JEDDAH: Sergio Perez stepped up for Red Bull to ensure the team started from the pole at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after a mechanical issue sidelined two-time defending world champion Max Verstappen.
Verstappen was fastest in all three practice sessions at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit but his qualifying effort was cut short Saturday when he radioed “I have a problem. Engine, engine problem,” during the second session. The Dutchman drove to the pits, where a driveshaft issue was discovered, and Verstappen’s qualifying effort was over.
It left Perez as the lone Red Bull representative in the final round of qualifying and he went on to win pole for the second consecutive year — the only two poles of his career.
Verstappen will start 15th.
Charles Leclerc qualified second for Ferrari but will drop 10 positions at the start of Sunday’s race because of a grid penalty for exceeding the allotted electronics control unit on the car’s engine in the season-opening race.
The penalty to Leclerc pushes Fernando Alonso to the front row for the start after the Spaniard qualified third in his new Aston Martin ride. Alonso finished third in his season-opening debut race with Aston in Bahrain.
George Russell qualified fourth for Mercedes — four spots ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time champion qualified eighth.
Carlos Sainz Jr. was fifth for Ferrari followed by Lance Stroll of Aston Martin. Esteban Ocon was seventh.
Oscar Piastri was ninth for McLaren and Pierre Gasly 10th for Alpine.
Logan Sargeant, the American rookie driving for Williams, was briefly atop the speed chart in the first qualifying group until his time was deleted for violating track limits. Sargeant’s tire had briefly touched an area of track considered off limits and the FIA quickly deleted his lap.
Sargeant later spun in the qualifying group in his desperate push to not qualify last. Had his earlier lap not been deleted, Sargeant would have advanced into the second round of qualifying.
Nyck de Vries missed Saturday morning practice with an engine problem then spun almost immediately at the start of qualifying, and Lando Norris of McLaren smacked the wall in the first qualifying group and had to go to the pits for repairs. It prevented him from advancing as his rookie teammate Piastri moved on to the third round for the first time in his career.
The Jeddah circuit is the second-longest track on the F1 circuit at 6.174 kilometers (3.836 miles) and was built alongside the Red Sea. It debuted as the penultimate race on the 2021 calendar and is considered the “fastest street track” on the schedule with average speeds exceeding 250 kmh (160 mph).