Sergio Perez repeated his success of last year by claiming pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at Jeddah Corniche Circuit, thanks to a final round lap of 1:28.265s in qualifying.
“It was tricky that Q3, especially not getting that second lap,” he commented afterwards. “You really feel the F1 cars coming alive in this place, and just maximising that lap was very important.”
But the success came at a high price, after his Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen suffered a driveshaft mechanical failure at the start of Q2.
It meant Verstappen was unable to set a lap time in the second round when the engineers couldn’t effect repairs in time to get him back out on track, dropping him a long way down the grid for tomorrow’s start.
Perez was able to carry on and duly clinched pole, but Verstappen’s sudden exit from the session understandably left him concerned for his own prospects in Sunday’s race after he too suffered from technical gremlins.
“Hopefully tomorrow we can both cars up there,” he said when interviewed in parc ferme after the end of qualifying. “You never know with these cars: reliability issues can hit you at any time.
“It is a shame as Max has been really strong the whole weekend,” he added, reflecting on the fact that Verstappen had swept the board in all three practice sessions heading into qualifying.
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That superiority had continued in Q1 when Verstappen was 0.483s quicker than Perez, who was in turn quicker than Aston Martin pair Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll and set up what looked like a certain Red Bull 1-2 for tomorrow.
But Verstappen’s sudden mechanical failure left him limping back to pit lane, while it fell to Perez to fly the team’s banner and take the top spot in his place despite having problems of his own.
“Maximising that lap was very important, because [we had an] issue on the the final run,” he revealed. “It was really important, as the track was improving [all the time].”
He did indeed manage to hold on to the top spot, only a fraction off the time he set in 2022 to claim last year’s pole position.
Verstappen will have to start the race from 15th on the grid at best, but is confident that he will be able to overcome the setback. “Now it’s a little bit more tricky to get to the front,” he said when interviewed by Sky Sports F1.
Meanwhile Perez will find himself alone without support on pole as he seeks to ward off Alonso who will take the shotgun spot, but will be boosted by Charles Leclerc not being an immediate threat when the lights go out.
The Ferrari was second quickest on Saturday, but will drop ten places on the grid because of taking a replacement electronics control unit before the weekend.
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