Sergio Perez took pole position at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix for the second consecutive season, while Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen crashed out in Q2 at Jeddah with a driveshaft problem.
The story of the two Red Bulls is the main attraction, but who were the other qualifying winners and losers?
Let’s take a look in depth across the field…
With pole at Jeddah last year laying the groundwork for victories in Monaco and Singapore, Perez’s ability on the street circuits has been well documented – but even he admits he was Red Bull’s second best driver here this weekend.
Three-tenths of a length was the closest he came to Verstappen over three practice sessions, but it was his car that held its own in qualifying.
Verstappen’s death gave Checo the upper hand in the team battle but also brought his own pressure, Perez – vulnerable to Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin at times in practice – suddenly carrying all of Red Bull’s hopes and expectations for the remainder of the session. .
It was a challenge he faced, taking pole by 0.155s.
Going into this weekend knowing he would be serving a 10-place grid penalty, having already exceeded his electronic control pool in the year following a race, the lap that put him second in qualifying was an act of defiance – almost against the grain. the world – by Charles Leclerc.
His single-lap prowess has become increasingly obvious in recent seasons and even in a year in which Verstappen broke the record for most GP wins in a single season in 2022, he 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 had a habit of blasting a lap out of nowhere in Q3 to get the car into positions that did not have. deserves to be.
With Ferrari showing very little pace during practice, another burst of red occurred around 9pm on Saturday night in the Jeddah area.
Putting Ferrari within two-tenths of pole and edging teammate Carlos Sainz by half a second with one of the season’s top contenders borders on the obscene.
The pattern at Mercedes last season was that George Russell often had the upper hand when the car was at its most problematic, with the threat of Lewis Hamilton growing as the W13 gradually became faster.
Could the same be happening in 2023?
Russell made the best of what looks to be a tricky W14 at Jeddah, moving up to fourth on the Q3 timesheets and going four tenths quicker than Hamilton in the process.
Lewis wasn’t happy with the car, but at least eighth place looked like an improvement on last year, when he crashed out of Q1 for the first time since 2009.
With Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon enjoying a topsy-turvy weekend in Bahrain, Alpine’s position in the 2023 competitive 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 sixth after Leclerc’s penalty knocked Hamilton’s Mercedes and lapped just a tenth slower than Sainz and Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin .
Gasly, three tenths adrift but still adjusting to a new car on the circuit that demands more commitment than anyone else, will move up to ninth place, a Q3 appearance for both cars confirming Alpine’s improvement.
As his teammate stumbled through Q1, Oscar Piastri was the cool, calm rookie we were promised he would make it to Q3 for the first time in his career.
Despite the sense of doom surrounding McLaren, the papaya cars didn’t look too bad as they were classified seventh and eighth in final practice.
With Lando Norris (more on him later) unable to capitalize, however, Piastri was the only one to make the top 10.
Beating Gasly and coming 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 almost a year of dominant performances, this looked in danger of being the most dominant of them all for Verstappen, comfortably and inevitably fastest in all three practice sessions at Jeddah.
Frankly, it was assumed that the kind of mid-session mechanical issue his car developed in Q2 – later confirmed to be a driveshaft failure and which left him unable to set a competitive lap – was now a thing of the past for the team. Red Bull and engine suppliers. Honda.
Verstappen will start no higher than 15th with his chances of winning, at least in theory, drastically reduced – but the memories of his bottom-place wins in Hungary and Belgium last year remain fresh.
With an unpredictable rush of safety cars, stops and restarts to come, only a fool would overlook it.
Was this the first hint of McLaren’s current malaise spreading in Norris’s direction?
On a circuit that demands absolute precision at all times, the mistake he made in the last corner of the Jeddah lap – poking the inside wall with the front left – was made with ease, but a rarity given his consistent level of excellence in last years.
The injury left him unable to return to the track, dooming him to elimination in the first quarter.
A simple lapse in judgment? Or, with McLaren effectively nullifying the first phase of this season, was it a case of a driver taking a risk and getting caught up in trying to invoke Leclerc’s spirit and work magic on a midfield car?
Nyck de Vries
As the only rider with no previous experience at the Jeddah circuit, any time lost on track would prove extremely costly for Nyck de Vries this weekend.
It came in the form of a full power unit swap during Saturday’s final practice session, with De Vries not even leaving the garage to expand his knowledge and understanding of the track.
No wonder, then, that he looked woefully unprepared in Q1, braking heavily and spinning into the first corner on a hot lap.
All things considered, a lap three tenths slower than AlphaTauri team-mate Yuki Tsunoda – also eliminated in Q1 – wasn’t such a bad effort from De Vries, but it capped off an unforgettable day for the Dutch.
Those who had serious reservations when Williams signed Logan Sargeant would have been pleasantly surprised when he made an F1 debut in Bahrain.
Qualifying in Jeddah, however, revealed just how much work the team needs to do to turn its American driver into a full-fledged F1 driver.
Having seen his first lap knocked out for crossing the pit entry line – a posture rigid to the point of being draconian – Sargeant was caught in the trap of pushing too hard to chase his losses, spinning dramatically and only avoiding the wall at Turn 22, the left-right movement at the end of the turn.
His failure to recover from his initial setback meant that Sargeant was unable to set a representative lap as he missed the Q1 cut-off time by almost 30 seconds.
Let’s file this one under ‘valuable learning experience’, shall we?