Perez takes Saudi pole after Verstappen suffers car problem
JEDDAH, March 19 — Sergio Perez claimed pole position for Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to salvage pride for Red Bull after Max Verstappen was forced out of qualifying with a driveshaft failure in Q2.
The 33-year-old Mexican clocked a best lap in one minute 28.265 seconds to beat Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who faces a 10-place grid penalty, by 0.155sec in a closely fought qualifying session.
It is Perez’s second career pole and second in Saudi Arabia, while Verstappen will start from 15th.
“Good job guys,” said Perez. “Hopefully, Max will be able to fight through in the race and we can enjoy a good result. We’ve got a good car and it’s a good circuit for me.”
As a result of Leclerc’s penalty, two-time champion Fernando Alonso will start from the front row of the grid for Aston Martin alongside Perez after winding up third fastest ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell and Carlos Sainz, who was fifth in the second Ferrari.
Lance Stroll was sixth in the second Aston Martin ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes and rookie Oscar Piastri of McLaren.
Pierre Gasly was 10th for Alpine.
“Red Bull are on a different planet,” said Leclerc, who will set off from 12th on the grid.
The floodlit session began in cooler conditions than FP3 and Williams led the way.
Nyck de Vries, who had missed the earlier session due an engine change on his Alpha Tauri car, spun almost immediately at the first corner, but recovered. His tyres, however, were gone for a flying lap.
The Red Bulls were soon setting the pace again, Verstappen heading Perez by six-tenths on his first run, before Lando Norris brushed the wall at the final corner.
As the Ferraris showed sign of improvement, Aston Martin pushed in response and after 12 minutes, Alonso spun at Turn Two, retaining control without hitting any barriers and snatched fourth place.
Logan Sargeant was another spinner, the American rookie revolving his Williams at Turn 22 as McLaren’s pit crew worked frantically to salvage Norris’s car and hopes in vain.
The blur of busy and error-strewn Q1 action ended with Norris eliminated in 19th along with Sargeant, 20th, Yuki Tsunoda and his Alpha Tauri team-mate De Vries, and Alex Albon in the second Williams.
‘Almost not accelerating’
The Q2 segment began with Alfa Romeo and Haas leading the queue ahead of the Aston Martins. Alonso immediately lit up the time screens in purple and set the pace in 1:28.757.
Verstappen, who had a sharp snap through Turns One and Two, soon reported a power problem. “It’s an engine problem,” he said, as he made slow progress. “It’s almost not accelerating.”
The Dutchman limped back to the pits and with five minutes remaining climbed out as his crew set to work. He left the garage, walked away to the weigh-room and out of qualifying as the team diagnosed a driveshaft problem.
This left Alonso on top ahead of Perez, who returned to try and restore some pride for Red Bull on a second run, clocking 1:26.635 to beat him by a tenth ahead of the two Ferraris.
The two Haas cars and both Alfa Romeos were eliminated along with Verstappen, creating the prospect of an unexpectedly open battle for pole with Alonso seeking his first pole in 11 years since the 2012 German Grand Prix.
“It happened at Turn 10,” said Verstappen. “Very annoying because we were having such a good weekend. It will be tricky now to get to the front so have to concentrate on points, but anything is possible at this track.”
With Leclerc facing a 10-place grid penalty, his rivals sensed a rare chance for pole, Alonso attacking his lap, Leclerc outpacing him and then Perez going top in 1:28.265 — half a second clear of the Ferrari.
Russell also dipped into the 1:28s to go third ahead of Alonso before the Aston Martins and Ferraris returned for their final flings. — AFP