‘The alarm bells are sure to be ringing for Max Verstappen’s rivals’

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen close-up shot. March 2023

Max Verstappen close-up shot. March 2023

As Max Verstappen dominated the timesheets in Friday’s practice sessions in Saudi Arabia, former F1 driver Hans-Joachim Stuck says the “alarm bells” must be ringing for his rivals.

Verstappen has been the driver to beat of late, the Red Bull driver claiming a hard-fought World title in 2021 before cruising to a second last season.

He bagged 15 of the season’s 22 race wins and wrapped up the title with four grands prix to spare with his advantage at the end of it all up to 146 points.

This season rivals fear there could be a repeat performance, if not even more dominant with George Russell concerned Red Bull could win all 23 races.

Verstappen already has one on the board having romped to the season-opening victory in Bahrain by 11 seconds ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez. More notably, though, was that the third placed car – Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin – was 38 seconds behind the Dutchman.

Rivals had hoped that this weekend’s race in Saudi Arabia would balance the scales given the high-speed nature of the Jeddah circuit only for Verstappen to bag the Friday double.

Stuck says Red Bull’s pace has to be a concern for their rival teams.

“The alarm bells are sure to ring,” Speedweek quotes him as having told Eurosport. “In motorsport it often happens that one driver dominates the entire class.

“If you look at Red Bull’s package – that’s no coincidence. It works, there is harmony. In addition, the team can build on the successes of recent years.”

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The 72-year-old is full of praise for Verstappen’s confident attitude.

Fighting for the World title in 2021 he told Radio 1 Newsbeat: “As a driver, you always have to believe that you are the best. And do I? Of course.

“You have to believe you can beat anyone out there.

“If you really think that’s not possible, then it’s better to stop, because it’s never going to work out.”

It’s fair to say that so far it is working out for him.

“Max is simply an extraordinary personality – sensational!” Stuck added. “Just by listening to Verstappen’s statements. ‘I’m so good because I know I’m the best’ – he just oozes confidence.

“But the dog is right! You have to give him that and ultimately allow it.

“Max has his attitude, is aware of his superiority and in my opinion drives best. He is consistently at the limit. Unbelievable!”

Verstappen, despite having been ill with a stomach bug in the build-up to the Jeddah race, set the pace on Friday with a 1:29.603. That put him two-tenths up on Fernando Alonso with Perez a further tenth behind.