Sergio Perez claimed pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix during an action-packed qualifying session at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit after team mate and championship leader Max Verstappen dropped out in Q2 due to technical problems.
Verstappen was the firm favourite for pole position after leading the way in FP1, FP2, FP3 and the opening Q1 phase of qualifying, but a driveshaft issue that struck in Q2 means he will start Sunday’s race from 15th on the grid.
Perez picked up the pieces in Verstappen’s absence, posting a 1:28.265 in the decisive Q3 phase to claim a second successive pole in the Kingdom, 0.155s ahead of Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc, who will lose 10 places due to an engine penalty.
Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin therefore jump up to the front row as their strong start to the season continues, followed by the lead Mercedes of George Russell, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and team mate Lance Stroll.
A much stronger qualifying performance from Alpine saw them place seventh and 10th with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly respectively, with Lewis Hamilton taking eighth in his Mercedes, and rookie Oscar Piastri impressing en route to P9 in his McLaren.
Haas and Alfa Romeo were unable to make it over the second qualifying hurdle, with Nico Hulkenberg ending up 11th from Zhou Guanyu, Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas, as Verstappen completed the list of drivers to drop out in Q2 amid his costly issues.
AlphaTauri lost both of their cars in Q1, with Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries taking P16 and P18 respectively – the latter ruing a mistake at the final corner of his final lap after missing FP3 due to a power unit change.
Alex Albon was the lead Williams in 17th, splitting up the two AlphaTauris, while Lando Norris was the biggest name to drop out in Q1 after hitting the Turn 27 wall and picking up steering damage that could not be fixed.
It was a messy second F1 qualifying session for Logan Sargeant, who lost his first lap for exceeding track limits, spun out during his second effort and finally encountered a technical problem on his final attempt – leaving him at the back of the grid without a time.
As the action got going in Q1, there was some early drama when De Vries’s car snapped away from him under braking for Turn 1 on his opening lap, ruining a set of soft tyres and adding to the Dutchman’s woes after his lost practice running.
It was a much smoother start for fellow countryman Verstappen, who immediately stated his intentions by clocking a rapid 1:28.761s during his first run, putting him in P1 by exactly half a second over the sister Red Bull of Perez.
After De Vries’s wild spin, there were similar problems for Norris, who clipped the wall at the final corner and reported steering damage, and Alonso, who lit up the rears exiting the first chicane and did a 360 – forcing him to back out and go again.
Moments later, Sargeant had the biggest moment of Q1 when he spun at the high-speed Turn 22/23 and stopped perilously close to the barriers, leaving him in a rush to post a lap time after also losing his first effort due to track limits.
As the second phase of runs played out amid sporadic yellow flags, Red Bull maintained their one-two position, ahead of the Aston Martins, Ferraris, Hulkenberg’s Haas and the two Mercedes drivers, who were split by Zhou’s Alfa Romeo.
McLaren experienced mixed fortunes in Q1 as rookie Piastri placed 11th and made it through to Q2, placing ahead of Ocon, Magnussen, Gasly and Bottas, but team mate Norris fell at the first hurdle due to his aforementioned incident.
As expected from their Friday practice form, AlphaTauri lost both cars in the initial phase, Tsunoda placing 16th and De Vries dropping out in 18th after a messy end to his final lap, with the Williams of Albon slotting between them.
Norris wound up 19th amid his Q1 drama, with Sargeant bringing up the rear – the only driver without a time – after his deleted lap and spin were followed by an abandoned final attempt when the American reported that “something’s broken”.
Knocked out: Tsunoda, Albon, De Vries, Norris, Sargeant
When the green light switched back on at the end of the pit lane for the start of Q2, it was Alonso who made the first move and stormed to the top of the timesheets with a 1m 28.757s – marginally quicker than the time posted by Q1 pace-setter Verstappen.
Then, just as Verstappen was winding up for his first run, disaster struck for the reigning world champion who – shortly after surviving a “big moment” through the first sector – reported an engine problem over the radio.
Verstappen limped back to the pits in a bid to rescue the situation, but with only half a dozen minutes on the clock, there was little his mechanics can do – meaning he hopped out of the cockpit, and out of Q2, down in 15th position.
Amid a flurry of late runs, Perez took over at the top with a 1m 28.635s, moving just over a tenth clear of Alonso, followed by the Ferraris, the other Aston Martin of Stroll and Mercedes pair Russell and Hamilton, separated by Ocon’s Alpine.
Piastri and Gasly were the other two drivers to progress to Q3, meaning the two Alfa Romeos (of Zhou and Bottas) and two Haas machines (of Hulkenberg and Magnussen) joined the frustrated Verstappen as Q2 eliminees.
Knocked out: Hulkenberg, Zhou, Magnussen, Bottas, Verstappen
When the pole position shootout began, without expected favourite Verstappen, the opening phase of runs were topped by Perez, who clocked a 1:28.265s aboard his RB19 – half a second clear of Leclerc’s Ferrari, Russell’s Mercedes and Alonso’s Aston Martin.
There was a close call as the various run plans converged, with Sainz encountering Russell at the pit exit and losing some momentum, but the pair managed to avoid contact and the 10 drivers involved in Q3 were all able to make it to the chequered flag.
Leclerc was one of the big improvers on his second run to pip Alonso to P2, albeit with the side note that he will drop 10 grid places due to his pre-weekend engine change – but nobody could challenge Perez, meaning he was able to abandon his final lap.
Alonso placed third with another strong outing in his Aston Martin but will be the first beneficiary of Leclerc’s drop from P2 to P12, joining Perez on the front row and setting up a tantalising run down to Turn 1 on Sunday.
Russell was next up in fourth, ahead of Sainz, Stroll, Ocon and team mate Hamilton, with Piastri and Gasly rounding out the top 10 positions – all of them gaining a spot on the grid when Leclerc’s penalty kicks in.
The 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will begin at 20:00 local time (17:00 GMT) tomorrow. Verstappen leads the championship after his victory at the Bahrain season opener, but will he leave Jeddah with that advantage intact?