F1 champion Verstappen takes pole position for season-ending Abu Dhabi GP

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Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, and McLaren driver Oscar Piastri of Australia pose after qualifying session ahead of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi on Nov. 25, 2023. (AP)
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Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during qualifying session ahead of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi on Nov. 25, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 25 November 2023
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F1 champion Verstappen takes pole position for season-ending Abu Dhabi GP

  • Victory on Sunday would take the Red Bull driver onto 54 career wins
  • The three-time F1 champion’s 12th pole of the season took him to 32 overall

ABU DHABI: Max Verstappen took pole position for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday and will look to finish a crushingly dominant year with a 19th win.
Victory on Sunday would take the Red Bull driver onto 54 career wins, past former Red Bull star Sebastian Vettel and into third place all time.
“It’s been a very special season and we’ve been enjoying it a lot,” Verstappen said. “Very proud of what we have achieved.”
The three-time F1 champion’s 12th pole of the season took him to 32 overall. He starts the race ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in second place and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri in third.
“Never bet against me,” Verstappen said afterward, jokingly referring to a comment made by his Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Horner informed Verstappen that he had won a bet for 500 euros ($547) made with Red Bull boss Helmut Marko as to where Verstappen would qualify.
“You’ve just won me 500 euros,” Horner told Verstappen over radio when he crossed the line.
With a few minutes left, Verstappen led from McLaren’s Lando Norris and Piastri under floodlights at the Yas Marina circuit.
Norris slid late while pushing too hard on his last timed lap and Piastri moved ahead of him, while Leclerc jumped up the leaderboard with an excellent lap to place .14 seconds behind Verstappen.
“Everything felt good, I’m very happy with that lap because I didn’t expect to be on the front row,” Leclerc said. “It’s a good surprise.”
Mercedes driver George Russell qualified in fourth ahead of Norris with AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda in sixth and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso seventh. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas), Sergio Perez (Red Bull) and Pierre Gasly (Alpine) completed the top 10.
It was a bad session for Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (11th) and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. (16th).
Sainz failed to make it into the second part of qualifying — known as Q2 — and complained of too much traffic near the end of Q1 with several drivers coming out of their garages late.
Still, for a leading driver — Sainz is the only driver other than Verstappen or Perez to win a race this season — it was a poor performance after he crashed early in Friday’s second practice session. Potentially costly, too, with second place in the constructors’ championship at stake.
Heading into Sunday’s race, Mercedes was in second and held a four-point lead over Ferrari. Teams get more money at the end of the season the higher they finish.
“I hope tomorrow goes well,” Leclerc said. “It is the target to beat Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. That is all that matters this weekend.”
But Mercedes is struggling for form, and Hamilton was knocked out of Q2. The seven-time F1 champion said there was “something not right with this car” and faces the strong likelihood of a second straight season without a win.
Williams driver Logan Sargeant goes from last on the grid with his F1 future still uncertain. The American has only one point this season with a best result of 10th place at the United States GP last month.
Earlier Saturday, Russell topped the third and final practice session ahead of Norris and Piastri with Verstappen in sixth.
“What a turnaround because in practice it was not looking good,” Verstappen said. “Around here on the tires you have little slides, it can cost you a lot of lap time and that is what was happening in practice. But then in qualifying it was a bit more connected.”
When his form picked up, Horner was happy to win a bet in a season where Red Bull has lost only one race out of 21.
Piastri, meanwhile, was pleased to bounce back from a difficult qualifying session last weekend at the Las Vegas GP. He started from 18th and finished the race in 10th.
“The car is very quick this weekend,” the 22-year-old Australian said. “Happy to be back in the top three.”


108 drivers gearing up for all-female 2024 Rally Jameel

Updated 26 February 2024
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108 drivers gearing up for all-female 2024 Rally Jameel

  • Participants from 38 countries will tackle a new route in the contest’s third edition between March 4-8

JEDDAH: The stage is set for Saudi Arabia’s all-female Rally Jameel, with 108 competitors from 38 countries poised to take on a challenging new route for the race’s third edition.

This year’s edition, themed “She Shifts the World,” begins in Hail on March 4 and concludes at King Abdullah Economic City on International Women’s Day, March 8.

The all-women’s off-road navigation rally includes five stages and covers 1,600 km of Saudi Arabia’s off-road terrain.

The 2024 Rally Jameel will traverse Hail, AlUla, Umluj, Yanbu, and KAEC in Rabigh.

The endurance competition is based more on precision driving and navigating than speed, with drivers having to utilize maps, compasses and roadbooks.

The event is supported by the FIA’s Women in Motorsport and the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation.

Munir Khoja, managing director, marketing communications at Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, said: “As we gear up for the third edition, we are deeply encouraged by the growing interest from participants, particularly on an international scale, with a remarkable increase in global participation from 38 countries, compared to 15 in the inaugural edition of the rally.”

“This enthusiasm underscores our commitment to support Saudi Arabia’s vision for empowering women,” he added. “With the addition of new and more challenging routes, we continue to champion and contribute to the advancement of motorsport regionally and globally, representing the core values of Rally Jameel. We extend our gratitude to all our partners, organizers, and sponsors for making this event a reality.”


International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

Updated 23 February 2024
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International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

  • The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week
  • Over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan and abroad are participating this year

ISLAMABAD: The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week, with over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries participating.
The Cholistan Desert in southern Punjab forms part of the Greater Thar Desert, which extends to Pakistan’s southern Sindh province and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Cholistan was once a center for caravan trade, leading to the construction of numerous forts in the medieval period to protect trade routes, of which the Derawar Fort in Bahawalpur is the best-preserved example.
The 19th edition of the desert rally, which spreads over 500 kilometers, started on Tuesday. Drivers from Saudi Arabia, the UK, Afghanistan, Iran, and the US are participating this year, Managing Director of Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) Humaira Akram told state-run APP.
“The women’s category has been made more active,” the official said. “The event will highlight the history and culture of the Cholistan Desert, the historical palaces of Bahawalpur, historical buildings, historical backgrounds, tourism, and culture through beautiful cultural dances in addition to light and sound shows.”
A qualifying round was held in Cholistan on February 22, followed by the first round of prepared cars on February 23, and a stock category race along with a dirt bike race on February 24, followed by a cultural show.
“On February 25, the prepared category race and truck race will take place, followed by the prize distribution ceremony,” Additional Deputy Commissioner Headquarters Sumera Rabani told media.
“The Cholistan Fort will be adorned with beautiful decorations during the Cholistan Rally. The Sports Department will organize competitions including Kabaddi, traditional wrestling, volleyball, and tug of war.”


Hamilton insists Mercedes story can end on a high

Updated 23 February 2024
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Hamilton insists Mercedes story can end on a high

  • The 39-year-old Briton has been with Mercedes since 2013
  • “An opportunity came up in the New Year and I decided to take it,” Hamilton said

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Seven-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton says his switch to Ferrari programmed for 2025 will add a brand new chapter to his sparkling career, but insisted he hopes to leave Mercedes on a high.
The 39-year-old Briton has been with Mercedes since 2013, but recently activated a break clause to seal a move to the Italian team in 2025.
“An opportunity came up in the New Year and I decided to take it,” Hamilton said, describing the decision as the hardest he’d ever faced.
“We have had an incredible journey together, created history within the sport and it is something I take a lot of pride in,” he said.
Hamilton — without a win in two years — won six of his record-equalling seven world championships with the Silver Arrows.
“This chapter is still not finished and I am still 100 percent focused on delivering for this team,” he insisted Friday.
Mercedes have struggled to match their rival Max Verstappen of Red Bull since Hamilton missed out on what would have been a record eighth world championship in 2021 in controversial fashion.
Current Formula One world champion Verstappen won 19 out of last season’s 22 races as he surged toward a third consecutive Drivers’ Championship.
The opening Grand Prix of the F1 season is set for Bahrain on March 2.


Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’

Updated 22 February 2024
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Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’

  • The Red Bull driver was more than a second faster than Lando Norris in a McLaren
  • Verstappen’s performance was a boost for a Red Bull team reeling from an investigation into team chief Christian Horner who has been accused of “inappropriate behavior” by a female member of staff

SAKHIR: Three-time world champion Max Verstappen gave his struggling rivals little hope for optimism ahead of the new Formula One season when he dominated the first day of winter testing on Wednesday.

The Red Bull driver was more than a second faster than Lando Norris in a McLaren with Carlos Sainz, about to start his final year as a Ferrari driver, in third spot at the Sakhir track where the season-opener takes place on March 2.

Sainz will lose his seat at Ferrari to seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton who is entering his last campaign behind the wheel of a Mercedes. Hamilton will be in action on Thursday.

Verstappen’s performance was a boost for a Red Bull team reeling from an investigation into team chief Christian Horner who has been accused of “inappropriate behavior” by a female member of staff.

“It feels good to be back in an F1 car again and I had fun out on track today. We covered a lot of laps and tried quite a few things with the car, which was important, so happy overall with how it went,” said Verstappen.

Horner faced questioning for eight hours at an internal hearing in London earlier in February after allegations emerged in the Dutch press of a complaint being made against the 50-year-old Englishman by a female employee.

Horner categorically denies the accusation while Formula One chiefs said they want the issue resolved at the “earliest opportunity.”

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff described the investigation as “an issue for all of Formula One.”

“Red Bull has started as an independent investigation, if this is done in the right way with transparency and with rigour, I think that’s something that we need to look at — what the outcomes are and what it means for Formula One, and how we can learn from that,” Wolff told a news conference.

“We want to talk about racing cars and we want to talk about the sport rather than these kind of very critical topics, that are more just a team’s issue, it’s a phenomenon or it’s an issue for all of Formula One and in general for every individual that works out there.”

Horner is scheduled to appear at a press conference in Bahrain on Thursday.

At the launch of this season’s Red Bull car held last week, he insisted he had no intention of resigning.

“No. It’s business as usual,” he said. “There obviously is a process.

“Obviously, I fully deny any accusations that have been made against me but of course I’ll work with that process, which I hope is concluded in the near future.”

Testing times on the first day of three on Wednesday:

1. Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull) 1:31.344 sec (143 laps,

2. Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren) +1.140 (73),

3. Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari) +1.240 (69),

4. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Racing Bulls) +1.255 (52),

5. Pierre Gasly (FRA/Alpine) +1.461 (61),

6. Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin) +1.663 (54),

7. Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) +1.903 (64),

8. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Aston Martin) +2.041 (77),

9. Oscar Piastri (AUS/McLaren) +2.314 (57),

10. Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Sauber) +2.527 (63),

11. Logan Sargeant (USA/Williams) +2.538 (21),

12. George Russell (GBR/Mercedes) +2.765 (122),

13. Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/Racing Bulls) +2.792 (64),

14. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Sauber) +3.087 (68),

15. Alex Albon (THA/Williams) +3.243 (40),

16. Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine) +3.333 (60),

17. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas) +4.348 (66),

18. Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Haas) +4.562 (82)


Saudi’s Reema Juffali announced as wild card entry for first round of 2024 F1 Academy in Jeddah

Updated 20 February 2024
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Saudi’s Reema Juffali announced as wild card entry for first round of 2024 F1 Academy in Jeddah

  • Kingdom’s first female racing driver joins all-women series’ debut in Jeddah during the Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2024

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver, Reema Juffali, was confirmed Tuesday as a wild card entry for the first round of the 2024 F1 Academy series at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

The series’ debut race in the Kingdom will take place during the fourth Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on the weekend of March 7 to 9.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be representing my country, especially in my hometown,” Juffali said. “The day F1 arrived in Jeddah was the clash of both my worlds and now I am actually going to be participating. I’m really looking forward to it and happy to share the experience with my friends and family who are based here.”

“As the saying goes ‘if you can’t see it, you won’t believe it.’ So, hopefully Saudi fans can see that there is a Saudi racing driver out there and it will get them to thinking that ‘this is something I can do.’ It is for this reason I have decided to take this challenge on. This is just the beginning.”

The second season of the all-women series will begin in Saudi Arabia on March 7 and finish in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 8. In addition to the hosts of the opening and closing rounds, Miami, Qatar and Singapore will all join the calendar for the first time, with Zandvoort and Barcelona returning for a second year.

Having developed an interest in cars at an early age, Juffali made history in 2018 by becoming the first female racing driver from Saudi Arabia.

Following a promising debut season in 2019, she became the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an international race in her home country, racing on the streets of Riyadh in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY. This was followed by a stint in the GB3 Championship in 2021 before making her endurance racing debut at the 2022 Dubai 24 Hours where she finished second.

Juffali subsequently founded Theeba Motorsport to facilitate Saudi Arabian access to and participation in motor racing through a variety of educational opportunities and programs.

The team made its first appearance in the 2022 International GT Open and secured victory on its debut — an achievement which made Juffali the first Saudi Arabia woman to win an international motor race — before securing second place in the series’ Pro-Am class.

Last year Juffali participated in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe where she again made history by being the first female and the first Saudi Arabian driver to secure a pole position in the Sprint Cup.

Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and Saudi Motorsport Company, commented: “We are delighted to confirm Reema Juffali as the wild card entry for the first ever F1 Academy race to be staged in the Kingdom. As Saudi Arabia’s first professional female racing driver — who also happens to be Jeddah born and bred — I couldn’t think of anyone better to represent the Saudi people on the racetrack during the biggest sporting and entertainment weekend of the year.”

“Reema’s formidable achievements on and off track have already helped to inspire a generation of young men and women, and she stands as a symbol of all that the people of Saudi Arabia can and will accomplish,” he added. “It is therefore fitting that she is participating in the inaugural Formula 1 Academy race in her hometown. We are excited to work together with Reema and look forward to making history together in Jeddah.”

The 2024 F1 Academy season will feature seven rounds, all of which will support the FIA Formula One World Championship. The calendar has been designed to span three continents, Europe, Asia and North America, and will feature a mix of street and traditional circuits.