Sergio Perez will lead the field into turn one at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday with him sealing pole position in qualifying on Saturday – as he did this time last year at the same venue – with team-mate Max Verstappen suffering a driveshaft issue which knocked him out in Q2.
Perez and Verstappen appear in a league of their own at the moment in the Red Bull RB19, and have been looking strong all weekend.
Indeed, going into the second qualifying session of the season, many felt as though it was a foregone conclusion in terms of the likely front-row for Sunday’s race but sometimes the racing gods have other ideas and so that proved with defending champion Verstappen’s car.
Running in Q2, the Dutchman would progress no further on Saturday with a driveshaft issue hamstringing him and leaving him to crawl back to the pits – he’d be out of the car, out of the garage, and out of the session in the ensuing minutes.
Fresh from being dominated by Max in Bahrain, the eyes of the drivers that did make Q3 must have lit up after this but, ultimately, the Red Bull is still a very handy car at the hands of Perez, who doubled up on Saudi poles with a strong first run in the final part of qualifying that no-one could beat.
Charles Leclerc would come closest to him in terms of time as he went second-quickest, but a ten-place grid penalty – earned through a change of Control Electronics at the start of the weekend – means he’ll be joining Verstappen in the midfield at lights out tomorrow.
It’s Fernando Alonso that will run alongside Perez into turn one tomorrow, then, with him going third-quickest in his Aston Martin, and many will be looking forward to seeing him scrap for the early race lead once we’re underway.
Perez, though, is a real star around the Jeddah Corniche street circuit, and was rightly delighted with his pole-winning performance:
“It was tricky,” said Checo, “especially not getting the second lap [in Q3.] The first run was good, quite clean and you really feel the F1 cars coming alive in this place so maximising that lap was really important because of the issue on the second run and because the track was improving all the time.”
Leclerc, meanwhile, had mixed emotions. The Ferrari had looked a bit off of the pace all weekend through practice but showed a more positive hand in quali, though the Monegasque said that Red Bull are ‘on a different planet,’ right now:
“It’s been a very difficult weekend but I’m very happy about my lap, it was really on the limit but on the other hand Red Bull are on another planet so we need to keep pushing.
“We’ll be starting a bit further back but hopefully we’ll come back to the front as quickly as possible.”
As for Alonso, the thought of having a clear run at P1 at the start of the Grand Prix clearly has him counting down the seconds to lights out, especially with the Aston looking stronger in terms of race pace compared to one-lap runs:
“It’s been a very good weekend for us,” said the double world champ. “Quali was a weak point in Bahrain but the car seemed to perform very well here and we’ll see what we can do from here tomorrow.
“We are confident, the long run [in practice] was affected by traffic but the car felt very strong, the strongest part of the car is the long run pace and Sunday is usually better than Saturday [for us.]”
How qualifying panned out
Earlier on in the session, Q1 saw Yuki Tsunoda, Alex Albon, Nyck de Vries, Lando Norris and Logan Sargeant eliminated.
De Vries has had a difficult Saturday with him unable to get any running in in FP3 earlier in the day thanks to an issue with the AlphaTauri, and he spun early on in the qualifying session through no real apparent fault of his own.
Sargeant was also in a spin during Q1 as well, having seen a lap time, that would have been good enough for Q2, chalked off for dipping the left-hand side of his Williams the wrong side of the white line leading up to the pit entry – a later bang with the wall ended his session without him setting a competitive time.
And, keeping with the wall banging theme, Norris clipped the inside of T27 with the left front of his McLaren and picked up damage – he would not come back out of the pits after that.
Q2, of course, saw Verstappen’s issue strike whilst the other four cars to be eliminated midway through qualifying all had Ferrari power. The two Alfa Romeos and two Haas cars of Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu; Kevin Magnussen, and Nico Hulkenberg would go no further on Saturday.
Finally, in Q3, away from the action up at the front, Oscar Piastri impressed to make his first final qualifying section of his F1 career, at a track where he has tasted success previously in F2 to boost hopes at McLaren that their first points of the season could be achieved.
George Russell was the other driver to really standout, meanwhile, with him putting his Mercedes into P4 – P3 for the race of course with Leclerc’s penalty.
A really mixed up grid for tomorrow’s race in Jeddah, then, and that sets us up potentially for another thrilling street fight under the lights in Saudi Arabia.
Lights out is at 5pm GMT.