Sergio Perez replaced Red Bull to ensure the team started from pole at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after two-time defending champion Max Verstappen was sidelined by a mechanical problem.
Verstappen was fastest in all three practice sessions at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, but his qualifying effort was cut short on Sunday (NZ time) when he said over the radio: “I have a problem. Engine, engine problem”, during the second session. The Dutchman drove to the pits, where a driveshaft problem was discovered, and Verstappen’s qualifying effort was over.
It left Perez as the only Red Bull representative in the final round of qualifying and he won the pole for the second consecutive year – the only two poles of his career.
“Max has been very strong all weekend so hopefully we can have both cars there,” said Perez. “You never know with these cars, reliability issues can happen to you at any time.”
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Verstappen starts 15th.
“The drive shaft broke… It was annoying because the car had been good up to that point. I felt comfortable in every session and every time I was on track I was fast, so we could definitely have fought for pole,” Verstappen “Instead, we now have a bit more work ahead of us. It’s a long championship and we will stay positive. I think a win from that position is difficult, but I will try to score as many points as possible.”
Charles Leclerc qualified second for Ferrari but will lose 10 positions at the start of Monday’s (NZT) race due to a grid penalty for overstepping the assigned electronic control unit on the car’s engine in the season-opening race.
Leclerc said that even without the penalty he wasn’t too impressed with his qualifying efforts because the whole grid is after Red Bull. Verstappen won a record 15 races last year, Perez added two wins and Red Bull won both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
“The lap – I’m really happy. It was really on the limit,” said Leclerc. “On the other hand, I feel like the Red Bull are quite far ahead and that’s our goal, to beat them, so there’s still a lot of work to do.”
The penalty for Leclerc pushes Fernando Alonso to the front row after the Spaniard qualified third in his new Aston Martin drive. Alonso finished third in his season-opening debut race with Aston in Bahrain.
Is he able to win his first F1 race since 2013?
“No, I don’t think we’re in that position yet. I think Red Bull is in a different class on pure pace,” said Alonso. “I think we need to focus more on the other teams: Ferrari will be very strong, Mercedes is strong, and Alpine too, they are fast here .
“I think our race is behind us. But we saw that Max couldn’t finish qualifying with a mechanical problem, so even if we focus on our mirrors and try to keep the people behind us, if something happens in front of us we will certainly try to take the opportunity .”
George Russell qualified fourth for Mercedes – four places ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time champion qualified eighth.
“We just have to keep trying. Whatever changes we’ve made, we’re struggling to get the speed out and I just don’t feel well connected with the car at the moment,” said Hamilton. will work to improve confidence in the next races. George did a great job and he wasn’t far from some of the cars up front, so we need to keep pushing.”
Carlos Sainz Jr. was fifth for Ferrari, followed by Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll. Esteban Ocon was seventh.
Oscar Piastri was ninth for McLaren and Pierre Gasly tenth for Alpine.
Logan Sargeant, the American rookie driving for Williams, briefly topped the speed chart in the first qualifying group until his time was expunged for violating track limits. Sargeant’s tire had briefly touched a section of track deemed off-limits and the FIA quickly scrapped his lap.
Sargeant later spun in the qualifying group in his desperate attempt not to qualify last. Had his previous round not been scrapped, Sargeant would have progressed to the second qualifying round. He starts 20th.
“I did a very fast lap, but it was canceled when I passed the pit lane entrance by a margin. There was no performance gain, so it’s frustrating, but I had two laps left and I couldn’t, so I apologize to the team,” said Sargeant. “Even though I gave myself a lot more work than I needed to, I’m pretty optimistic about it [the race] and I will make it up to the team.”
Nyck de Vries missed Saturday morning practice with an engine problem and spun almost immediately at the start of qualifying, and McLaren’s Lando Norris hit the wall in the first qualifying group and had to pit for repairs. It prevented him from advancing as his rookie teammate Piastri advanced to the third round for the first time in his career.
The Jeddah circuit is the second longest track of the F1 circuit at 6.174 kilometers and is built along the Red Sea. It debuted as the penultimate race on the 2021 calendar and is regarded as the “fastest street circuit” on the schedule with average speeds in excess of 250 km/h.