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Saudi F1: Qualifying crash dents hopes of early title party for Verstappen

Max Verstappen was left disappointed on Saturday after a last-gasp mistake in the dying seconds of qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix cost him pole and dealt a blow to his chances of wrapping up a maiden Formula One title with a race to spare.

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The Dutchman had produced a stunning display under the floodlights, dancing his Red Bull right up against the walls lining the 6.1-km long Jeddah street track’s high-speed sweeps.

He was comfortably on course to seize the fastest lap from title rival and provisional pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton until he pushed a touch too far, clouting the wall on the exit of the final corner after locking up on the way in, and was forced to settle for third place.

The contact broke Verstappen’s rear suspension and may have damaged his gearbox, which could cost him five places on the grid if it needs to be changed.

It also allowed Mercedes to lock out the front row, with Valtteri Bottas second alongside Hamilton.

“I was really enjoying it and then not to finish it is extremely disappointing, especially now, in this fight, you want to start first,” said Verstappen, who was 0.244 seconds ahead of Hamilton’s time when he crashed and instead ended up 0.142 seconds adrift of the Briton.

“I saw it was a good lap, I was three-tenths faster on my delta. I thought last corner there might be still a bit to gain.

“I approached it like I always do in qualifying but now somehow I just locked up and I have to see if I actually braked later or not, for my feeling is I didn’t.”

Verstappen leads Hamilton by eight points in the overall standings and can clinch the title on Sunday if he finishes in the top two with other permutations working in his favour.

But a third-place finish, with Hamilton first and scoring the extra point for fastest lap, would see the Briton draw level on points, setting up a winner-takes-all last-race duel in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen is confident Red Bull have the pace to challenge Mercedes on Sunday and will be going for the win rather than damage limitation.

“Of course I would have liked to start first,” he said. “Starting third is a bit more difficult but definitely not impossible.”

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Israeli army kills suspected assailant after West Bank car ramming

A suspected assailant was shot dead by Israeli soldiers after injuring three young men with his car in the southern West Bank on Saturday, the army and medics said.

The army said a “terrorist” had conducted a “ramming attack adjacent to the town of Beit Ummar” before being neutralized, with a spokesperson confirming to AFP the presumed assailant’s death.

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Magen David Adom medics said the three men were taken to hospitals in Jerusalem with serious, moderate and light wounds.

There were no immediate details on the suspected assailant.

The latest violence comes less than 24 hours after an Arab Israeli allegedly snatched a gun from a police officer and fired it in a scuffle at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, before being shot dead.

The Saturday deaths bring an end to the relative lull in violence since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan some 10 days ago.

Since the start of the year, the conflict has claimed the lives of 88 Palestinians, including militants and civilians, and one Arab Israeli.

Fourteen other Israelis, including members of the security forces and civilians, and one Ukrainian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

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High activity spotted at N. Korea nuclear complex after Kim’s bomb-fuel order: Report

Satellite images show a high level of activity at North Korea’s main nuclear site, a US think tank reported on Saturday after the North Korean leader ordered an increase in production of bomb fuel to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal.

The Washington-based 38 North Korea monitoring project said the activity it had spotted, based on images from March 3 and 17, could indicate that an Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) at the Yongbyon site was nearing completion and transition to operational status.

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The report said the images showed that a 5 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon continued to operate and that construction had started on a support building around the ELWR. Further, water discharges had been detected from that reactor’s cooling system. New construction had also started around Yongbyon’s uranium enrichment plant, likely to expand its capabilities.

“These developments seem to reflect Kim Jong Un’s recent directive to increase the country’s fissile material production to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal,” the report added, referring to the North Korean leader.

On Tuesday, North Korea unveiled new, smaller nuclear warheads and vowed to produce more weapons-grade nuclear material to expand its arsenal, while denouncing stepped up military exercises by South Korea and the United States.

Its state media said Kim had ordered the production of weapons-grade materials in a “far-sighted way” to boost the country’s nuclear arsenal “exponentially.”

It is unclear whether North Korea has fully developed miniaturized nuclear warheads needed to fit on smaller weapons it has displayed and analysts say perfecting such warheads would most likely be a key goal if it resumes nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.

South Korea and the United States have warned since early 2022 that North Korea may resume nuclear testing at any time.

In a report last year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated North Korea had assembled up to 20 nuclear warheads, and probably possessed sufficient fissile material for approximately 45–55 nuclear devices.

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UK water companies to face unlimited fines for sewage pollution

Water companies will incur unlimited fines for polluting rivers and the sea under new UK legislation to protect the environment, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Therese Coffrey, the environment secretary, will announce plans next week to remove the £250,000 maximum fine on civil penalties for companies that break the rules. The environment agency is also seeking to strengthen its ability to impose sanctions on water companies without going through the courts.

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Fines will be reinvested into a new Water Restoration Fund which will work with local communities and groups to improve water quality and support projects to improve management of waters and restore protected sites. Penalties and fines will be taken from water company profits, not customers.

Last year, 10 water and sewage companies within England released sewage into rivers and the sea on 301,091 occasions, with United Utilities and Yorkshire Water responsible for 40 percent of the spills.

“I want to make sure that regulators have the powers and tools to take tough action against companies that are breaking the rules and to do so more quickly, Therese Coffrey said in a statement.

The government’s ‘Plan for Water’ will also include measures against other forms of pollution, such as storm overflows, agriculture, plastics, road run-off and chemicals and pesticides.

The proposals will be published within a consultation on Tuesday.

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