JEDDAH: Sergio Perez secured his first pole position in Formula One in Jeddah on Saturday for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The result was in stark contrast to the Mexican driver and his teammate Max Verstappen’s tough race in Bahrain last weekend, which saw both Red Bull drivers out of the race.
His pole position put him and Red Bull in a great place for the race on Sunday, while Mercedes struggled to make an impact with Lewis Hamilton eliminated and co-driver George Russell, who replaced Valtteri Bottas this season, in sixth place.
After setting himself up for a hot last lap in the third qualifying session, Perez found himself fastest through the sectors and closing the gap between himself and Charles Leclerc after it looked like the 24-year-old Monegasque driver was going to secure himself a back-to-back pole.
“We’ve been focusing more on race-pace,” Perez told reporters after the session. “I expect Ferrari are going to be strong but I hope we will have a stronger race tomorrow.”
The Red Bull driver posted a time of 1 minute and 28.200 seconds on soft tires around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. Carlos Sainz was in third after his co-driver Leclerc, followed by reigning world champion Verstappen.
For the first time since 2017, seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of a first qualifying session after an early elimination. The Briton told reporters that he was not happy with the balance of his car and struggled for rear grip, adding that Mercedes went with the “wrong set-up.”
Esteban Ocon battled his way up to fifth on the grid, withRussell in sixth, followed by Fernando Alonso, Valteri Bottas in the Alfa Romeo, Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen.
The qualifying sessions were marred by two major red flag incidents.
Williams’ Nicholas Latifi crashed in Q1 causing an early stoppage, and then, with under five minutes to go in Q2 Haas driver Mick Schumacher rammed into the wall on Turn 10 and into 11 and 12, wrecking his car and being taken to the hospital.
Thankfully, the young German was not left with any injuries as reports came in during the third qualifyingsession that he was conscious and communicating.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit staged the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last December as the penultimate race of the 2021 season.
Leclerc who is currently leading the championship with 26 points secured his tenth pole position in Bahrain last weekend — the race which saw him lead his teammate Carlos Sainz home in a 1-2 podium win for Ferrari — the team’s first win since 2019.