F1: Max Verstappen defies stomach bug to set the pace in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix practice

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Max Verstappen picked up where he left out in Bahrain with a dominant performance in Friday’s two practice sessions for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The two-time F1 world champion, who won the season opener, had arrived 24 hours late into Jeddah after being struck down with a stomach bug but any suggestion it might dull his speed were quickly dispelled.

He was the last man to complete a lap – not joining until 20 minutes into the hour-long session. But despite complaing of understeeer, within two laps, went to the top of the timesheets where he remained until the end of the hour. And the second hour under the lights proved a repeat as he once again proved quickest.

There had been hopesthat Verstappen’s ailments combined with the different characteristics of the circuit in Jeddah might help the chasing pack close the gap.

But Red Bull quickly disproved that with Verstappen fastest ahead of teammate Sergio Perez while Fernando Alonso, as in Bahrain, was the best of the rest in third but nearly seventh tenths of a second back. Alonso and Perez switched places come the second track outing.

With the RB19 notoriously kind to its tyres and boasting improved race pace, the two sessions sounded an ominous note for Sunday’s race.

Despite rumours of potential high-profile exits within the team’s hierarchy, Ferrari had been hotly tipped to be second-fastest in Saudi.

And while practice pace is often not a perfect indication of true speed, Charles Leclerc, who went into the weekend with a 10-place grid penalty following changes to his power unit, was only 11th fastest in the opener nearly one-and-a-half seconds behind Verstappen and then ninth on his second outing.

Going into practice, Lewis Hamilton had declared an amicable split with his long-time trainer and physio Angela Cullen.

But he dispelled any suggestion no longer having his close confidant by his side might derail him, with sixth in FP1, a place behind teammate George Russell. Russell was fifth again in FP1 with Hamilton down in 11th.

Hamilton’s time difference to Verstappen – a second in both sessions - was in keeping with Mercedes’ predictions ahead of the session.

Meanwhile, the pair’s fellow Briton Lando Norris had a session to forget, rooted at the bottom of the times with a best lap 2.5s off the pace but he climbed up to 12th in the second 60-minute run.