense at the team right now, the quality is there, it just needs direction and oxygen to calm heads.”
F1 LIVE: Verstappen vs Alonso
12:42 , Kieran Jackson
Here’s a fascinating side-by-side of the two fastest laps in FP2 last night!
Who’s your money on this afternoon?
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 17, 2023
F1 LIVE: Sky add ex-McLaren and Aston Martin strategy guru Bernie Collins to their F1 team
12:31 , Kieran Jackson
Collins, who was a performance engineer at McLaren and head of race strategy at Aston Martin, will first feature on Sky in the paddock at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend.
“I am really excited to begin this new chapter with the Sky Sports F1 team and want to thank them for the opportunity,” Collins said in a Sky press release. “After many years on the pit wall I’m keen to embrace this new role within F1 from a viewer’s perspective and enhance their experience of racing.”
Collins’ role will “help explain and demystify all things team strategy and engineering for Sky Sports F1 viewers old and new.”
F1 LIVE: Verstappen arrives in paddock!
12:22 , Kieran Jackson
Double world champion has arrived in Jeddah!
𝗤𝗨𝗔𝗟𝗜 𝗗𝗔𝗬 👊 Let’s go get it, Bulls 🤘 pic.twitter.com/e6iPqEboYI
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) March 18, 2023
F1 LIVE: Ted Talk! F1 cult hero Kravitz on pit lane secrets and... cheese
12:15 , Kieran Jackson
Exclusive interview by Kieran Jackson
Ted is talking about cheese. For a Formula 1 pit lane reporter functioning in a world of tyre compounds and floor specifications, Ted often finds himself talking about cheese. Usually at pre-season testing. A bizarre synonymity, some might say, and readers not drooling in the daily churn of digital F1 content may be a little lost already. Don’t worry, you’re forgiven.
Sky Sports’ ever-present pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz – of BBC and ITV before that – has a style of presenting so inimitable that the man himself has formed a devoted following of his own, hate it as he might. Ahead of his 22nd year of pit lane reporting and 27th working in the sport he loves, Ted’s methodology of fan interaction is constantly evolving. This year, forget TikTok: it’s all about TedTok. So, back to the cheese.
“TedTok was just too good for somebody to steal,” the 48-year-old tells The Independent, in the unusually formal setting for him of an office at Sky Studios. “So I’m just going to put nonsense about doing stuff with cheese on there.
“I put up a video of me and Anthony [Davidson] choosing the perfect cheese in Bahrain to carve away the venturi tunnels of the car to the floor edge… it’s harder than you think.
“You could have got a block of cheddar, but then it would’ve just crumbled away and the whole shoot would’ve been a disaster. This was 20 minutes and Anthony was quite right in choosing the right type of cheese… gouda!”
F1 LIVE: Can Mercedes even build a ‘Plan B’ car in time to salvage season?
12:04 , Kieran Jackson
Comment by Kieran Jackson
Never mind waiting for the first race of the Formula 1 season. A weekend of testing, three practice sessions and qualifying in Bahrain has told Toto Wolff everything he needed to know.
No sandbagging. No magic fix. No hiding. Mere hours into the 2023 campaign the Mercedes boss – once the unflappable executive titan of the sport – cut a despondent figure speaking to the press in the late hours on Saturday. Acknowledging that his team’s persistence, bordering on stubbornness, had been a mistake, he revealed a change of tack is already in the pipeline.
“We gave it our best go over the winter and now we all just need to regroup, sit down with the engineers, be totally non-dogmatic and ask what is the development direction we want to pursue in order to be able to win races.”
As sporting U-turns go, this is pretty seismic. Race weekend No 1 of 23: rip it up and start over.
F1 LIVE: Formula 1 accused of ‘enabling violence and bloodshed’ by racing in Saudi Arabia
11:59 , Kieran Jackson
Formula 1 is once again coming under increased scrutiny for staging races in countries with poor human rights records after the brother of a man executed in Saudi Arabia last year insisted the sport’s silence “enables violence and bloodshed.”
Last year, 81 men were executed in one day shortly before the grand prix, with 41 from the Shia minority who had taken part in protests calling for greater political participation, according to the United Nations.
One of those men was Mustafa al-Kjayyat and his brother, Yasser al-Khayyat, insists that F1 is being used as a “tool to sportswash Saudi abuses”, in a letter seen by The Guardian addressed to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali.
“They use the spectacle of this sporting championship to distract from the murder of my brother and hundreds of others,” he wrote. “The grand prix carrying on as normal, without even mentioning the atrocities that have just been committed on that same soil, legitimises these heinous crimes.
“Silence is complicity. It is how the regime gets away with its atrocities and suppresses calls for democratic reforms. If you truly want Formula One to be an agent for change, rather than a tool to ‘sportswash’ Saudi abuses, please end Formula One’s silence.”
F1 LIVE: Lewis Hamilton announces shock split with performance coach
11:57 , Kieran Jackson
ICYMI yesterday, some shock news from the seven-time world champion...
Lewis Hamilton has announced that his time working with performance coach Angela Cullen has come to an end.
The seven-time world champion has worked with physiotherapist Cullen for the last seven years, with the New Zealander by the Mercedes star’s side around the world as an integral part of his support team.
Cullen, 48, joined Hamilton’s team in 2016 and has been by his side for four of his seven world championships.
Yet suspicions were raised on Friday morning as Hamilton did not arrive in the paddock in Saudi Arabia with Cullen by his side, before the 38-year-old himself confirmed the news on Instagram.
In an emotional post, he said: “For the last seven years Angela Cullen has been by my side, pushing me to be the best version of myself. I am a stronger athlete and a better person because of her.
“So today I hope you’ll join me in wishing her the very best as she takes her next steps to pursue her dreams. Thank you for everything Ang, I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you.”
F1 LIVE: Good morning!
11:54 , Kieran Jackson
Welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of third practice and qualifying at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah!
Max Verstappen continued his dominance on Friday, topping the timesheets in both sessions, while his closest challenger remained Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.
It was another day of struggle, however, for Mercedes and Ferrari. Can they improve on Saturday?
FP3 starts at 1:30pm (GMT) before qualifying at 5pm - stay right here for all the latest updates and news!