Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen poses after qualifying in pole position alongside second placed Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and third placed Mercedes’ George Russell in the F1 Bahrain Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, on Mar. 1, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 March 2024
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Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

  • Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session
  • “It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Max Verstappen delivered some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday when he resisted Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to claim pole position for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The defending three-time world champion picked up where he left off last year by topping the times in a closely-contested qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir.
His success, which he admitted was “a little bit unexpected” arrived after another day of speculation and pressure for team boss Christian Horner, following the anonymous leaking of a cache of alleged private messages and photographs between him and a female member of the team.
This came 24 hours after an internal investigation led by an independent London lawyer had resulted in Horner being cleared of all claims of inappropriate behavior.
Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session, securing his third Bahrain pole and the 33rd of his career.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen.
“The track had a lot of grip, but with the wind over the last few days, it’s been quite tricky to get a whole lap together and it was the same in qualifying.
“In Q1 and Q2 you go a bit faster, with the track ramping up, but to really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little bit difficult. So I’m very happy to be on pole.”
He added: “To be honest, it was a little bit unexpected, but I think the car came to us and I felt happier with the whole car.”
He forecast a close race on Saturday.
“We look good for the race and that’s the most important, but we will see tomorrow. I’m confident we can have a strong race.”
Ferrari’s Leclerc missed pole by only two-tenths of a second as he finished second ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso qualified sixth for Aston Martin, ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton ninth for Mercedes and Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Haas.
“I’m a bit disappointed,” admitted Leclerc.
“But we had a good qualifying and this offers us a good start to the year.”
Russell praised Mercedes for producing a car that he could build on. “P3 is a good place to start,” he said.
Qualifying got under way with Horner, who has always categorically denied any wrongdoing, under renewed pressure despite being cleared in Red Bull’s investigation led by a London lawyer.
Horner, who turned up at the track on Thursday to oversee the start of the new season, said: “I won’t comment on anonymous speculation, but to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations.”
Verstappen ensured events on the track went more smoothly and he will be favorite to emulate last year’s result when he won the first of 19 races as he swept to his third title.
The session began in cool conditions as temperatures fell under the floodlights at Sakhir’s International Circuit where Bahrain’s maiden race took place 20 years ago.
The air temperature was 18, the track 21.
The first qualifying segment ended with Sainz on top as the Alpines made an early exit along with both Saubers and Williams’ Logan Sargeant.
After topping Thursday’s opening practice, Hamilton squeezed through in 15th place.
Leclerc topped the times on the second runs of Q2 and Sainz was third, sandwiching Verstappen in second, while Hamilton was fourth with a late lap.
In the final seconds of the top 10 shoot-out Verstappen improved to 1:29.179, enough to resist Leclerc by 0.228 seconds to launch his 2024 season in ominous fashion.
Exceptionally the Bahrain race and next weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are being staged on Saturdays to accommodate the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.


FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem receives Arab and MENA backing

Updated 19 April 2024
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FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem receives Arab and MENA backing

  • Statement condemns “false allegations” of interference in sporting decisions during 2023 Formula One season

DUBAI: The FIA Members for Sport for MENA region and Arab Council of Touring and Automobile Clubs sub-region have released a statement of support for FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem against what they see as “false allegations” of interference in sporting decisions during the 2023 Formula One season.

“Knowing that Mr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been committed to promoting transparency within the FIA since he was elected president of the FIA, his full co-operation with the FIA Ethics Committee and the Compliance department during the 30 days of investigations is highly regarded,” the statement said.  

“The Ethics Committee were unanimous in their determination that there was no evidence to substantiate allegations of interference of any kind involving the FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem and strong evidence beyond any reasonable doubt was presented to support the determination of the FIA Ethics Committee.” 

The statement said that the FIA president was cleared of any wrongdoing over allegations he interfered with the stewards’ decision at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023, and cleared of any wrongdoing regarding allegations that he attempted to interfere with the track certification process for the Las Vegas Grand Prix 2023.

The statement continued: “The FIA Members for Sport for MENA Region and ACTAC Sub-Region condemn, and at the same time are profoundly disappointed with the unjust and relentless attempt to undermine the integrity of the FIA Leadership by such unfaithful allegations to serve narrow personal agendas, and we strongly encourage the FIA administration to initiate legal actions against those responsible for those allegations against the FIA President. 

“We are confident that Mr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem will continue to serve the FIA and its Members in a transparent manner implementing the FIA Code of Ethics as top priority.

“We also would like to assert our support to Mr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s leadership of the FIA and will continue our co-operation with him in his efforts to serve and develop the FIA and its Members,” it said.  


12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

Updated 17 April 2024
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12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

  • Only three years after taking up racing, Janna Al-Nujaiman has already excelled in domestic and regional competitions against more experienced drivers
  • Janna Al-Nujaiman: My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid

JEDDAH: At only 12, Saudi’s Janna Talal Al-Nujaiman is already dreaming big. As she makes a name for herself in the Kingdom’s karting scene, she has set her sights on becoming a professional driver and ultimately racing in no less a category than Formula One.

The Jeddah resident started karting three years ago in Kyiv while living with her Ukrainian mother, and since then, she has progressed through age group levels and has gone on to rank highly in multiple national and regional races.

Unlike many young drivers coming through the ranks of different racing categories today, however, Janna does not come from a motorsport background.

She is making her way through a tough and costly sport with the support of her family, especially her father Talal Al-Nujaiman.

“I’m not really from a racing family. My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid,” she said about the origins of her passion for the sport.

From the first day, she showed a remarkable aptitude for karting.

“After my father saw how happy I was driving, he called the (instructors) and asked them about me, and my first time in karting,” Janna added. “He asked them about my performance and timing. Was it normal? The answer was no, what I did was not normal.”

In 2022, while Janna and her father were in France on vacation, she was admitted into a karting academy, which was supervised by Herve Montage, a former French rally driver.

Janna was again the least experienced among the senior candidates — a group of elite karting drivers aged 14 to 16. And yet again, the young Saudi offered a glimpse of what she is capable of.

After one month of practice and breaking records, she was asked to stay in France and continue racing, but her father, a Saudia captain, believed that the future of racing was in the Kingdom and refused all offers his daughter received.

“Based on the vision of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and what my country has been going through in all fields, I decided to bring back my daughter to Saudi Arabia and (have her) make her way in motorsports in her own country,” Talal said.

He believes his daughter has what it takes to break into motorsports in Saudi Arabia.

“I have to be very careful what I say now so that I don’t build up pressure on her,” Talal said. “But racing today is looking for women, wants women, and she really loves racing. So, I support her as best I can.

“Making it to the top is of course a very tough road. If she wants to get there, she has to do everything and work very hard. Then she can do it.”

Talal said that his daughter started racing competitively in Jeddah in September 2023, winning her first karting competition on Feb. 24 of this year at the Track Challenge in Jeddah. A mark of her talent, she achieved this in a field of almost 100 male drivers, all older and more experienced than her, with some being university champions with 10 years of experience.

“My dream is to see my daughter representing her country,” Talal said.

For Janna however, that is not enough. Her dream is to be the first female champion in racing’s most elite series here in the Kingdom.

“My dream is to see myself in the future raising the flag of my country Saudi Arabia … by winning the F1 and (being) the first Saudi woman who will make the impossible come true,” she said.

She says she hopes to one day become as good as her motor racing idol Fernando Alonso.

Karting has historically been the birthplace of champions such as Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Alonso, whom Janna recently met.

Now she is looking for sponsorship opportunities to help keep her racing dream alive through karting and eventually other series. While she continues to count on the significant support of her father, who helps cover many racing expenses, her goal now is to add sponsors who will help push her onto the professional circuits.

Given her breakthroughs in such a short time, with the right support, the name Janna Al-Nujaiman is set to become a familiar one for racing fans across the Kingdom and the region in the coming years.


Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland

Updated 15 April 2024
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Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland

  • Victory for TAG Heuer Porsche driver was the sixth of his Formula E career
  • Reigning champion Jake Dennis claims second place for Andretti Formula E Team, Nick Cassidy of Jaguar TCS Racing secures third

MISANO: The Misano E-Prix saw Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team emerge triumphant after an intense battle for Round 7 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship on Sunday night.

At the second leg of the inaugural Misano E-Prix double-header, Wehrlein made amends for TAG Heuer Porsche’s poor performance in the first race on Saturday. His first-place trophy from Round 7 is the sixth of his Formula E career, following a heartbreaking last-lap miscalculation that resulted in the then-race leader Oliver Rowland running out of energy and retiring.

Reigning ABB FIA Formula E World Champion Jake Dennis of the Andretti Formula E Team secured second place, while Jaguar TCS Racing’s Nick Cassidy clinched third place at the flag by five hundredths of a second, in front of a 25,000-strong crowd.

Wehrlein’s triumph has him tied with Dennis at the top of the Drivers’ standings, with previous leader Rowland falling to third. Meanwhile, Jaguar TCS Racing leads the Teams’ table by a significant margin.

“Yesterday would have been better to win but I’m very happy about the race today,” Wehrlein said. “It was quite chaotic again in the beginning until mid-race. I wasn’t sure if I should stay in the lead or let Oli (Rowland) through the pace. His pace seemed a bit weird and too fast to try and defend so I didn’t defend him much. I was a bit surprised by his energy, I wasn’t sure if the team had the correct information or not. But in the end, it proved to be the right thing to do. It was a lot of managing; the energy, the battery, the tires. Just everything.

“It goes quickly from zero to hero, we know that in Formula E. I think we had the pace this weekend to win both races. Unfortunately yesterday with these kinds of races I was a bit of a victim with my front wing and then being at the back, but today was a big redemption for us.”

Round 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship will be the 2024 Monaco E-Prix on Saturday, April 27.


Formula E reveals driver lineup for first rookie session of season 10

Updated 13 April 2024
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Formula E reveals driver lineup for first rookie session of season 10

  • Session is scheduled for rounds 6, 7 of championship taking place at Misano World Circuit in Italy

RIYADH: Formula E and the FIA have revealed the full roster of 11 rookie drivers set to debut at the first rookie session of season 10, scheduled for rounds six and seven of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship at the Misano World Circuit in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

The rookie free practice sessions are designed exclusively for drivers with no previous experience racing a Formula E car on-track and who hold a minimum International Grade B license. The session is designed to promote new and emerging talent in the premier electric racing series, offering drivers a platform to showcase their skills in the seat of the GEN3 race car — the fastest, lightest, most powerful and efficient electric race car ever built.

The last on-track rookie session conducted by the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship was the official rookie free practice in Rome for rounds 13 and 14 of season nine. Notably, Jehan Daruvala, a rookie from that session, has since advanced to a full-time seat for season 10 with Maserati MSG Racing.

The rookies representing all 11 teams in the championship got the opportunity to shine in a free practice session this weekend.

For the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship’s first visit to the Italian track, the drivers will face the 14 turns of the 3.382 km track complete clockwise, infield at turns one, two, three and four, before returning to the GP layout down toward what will be turn five and the turn seven hairpin. A high-speed straight follows into a sharp left-right at turns eight and nine before another fast sprint around the complex at the back of the circuit before hooking back through turn 14 on to the home straight.

“As we embark on this exciting new venture in Misano, we welcome a new wave of talent to the Formula E stage,” Alberto Longo, co-founder and chief championship officer at Formula E, said. “These rookie sessions not only showcase the potential of emerging drivers, but also our underlying commitment to nurturing fresh talent in the world of electric motorsport.

“Formula E stands at the forefront of motorsport when it comes to technological advancement and innovation,” he added. “We’re thrilled to harness that energy and provide the upcoming generation of racing prodigies with the ultimate platform to showcase their skills: Behind the wheel of the GEN3 race car.”

Drivers to watch

Zane Maloney, Andretti Formula E: Andretti is set to once again highlight the talents of Zane Maloney, who will commandeer the team’s Porsche 99X Electric in both the rookie free practice session in Misano and the upcoming Berlin rookie test. Returning to represent the American outfit, Maloney is poised to further solidify his role as the team’s official reserve and development driver, clocking valuable laps in the Misano session. This will mark his fourth appearance with the team, building on his experience from the 2023 rookie test, as well as his participation in the rookie free practice session in Rome and the season 10 preseason test in Valencia.

Paul Aron, Envision Racing: At just 20 years old, Aron is hailed as one of the most thrilling young talents in single-seater racing, holding the second position in the Formula Two standings for the season. With an impressive three podium finishes under his belt already in his inaugural full FIA Formula Two campaign this year, the Estonian driver is swiftly establishing himself as a standout prospect for the future.

Jordan King, Mahindra Racing: With Nyck de Vries of Mahindra Racing unavailable for the double-header around Tempelhof Airport due to a prior commitment in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the team will turn to King to fill the void. A seasoned racer with a rich background in international single-seaters, including stints in the IndyCar Series, FIA Formula Two and FIA Formula Three, King brings a wealth of experience to the table. Having served as test driver for the Manor Racing Formula One team in the past, he currently holds a crucial simulator and development role with the Alpine F1 Team.

Sheldon van der Linde, Jaguar TCS Racing: The 2022 DTM champion will make his return to the Formula E paddock, gearing up for today’s free practice zero test. The South African — brother of Kelvin van der Linde — stepped in at ABT CUPRA in season nine, swiftly acclimatising himself when he took part in the championship’s official Berlin rookie test for Jaguar TCS Racing last April.


Mitch Evans targets another Italian triumph as Formula E makes Rimini bow

Updated 11 April 2024
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Mitch Evans targets another Italian triumph as Formula E makes Rimini bow

  • The Misano World Circuit in Italy hosts rounds 6 and 7 of the 2024 world championship

MISANO: All eyes will be on Mitch Evans, arguably the most successful Formula E driver in Italy, when the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship returns this weekend.

New Zealander Evans, with four previous wins in Rome, and teammate Nick Cassidy, will be feeling the pressure of maintaining their “ones to beat” record after securing a 1-2 finish for the Jaguar powertrain last year at the Rome E-Prix.

The championship’s 22 drivers face a new location for the Misano E-Prix, comprising rounds 6 and 7, on April 13-14.

The double-header at the Misano World Circuit is a return to Italy for the next chapter in the battle for the championship in front of an established motorsport fanbase. The adapted circuit is expected to deliver exciting racing to fans in the grandstands and around the world.

For Mahindra Racing’s Edoardo Mortara, the race holds special significance, with the Italian-Swiss-French driver eager to perform well in front of a home crowd after his promising performance in Tokyo.

Max Gunther will arrive at Misano fresh off a win in Japan, aiming to capitalize on his momentum and thrill fans with another stellar performance for Maserati MSG Racing on home soil. Oliver Rowland, meanwhile, will hope to extend his impressive streak of podium places, seeking a fourth consecutive top-three finish. With his consistent form, Rowland will be a force to be reckoned with at the weekend.

With the title race wide open, Pascal Wehrlein will also be pushing the limits to sustain his momentum and secure a more comfortable lead in the standings.

For its debut on the Formula E calendar, the track layout will be 3.381 km in length with 14 turns. 

Nestled in the picturesque Rimini province of Italy, the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, also known as Misano Circuit Sic 58, has been a staple on the motorsport scene since 1972. Renowned for its rapid, flowing track and wealth of overtaking opportunities, Misano has been a favorite with MotoGP and WorldSBK enthusiasts for decades. 

With its rich history and reputation as a hot spot for motorsport events — the venue also hosts endurance racing, the Ferrari Challenge, DTM (a sports car racing series), and FIA Formula 3 — the venue will be more familiar to some drivers than others.