Sergio Perez saved the day for Red Bull by claiming pole position for Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Formula One Grand Prix, with world champion Max Verstappen starting from 15th after meeting disaster in qualifying.
Verstappen had won the season-opener in Bahrain and dominated all three practice sessions in Jeddah but he then encountered what the team identified as a driveshaft mechanical error midway through Q2 on Saturday.
That ended his session and he now faces an uphill battle to the top in what promises to be an intriguing race on Sunday.
“I think so far we had a really good weekend, every session was going really well. Every time we were on the track the car was working really well,” Verstappen said.
“Now it will be a bit more tricky to get to the front but it’s all about scoring points. It’s a very long season. Of course I would have liked to have started further up the road but I can’t change that now.
“Anything is possible at this track. We have seen a lot of crazy things. 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.”
Perez seized the momentum by clocking 1 minute 28.265 seconds on the 6.174-kilometres Jeddah Corniche Course for his second career pole, with his first coming on the same circuit last year.
He was just over one-tenth ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who however loses 10 places on the grid owing to power unit component changes beyond the legal limit and will start three places ahead of Verstappen in 12th.
As a result, ex-champion Fernando Alonso joins Perez on the front row after qualifying third, just short of a first pole in more than a decade.
“It was tricky, it was tricky that Q3, especially not getting that second lap,” Perez said, adding “you really feel the Formula One cars coming alive in this place.”
“It’s a shame because Max has been really strong the whole weekend, so hopefully tomorrow we can have both cars up there.
“You never know with these cars and reliability issues can hit you at any time.”
Alonso said: “Qualifying was our weak spot in Bahrain but we performed very well [here] so let’s see what we can do. It is amazing. We are confident, we feel very strong. The strongest part is the long-run pace so it should be better on Sunday.”
Leclerc said that Red Bull are “on another planet” but that “the race pace looked quite good but it is very difficult to compare.
“We will see but it is not going to be easy because I think everyone is going to be very close on race pace.”
George Russell of Mercedes and Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari will start from the second row while seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton starts from seventh in the other Mercedes.
“Our car doesn’t have the performance we want but George got everything out of the car,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Sky TV.