Verstappen wins season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix as Alonso shines

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen reacts as he exits his car after winning the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 5, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 05 March 2023

Verstappen wins season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix as Alonso shines

  • The defending double world champion led from start to finish, bar the pit stops, to establish himself as a strong favorite for a third consecutive drivers’ crown this year

SAKHIR: World champion Max Verstappen claimed his maiden season-opening victory and first at the Sakhir circuit on Sunday when he led Sergio Perez home in a dominant Red Bull one-two at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The defending double world champion led from start to finish, bar the pit stops, to establish himself as a strong favorite for a third consecutive drivers’ crown this year.
It was his first win in the Gulf state at the 10th attempt.
Behind the two Red Bulls, two-time champion Fernando Alonso continued to make light of his 41 years by storming his way to a rousing third place for Aston Martin in his first appearance with the team since succeeding the retired four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.
It was his record-increasing 356th race in Formula One in a career that started 22 years earlier, to the weekend, in Melbourne at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.
Fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who he passed in a late scrap for a podium finish, finished fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Lance Stroll, racing in the second Aston Martin just weeks after cracking both wrists and breaking a toe in a pre-season cycling accident.
George Russell took seventh for Mercedes ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo, Pierre Gasly of Alpine, who had started last, and Alex Albon who claimed a point for Williams finishing 10th.
Charles Leclerc, who won the race in 2022, failed to finish after engine failure on his Ferrari on the 41st lap.
“Thank you, guys,” said 25-year-old Verstappen. “It’s exactly the start we needed. I had a good start and first stint and then had a gap and just looked after the tires.”
Verstappen made a clean, quick start to pull clear as Leclerc passed Perez for second while, behind them, Stroll hit his Aston Martin team-mate Alonso, under braking at Turn Four.
Both Mercedes had good starts and passed Alonso, Hamilton climbing to fifth ahead of Russell in pursuit of Sainz as Verstappen opened up a commanding lead.
By lap five, he was four seconds clear as Leclerc kept Perez at bay.
Gasly began the pit stops on lap 10, switching his Alpine from softs to hards, followed quickly by Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda with tire degradation taking early effect.
Hamilton pitted from fifth on lap 13, prompting a classic scrap as Alonso battled past Russell to regain his original grid slot and climb to third when both Ferraris pitted. Russell followed.
Verstappen came in a lap later, switching to more softs and handing the lead to Perez, while luckless Australian rookie Oscar Piastri’s McLaren debut ended early with electrical problems.
The champion re-joined in second place and regained his lead on lap 18 when Perez pitted, elevating Leclerc to second until the Mexican passed him into Turn One on lap 26.
Hamilton pitted again on lap 31, for more hards, followed by Sainz and Russell, as the leaders prepared for their final stint while, at the back, a beleaguered Esteban Ocon of Alpine, hit with three time penalties for minor infringements, stopped again.
Perez and Verstappen then completed their second stops, the Dutchman re-joining with a 12-second lead.
Leclerc’s Ferrari lost power on the straight. He parked it safely, prompting a brief virtual safety car intervention, with 15 laps remaining, handing Red Bull the prospect of a cosy one-two, 23 seconds clear of third-placed Sainz in the second Ferrari.
“No, no, no,” wailed Leclerc. “Come on! What happened, guys? No power.”
All this left the two Spaniards scrapping for third, the old master squeezing through on lap 45 after the pair appeared to touch in a frantic and dramatic tussle ahead of the watching fifth man Hamilton.

Hamilton says struggling Mercedes have found ‘North Star’

Updated 16 May 2024

Hamilton says struggling Mercedes have found ‘North Star’

  • “There is a long way to go,” said Hamilton
  • “The energy in the team is amazing“

IMOLA, Italy: Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton offered an upbeat view on Mercedes’ future prospects on Thursday when he said the team had finally found their “North Star” in the prolonged effort to develop their car.
The Briton, without a win since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, said he was encouraged by the directional breakthrough and both the energy and resilience of the team.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the first race in Europe this year after six flyaway rounds around the world, Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate George Russell said they were impressed by the durability of their team.
Mercedes have struggled for performance and have yet to register a podium finish this season.
“There is a long way to go,” said Hamilton. “But I am excited with what I know we have coming in the pipe-line now. We have found our North Star and we know what we want to do and what to change.
“The energy in the team is amazing. They are so resilient and continue to push all the time even though we have been knocked down quite a few times this year.”
Hamilton, who has won six of his drivers titles with Mercedes, is set to leave the team and join Ferrari next year.

Saudia unites football, motorsport with displays in Newcastle, Berlin

Updated 15 May 2024

Saudia unites football, motorsport with displays in Newcastle, Berlin

  • Kingdom’s flag carrier introduces fans to new Gen3 Formula E car at St. James’ Park
  • Immersive fan zone offers variety of interactive experiences during Berlin E-Prix

BERLIN/JEDDAH: Saudia, the flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, has flown the new Gen3 Formula E car to St. James’ Park in the UK to coincide with Newcastle United’s final home game of the season.

The carrier has a strategic partnership with the Premier League club and is also the official airline partner of the all-electric Formula E series.

The event coincided with the release of a short film bringing together the worlds of motorsport and football, with football fans being introduced to Formula E and the car.

“This event provides a fantastic platform for us to engage with our guests and the global audience, whether in person or through our innovative digital portals,” Khaled Tash, Saudia Group’s chief marketing officer, said in the statement.

“Integrating our partnerships with both Newcastle United and Formula E in such an engaging manner exemplifies our commitment to bringing fans closer to the sports they love. Each year, we strive to elevate the experience for racegoers and fans worldwide, as part of our commitment to creating unforgettable memories wherever our brand is present.”

Saudia also hosted an immersive fan zone experience during the Berlin E-Prix on May 11-12 in Berlin.

Fans were given access to an E-Village, with a dedicated Discover-E Zone featuring a variety of interactive experiences, as well as games, competitions, and giveaways featuring both Saudia and Formula E merchandise.

8 watches owned by F1 great Michael Schumacher fetch more than $4m at auction in Geneva

Updated 14 May 2024

8 watches owned by F1 great Michael Schumacher fetch more than $4m at auction in Geneva

  • The top piece in the sale, organized by Schumacher’s family, was a watch given to the German racing superstar by former Ferrari CEO Jean Todt
  • Remi Guillemin, head of watches for Europe and the Americas for auction house Christie’s, declined to identify the buyer

GENEVA: Eight watches belonging to auto racing icon Michael Schumacher sold Tuesday for nearly 4 million Swiss francs ($4.4 million) at a Geneva auction.
The top piece in the sale, organized by Schumacher’s family, was a watch given to the German racing superstar by former Ferrari CEO Jean Todt as a Christmas present in 2004. The hammer came down at a price of 1.2 million francs, or 1.5 million including the buyer’s commission.
That was well within the pre-sale estimate range of 1-2 million francs.
The custom-made platinum timepiece from F.P. Journe, the Vagabondage 1, features 18-carat white gold, a red watch face and images of a Ferrari logo, Schumacher’s racing helmet and a “7” — to honor his seven World Championship victories.
Remi Guillemin, head of watches for Europe and the Americas for auction house Christie’s, declined to identify the buyer, but said that five watches in the Ruthenium collection — a boxed set — were purchased by the same buyer.
While most of the eight watches sold within the pre-sale estimates, an Audemars Piguet featuring a Ferrari prancing horse emblem, sold for a hammer price of 330,000 francs — well above the top of the expected range at 250,000.
The sale of Schumacher watches, which garnered a total of more than 3.1 million francs at the hammer price, was timed for the 30th anniversary of his first Formula One Drivers Championship win in 1994.
The watches, which were taken to New York and Taipei for showings before the sale, were part of a larger auction of luxury timepieces to go under the hammer on Tuesday at Christie’s in Geneva.
Schumacher, who retired from F1 in 2012, shares the record for most F1 titles with British driver Lewis Hamilton.
In December the following year, Schumacher fell while skiing in the French Alpine resort of Meribel and suffered a near-fatal brain injury.
Since being transferred from hospital in September 2014, he continues to be cared for privately at a family home in Switzerland.

Felix da Costa wins historic third Berlin E-Prix

Updated 13 May 2024

Felix da Costa wins historic third Berlin E-Prix

  • Round 10 win at Tempelhof earns TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E team first victory on home turf
  • Nick Cassidy of Jaguar TCS Racing has a 45-point lead in standings after victory in round 9

BERLIN: Antonio Felix da Costa became the only driver to win three times at the Tempelhof Airport street circuit after he clinched the win in round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

His win at the Berlin E-Prix also secured Tag Heuer Porsche’s inaugural victory on home turf in Formula E.

“It just feels great to win at a home race for Porsche, it’s amazing,” said da Costa. “We’ve got so many guests here: so many people who work in the factory that don’t normally get to come to the races, our board members are here, so it’s definitely a special one.

“Honestly, it’s been a tough start to the season and we’ve been building a really good momentum, always closing the gap to the championship leaders and it feels good to take this one.”

He added: “You have to work hard when things aren’t right, but when you have the right people around you it makes it a little bit easier. I want to dedicate to this to my engineer’s father-in-law who passed away this week, so it’s for him and his family.”

Da Costa held on throughout the 38-lap race, despite relentless pressure from Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy of Jaguar, the latter being the victor of round 9 on Saturday.

Cassidy executed a last-minute move on Nissan’s Oliver Rowland to secure second place, clinching the fastest lap in the process. Rowland snatched third after a challenging starting position, ahead of Tag Heuer Porsche’s Pascal Wehrlein, who valiantly battled reigning champion Jake Dennis (Andretti) for fourth.

Cassidy’s teammate, Evans, finished in sixth. Jehan Daruvala of Maserati MSG Racing delivered an impressive seventh-place finish after navigating through the pack from 13th, marking a personal best Formula E result for the Indian driver. 

Climbing from 18th to eighth place was 19-year-old Taylor Barnard of NEOM McLaren Formula E, showing remarkable skill in what was his first full weekend in the series. Joel Eriksson (Envision Racing) also achieved his best result to date with a ninth-place finish, while Jean-Eric Vergne (DS PENSKE) rounded out the top ten. 

Cassidy leaves Berlin with a substantial 45-point haul and assumes top position in the standings with 140 points, ahead of Wehrlein on 124. Rowland occupies third place with 118 points.

In the team championship, Jaguar TCS Racing leads with 237 points, followed by TAG Heuer Porsche in second place with 183.

Yazeed Al-Rajhi romps to victory in Tabuk Toyota Rally 

Updated 12 May 2024

Yazeed Al-Rajhi romps to victory in Tabuk Toyota Rally 

  • The Saudi Toyota Championship continues with the Qassim Rally on October 23 to 26

TABUK: Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk cruised to an emphatic victory in the Tabuk Toyota Rally and the Saudi extended his lead in the 2024 Saudi Toyota Championship on Saturday.

The Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux drivers had no problems on the final 168 km selective section and secured a winning margin of 16 minutes 37 seconds.

“It was good for us,” said Al-Rajhi. “It was not easy, very tricky actually. We have good stages in Saudi now. Before it was flat, flat and now it is more technical with good navigation and you need to focus all the time. Now we look ahead to Baja Greece.”

Dania Akeel and Stephane Duple continued to flourish in the Ultimate category with the second of the Toyota Hiluxes and finished second overall, despite getting lost on the stage for several minutes.

“We had a good day except we lost around four minutes in navigation, that is part of the game,” Akeel said. “Other than that, we had a good day. The stage was narrow and quite twisty and that was good for me to get used to the car, I would love to race this car every day. We will see, I want to develop as a driver as much as I can.”

Saleh Al-Saif and Qatari co-driver Nasser Al-Kuwari rounded off the podium places and topped the Challenger standings in their Dark Horse OT3.

MX Ride Dubai’s Mohammed Al-Balooshi continued his superb run of form in Middle East regional events with the fastest time on the final stage that confirmed another victory for the Emirati on his Husqvarna.

He beat local KTM rider Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera by nearly 15 minutes on the final stage to snatch the win by 27 minutes 45 seconds, his cause helped further when the Saudi rider incurred a time penalty.

“I’m really happy, so pumped with this win. The task was difficult (but) not impossible,” Al-Balooshi said. “I really put my head down, stayed focused and I needed more than two minutes, I got a lot more than that. I am really happy to defend this title in Tabuk, I really like all the races in Saudi Arabia. Abdulhalim (Al-Mogheera) really kept me on my toes. He is progressing well.”

There was a nail-biting finish to the battle in the quads with Haitham Al-Tuwaijri managing to snatch the victory on his Yamaha Raptor from rivals Hani Al-Noumesi and Abdulaziz Al-Shayban. The Saudi’s winning margin was just 25 seconds.

The Saudi Toyota Championship continues with the Qassim Rally from October 23 to 26.