Perez edges out Ferraris for sensational maiden pole position in Saudi Arabia qualifying
Sergio Perez claimed a first career pole with a scintillating last-gasp effort in a dramatic and heavily disrupted qualifying session in Saudi Arabia.
The Mexican snatched top spot from Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in the final seconds, with the pair split by just two-hundredths of a second at the conclusion of a wild session on the streets of Jeddah.
The session had paused for an hour during Q2 after a violent high-speed crash for Haas' Mick Schumacher, who was extricated to the medical centre – where no injuries where revealed – and later to hosptial for precautionary checks.
Nicholas Latifi had also earlier triggered red flags as he swiped the wall in Q1 – a session that saw Lewis Hamilton make a shock exit in 16th.
HIGHLIGHTS: Watch as Sergio Perez makes history in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian GP
Hamilton's team mate George Russell only just squeezed into Q3, but rallied to eventually claim sixth, fractions behind Alpine's Esteban Ocon. Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull had to settle for fourth, two-tenths down on his team mate.
Ferrari had appeared early favourites by going fastest in both Q1 and Q2, and then setting the early pace in Q3 – first via Sainz, and then Leclerc. But Perez saved his best for his final run to claim a dream first pole at his 215th attempt – the longest wait in F1 history.
FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2022
Saudi Arabia 2022
|1 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||1:28.200|
|2 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||1:28.225|
|3 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||1:28.402|
|4 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:28.461|
|5 Esteban Ocon OCO Alpine||1:29.068|
Alpine's Fernando Alonso and Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas claimed a share of the fourth row, just ahead of Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen in the lead AlphaTauri and Haas respectively.
McLaren suffered a double exit in Q2, as late gains for Gasly and Magnussen lifted both drivers out of the drop zone – and bumped Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo to a provisional 11th and 12th respectively.
Guanyu Zhou was 13th but starts 12th due to Daniel Ricciardo's three-place post-session penalty, with Schumacher's opening effort in Q2 enough for 14th, ahead of Aston Martin's Lance Stroll. Schumacher will not race, thus promoting Stroll to 13th ahead of Ricciardo. Hamilton and the drivers behind are promoted one place apiece too.
READ MORE: Schumacher ruled out of Saudi Arabian GP after qualifying crash
It was Stroll who had effectively eliminated Hamilton from Q1 – the Briton had momentarily lifted himself to 15th, only for Stroll to immediately reply and seal Hamilton's fate.
Joining him as those out of Q1 were the Williams pair of Alex Albon and Latifi, in 17th and 19th respectively. They sandwiched Aston Martin super-sub Nico Hulkenberg – while Yuki Tsunoda was effectively forced to watch from the sidelines as a suspected fuel problem left him unable to register a time.
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As it happened
Q1 – Sainz fastest as Hamilton exits early
Hamilton had his first Q1 exit since Brazil 2017, managing P16 – 12 positions and 0.6s down on team mate Russell – while Latifi lost the rear of his Williams at Turn 13 and hit the barriers but emerged unhurt.
After the red flag, Sainz settled matters with a 1m 28.855s – the first lap of the weekend in the 1m28s bracket.
Verstappen got close, coming within a tenth to split the two Ferraris, with Russell following them home in fourth, narrowly ahead of Bottas and Perez in the second Red Bull.
READ MORE: Hamilton vows to 'give it everything' after shock Q1 exit in Saudi Arabian GP qualifying
While Hamilton was briefly lifted into 15th, Aston Martin's Stroll – on fresh softs as opposed to Hamilton’s three-lap-old tyres – quickly deposed him by less than 0.1s.
Hamilton therefore exited ahead of Albon and Aston Martin sub Hulkenberg. Latifi, watching from the sidelines, was 19th, ahead of only Tsunoda, whose AlphaTauri was confined to the garage all session with a suspected fuel-related problem.
Exit: Tsunoda, Latifi, Hulkenberg, Albon, Hamilton
Q2 – Huge crash for Schumacher, Sainz shades Leclerc
Mick Schumacher suffered a scary high-speed crash mid-way through Q2, triggering a lengthy red flag period to extricate the Haas driver. He was taken to hospital for further precautionary checks, Haas later confirming that he was out of hospital and back to his hotel. He will however miss Sunday's Grand Prix.
The extrication and subsequent repairs to the barrier took around an hour, such was the size of the impact.
FACTS AND STATS: Pole at last for Perez, while Bottas keeps Q3 streak going
When the session did eventually restart, it did so with Leclerc narrowly ahead of Perez, Verstappen and Sainz – the quartet separated by just 0.15s.
That changed in the final seconds as Sainz registered a new weekend benchmark of 1m 28.686s – a tenth faster than his team mate.
Alonso was fifth for Alpine, but on the other side of the garage Ocon languished in 15th after his quick lap was derailed by traffic in the form of McLaren’s Ricciardo – an incident which was promptly investigated by the stewards.
Ocon was able to rescue himself from the drop zone when the session resumed, eventually winding up ninth – just ahead of Russell, who squeezed through to give Mercedes one representative in Q3.
Magnussen and Gasly also found late gains – to the cost chiefly of Norris and Ricciardo, stuck in 11th and 12th as McLaren suffered a double exit in Q2. Zhou was 13th for Alfa Romeo – just four tenths down on team mate Bottas, although in the hyper-competitive field, that was the difference of seven spots and progression. That left Aston Martin's Stroll 16th.
Exit: Norris, Ricciardo, Zhou, Schumacher, Stroll
Q3 – Last-gasp Perez makes history
Perez staged a late shock with a breathtaking final lap to clinch pole by just two-hundredths of a second – at his his 215th attempt. The Red Bull driver therefore became the first Mexican to put it on pole position in F1 history.
Ferrari had been the early pace-setters – first through Sainz and then Leclerc, who appeared set for a second-straight pole right up until Perez’s dramatic surge.
WATCH: Ride onboard with Perez as the Mexican clinches an unbelievable pole in Saudi Arabia
Verstappen was only two-tenths down on his team mate – but that left him fourth, ahead of Ocon and Russell, who produced a great run when the track was at its quietest to snatch sixth – and some crumb of comfort – for Mercedes. He was the only Mercedes-powered driver to reach Q3 on Saturday in Jeddah.
Alonso shaded Bottas by just four-hundredths in the fight for seventh, while behind, Gasly edged Magnussen for ninth – the Haas driver making it a second consecutive Q3 appearance.
"Well, it took me a couple of races but what a lap," said pole-sitter Sergio Perez. "Unbelievable. I can do a thousand laps and I don’t think I can do that lap. It was unbelievable.
"We were not really expecting to match the Ferraris in qualifying. We were focusing mainly on the race, so hopefully we can get them tomorrow."
The 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is set to begin at 2000 local time. Starting from pole, can Sergio Perez take a third career victory and thrust Red Bull back into the title fight?