Motor racing-Verstappen completes practice sweep in Saudi Arabia

Formula One F1 - Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - March 18, 2023 Red Bull's Max Verstappen during practice REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

(Reuters) - Formula One world champion Max Verstappen completed a dominant hat-trick of top times in practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday.

The Red Bull driver, winner of the opening race in Bahrain, was fastest in both sessions on Friday and wrapped up final practice again on top of the timesheets at Jeddah's Corniche street circuit.

Mexican team mate Sergio Perez was second fastest, but a considerable 0.613 seconds slower than Verstappen's best effort of one minute 28.485 on the soft tyres.

Even on the hard tyres, Verstappen was impressively quick.

Aston Martin were again the best of the rest with Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll third and fourth but 0.998 between the Spaniard and Verstappen.

Apart from Perez, Alonso was the only driver within a second of Verstappen.

Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton was fifth fastest for Mercedes, ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc who has a 10- place grid penalty for Sunday's race and left it late to set a proper time.

McLaren's Lando Norris was seventh, and Australian rookie team mate Oscar Piastri eighth, a mere 0.008 behind. French driver Pierre Gasly was ninth, 0.003 slower than Piastri, for Renault-owned Alpine.

Verstappen apologised after lifting off the throttle on track and forcing Norris, coming up fast behind, to swerve around him.

"It's dangerous what these guys do. They need to use the radio or something. That could have been a massive crash," said Norris.

AlphaTauri's Dutch rookie Nyck de Vries missed the final session as his team changed his car's power unit.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond)

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