Last Updated: 18/03/23 7:10pm
Sergio Perez claimed pole position at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen made a shock early exit from qualifying following a mechanical failure.
Verstappen had been an overwhelming favourite to take pole after comfortably topping all three practice sessions at Formula 1’s fastest street circuit, but a driveshaft failure saw him return to the Red Bull garage midway through Q2 and immediately get out of the car, leaving him to start Sunday’s race in 15th.
The reigning world champion’s exit set up a closer than anticipated contest to take top spot, but Perez kept his composure to seal just the second pole position of his career, with the first having come at the same circuit a year ago.
Charles Leclerc was second for Ferrari, but faces a 10-place grid penalty, meaning Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso will join Perez on the front row.
George Russell provided a boost for Mercedes by taking fourth ahead of the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, but Lewis Hamilton could only manage eighth as he remained off the pace of his team-mate.
Lance Stroll backed up Alonso’s strong showing by taking sixth for Aston Martin, while Alpine produced an improved performance to get Esteban Ocon seventh and team-mate Pierre Gasly 10th.
McLaren’s Lando Norris made a Q1 exit after hitting the wall on a flying lap, but his rookie team-mate Oscar Piastri took a highly-impressive ninth as he showed the signs of the superstar potential that many in the paddock believe he possesses.
Saudi Arabian GP Qualifying Result
1) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari*
3) Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin
4) George Russell, Mercedes
5) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
6) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
7) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
8) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
9) Oscar Piastri, McLaren
10) Pierre Gasly, Alpine
*Leclerc has 10-place grid penalty
There had rarely been less doubt going into an F1 Qualifying session over who was going to take pole, but it turned out to be a Saturday evening full of drama and unpredictability.
Cooler, windy conditions in Jeddah meant the track proved challenging from the off, with several drivers – including Alonso – spinning in the opening period.
Norris paid the price for his error, as he was able to get back to the pits, but not make it back out on track after clipping the wall.
Q1 ended in somewhat appropriate fashion, with Williams rookie Logan Sargeant, who had spun earlier, stopping out on track after damaging his car while riding a kerb.
Sargeant exited along with his team-mate Alex Albon, Norris and both AlphaTauris, whose day went from bad to worse after Nyck de Vries had earlier missed final practice following a technical failure that required a change of power unit.
However, the real drama was still to come.
Verstappen, who had comfortably topped Q1, appeared to survive a scare as he just about kept control of his car after what he described as “a big moment” over team radio, but worse was to follow moments later.
He came on team radio reporting an apparent engine issue, and could only coast back to the pits, before immediately exiting his car as a Q2 exit was confirmed.
Having began his quest for a third successive drivers’ title with a comprehensive victory – ahead of Perez – in Bahrain earlier this month, Verstappen now has his work cut out to maintain his dominance.
“Of course I would have liked to have stared further up the road but I can’t change that now,” Verstappen said. “Anything is possible at this track. We have seen a lot of crazy things.
“Also, let’s stay a little bit realistic. It is going to be tough but we have good pace, so for sure we’ll move forward.”
It was suddenly all to play for, but Perez took advantage of an RB19 car that appears to be streets ahead of its rivals to finish almost two tenths of a second clear of Leclerc.
“Yeah I mean it’s a shame because Max has been really strong the whole weekend,” Perez said. “So hopefully tomorrow we can have both cars up there as you never know with these cars and reliability issues can hit you at any time.”
Leclerc’s performance represented somewhat of a boost for Ferrari, who appeared to have been running their engines below full capacity throughout the weekend after having to fit new power units on both cars amid technical issues.
Alonso, who makes his first front-row start since last season’s Canadian GP, continues to justify his decision to move from Alpine to Aston Martin over the winter.
The Spaniard finished third behind the Red Bulls in Bahrain, and appears to be Perez’s most obvious competitor – aside from a charging Verstappen – for victory on Sunday.
Formula 1 street racing is back! Watch the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Sunday’s race begins at 5pm, with build up from 3:30pm. Get Sky Sports
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