Sergio Perez secured pole position at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix for the second consecutive season as his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen crashed out in Q2 in Jeddah with a driveshaft problem.
The story of the two Red Bulls is the star attraction, but who were the other qualifier winners and losers?
Let’s take an in-depth look at the terrain…
With pole in Jeddah last year laying the foundation for victories in Monaco and Singapore, Perez’s ability on the street circuits has been well documented – but even he would admit he was by far Red Bull’s second-best driver. here this weekend.
At three-tenths off, he came closest to Verstappen in three practice sessions, but it was his car that held on in qualifying.
Verstappen’s demise gave Checo the edge in the inter-team battle but also brought its own pressure, with Perez – vulnerable to Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin at times in training – suddenly carrying all the hopes and expectations of Red Bull for the rest of the session.
It was a challenge he rose to, eventually taking pole by 0.155 seconds.
Going into this weekend knowing he would be serving a 10-place grid penalty after already exceeding his pool of control electronics for the year after one race, the lap that put him P2 in qualifying was a act of defiance – almost against the world – by Charles Leclerc.
His single-lap aptitude has become increasingly evident in recent seasons and even in a year where Verstappen broke the record for most Grand Prix wins in a single season in 2022, he has it. still finished with fewer poles than Leclerc.
But a driver’s natural pace is often more apparent in an underperforming car and during Ferrari’s time in the competitive desert in 2020/21 Leclerc would make a habit of blasting a lap out of nowhere in Q3 to put the car in positions it did not do. deserve to be.
With Ferrari showing very little pace throughout testing, another burst of red occurred around 9 p.m. Saturday night in the Jeddah area.
To put this Ferrari within two-tenths off pole and outstrip team-mate Carlos Sainz by half a second with one of the first lap contenders of the season bordered on the obscene.
The pattern at Mercedes last season was that George Russell often had the advantage when the car was most in the way, with Lewis Hamilton’s threat increasing as the W13 got progressively faster.
Could it be the same in 2023?
Russell made the most of what looks like a tricky W14 in Jeddah, moving him up to fourth on the Q3 timesheet and going four-tenths faster than Hamilton in the process.
Lewis wasn’t happy with the car, but at least the P8 looked like an improvement on last year when he crashed out in Q1 for the first time since 2009.
While Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon both had a topsy-turvy weekend in Bahrain, Alpine’s place in the 2023 competition order was inconclusive after the first race.
Their performance so far in Jeddah, on a circuit with very different demands, has been much more encouraging.
Saudi specialist Ocon – fourth in the inaugural race in 2021 before finishing sixth last year – will start P6 after Leclerc’s penalty kicks in after beating Hamilton’s Mercedes and lapping just a tenth slower than Sainz and Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin.
Gasly, three tenths behind but still adjusting to a new car on the circuit requiring more commitment than any other, will move up to ninth place, with a Q3 appearance for both cars confirming Alpine’s improvement .
While his team-mate stumbled in Q1, Oscar Piastri was the cool and calm rookie we were promised he would reach in Q3 for the first time in his career.
Despite the feeling of doom currently surrounding McLaren, the Papaya cars didn’t look so bad as they finished seventh and eighth in final practice.
However, with Lando Norris (more on him later) unable to capitalize, Piastri was the only one to make it into the top 10.
Beating Gasly and being within two hundredths of Hamilton’s Mercedes was an added bonus.
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Well, on the bright side, at least that will make things more interesting.
After nearly a year of dominating performances, this one looked at risk of being the most imposing of all for Verstappen, comfortably and inevitably the quickest of the three Jeddah training sessions.
Frankly, it was assumed that the kind of mid-term mechanical problem his car had developed in Q2 – later confirmed as a driveshaft failure and which had prevented him from making a competitive lap – was now a thing of the past. for Red Bull and engine suppliers. Honda.
Verstappen will start no higher than 15th with his chances of victory, at least in theory, drastically reduced – but memories of his wins from low starting points in Hungary and Belgium last year remain fresh.
With an unpredictable race of safety cars, stops and restarts to come, only a fool could ignore it.
Was this the first small hint of McLaren’s current malaise seeping into Norris’ driving?
On a circuit demanding absolute precision at all times, the mistake he made on the final corner of the Jeddah lap – pushing the inside wall with his front left – was so easy to make but a rarity given his constant level of excellence in recent years.
The damage left him unable to return to the track, condemning him to a Q1 elimination.
A simple error of judgement? Or, with McLaren effectively canceling the first phase of this season, was this a case of a driver taking a risk and getting caught in an attempt to summon the spirit of Leclerc and work some magic? in a midfield car?
Nyck de Vries
As the only driver with no previous experience of the Jeddah circuit, any lost track time was going to prove extremely costly for Nyck de Vries this weekend.
This came in the form of a full power unit change in the final practice session on Saturday, with De Vries not even coming out of the garage to deepen his knowledge and understanding of the track.
No wonder, then, that he looked woefully ill-prepared in Q1, crashing heavily and spinning into the first corner on a hot lap.
All things considered, a lap three tenths slower than his AlphaTauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda – also missing in Q1 – wasn’t such a bad effort from De Vries but capped a day to forget for the Dutch.
Those who had serious reservations when Williams signed Logan Sargeant would have been pleasantly surprised when he delivered an accomplished F1 debut in Bahrain.
Qualifying in Jeddah, however, revealed the amount of work the team needs to do to turn their American driver into a complete F1 driver.
Having seen his first lap scrapped for crossing the pit entry line – a strict position to the point of being draconian – Sargeant was caught in the trap of trying too hard to chase his losses, turn spectacularly and run narrowly avoid the wall at turn 22, the left-right flick towards the end of the lap.
His failure to recover from his first setback saw Sargeant fail to set a representative lap as he missed the Q1 time limit by the best part of 30 seconds.
Let’s file this one under “valuable learning experience”, shall we?