Saudi Arabia Qualifying: Red Bull takes pole with Perez as Verstappen suffers technical issue
Just when you thought Max Verstappen could go through all of 2023 undefeated, a spanner is thrown in the works.
The reigning two-time World Champion suffered a driveshaft issue in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this morning and will instead start in 15th place on the grid.
But despite that setback for the Dutchman, his teammate Sergio Perez was able to capitalise by taking pole position for the race, keeping Red Bull’s 2023 perfect start intact and also giving the Mexican driver his second career pole at the same race he took his debut pole a year ago.
Qualifying was looking ominous for the Austrian team after both cars once again set the pace in the days earlier final practice session, but having Verstappen start that far back on the grid, as well as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc – who will start 12 after a 10-place grid penalty – will be sure to spice things up at Jeddah.
Leclerc looked good to take pole with Ferrari showing strong qualifying pace, but fell just short of Perez’s 1.28.265 by 0.155s and will instead start 3 places ahead of his main Championship contender, something which had you told him and Ferrari fans a week ago, would’ve been good news no doubt.
Starting on the front row for the race instead will be Fernando Alonso, who once again showed the pace of the Aston Martin.
(Photo by Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Alonso has been in the top 3 times all weekend and was bullish about his chances ahead of the race, claiming a first win in over 10 years is possible for him tomorrow. If he was to achieve that feat, it would be the longest drought between F1 wins for a driver in the history of the sport, with the Spaniard’s last win coming at home at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix. For reference, that was 3598 days ago.
His teammate Lance Stroll, still recovering from his broken wrists suffered in a bike accident preseason, also impressed by qualifying 6th but will start 5th after Leclerc’s penalty. He was set for an even faster time having set the fastest overall first sector on his fast lap, before falling back slightly to finish 0.680s behind Perez.
George Russell had a strong qualifying, setting the 4th fastest time and will line up in 3rd on the grid. His teammate Lewis Hamilton will start 7th.
Ferrari will have at least one car in the top with Carlos Sainz Jr setting the 5th fastest time and will start in 4th place. Sainz Jr was half a second off the pace of his teammate, however, and will be hoping to find some pace on race day.
Aussie Oscar Piastri had a fantastic qualifying session, bringing McLaren their first Q3 appearance for the season and will start 8th on the grid in only his second Grand Prix. Even more impressive for him was the fact he was only two hundredths of a second shy of out-qualifying Hamilton’s Mercedes, giving the Melbourne driver a massive boost of confidence after his challenging first weekend in Bahrain.
His McLaren teammate Lando Norris suffered damage in Q1 after hitting the wall and will start in 19th.
Elsewhere in the top 10, both Alpine’s made it through, with Esteban Ocon starting 6th on the grid tomorrow and Pierre Gasly starting 9th. Nico Hulkenberg will be the other beneficiary of Leclerc’s grid penalty and will move from 11th into 10th as a result.
All eyes will be on the back of the grid tomorrow to see how Verstappen and Leclerc can fight their way through the field as the fight for the third-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix takes place at 4am AEDT.
1 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:28.265
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari + 0.155
3 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin + 0.465
4 George Russell Mercedes + 0.592
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari + 0.666
6 Lance Stroll Aston Martin + 0.680
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine + 0.813
8 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes + 0.958
9 Oscar Piastri McLaren + 0.978
10 Pierre Gasly Alpine + 1.092
11 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:29.451
12 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo Racing + 0.010
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas + 0.066
14 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Racing + 0.217
15 Max Verstappen Red Bull + 20.502
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:29.939
17 Alex Albon Williams + 0.055
18 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri + 0.305
19 Lando Norris McLaren + 0.508
20 Logan Sargeant Williams + 38.571
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here