Saudi Arabian GP Qualifying: Two from two for Verstappen

Max Verstappen took pole position for the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP, his second in a row this year and his 34th overall.

That means Verstappen broke free from Jim Clark and Alain Prost who have 33 poles to their names and now is on his way chasing the tally of former Red Bull driver, four time Formula 1 Champion Sebastian Vettel who has 57 poles. A bit of a way to go for the Dutchman, but nothing to stop him.

Behind Verstappen, Leclerc managed to go second fastest, recovering from a messy first lap in Q3, and while he managed to split the Bulls, he was nowhere near the reigning F1 Champion.

Sergio Perez was third fastest in the other Red Bull missing out by very small margin to the Ferrari and would be counting on the RB20’s imperious race pace to dispatch the #16 Ferrari.

Worth mentioning, Oliver Bearman, who replaced the ill Carlos Sainz in the last minute. The young driver delivered a solid performance and while he didn’t make it into Q3, his effort was nonetheless impressive.

Verstappen: First Q3 lap felt like the failed 2021 lap

max verstappen crash accident shunt qualifying jeddah saudi arabian grand prix

Speaking in parc ferme, the Red Bull ace said: “It was a very good day. We improved the car a little bit overnight and that gave me a bit more confidence to attack the high-speed corners and around here it depends a lot on your confidence level and how much you can go to the limit.

“Today I felt very comfortable in the car. Throughout qualifying, it was pretty crazy how fast you go around here,” he added. “In my first lap in Q3, I felt pretty happy with the lap. It felt almost a bit like the failed 2021 lap, except I made the last corner.”

We all remember that out-of-this-world lap Verstappen attempted back in 2021 trying to deny Lewis Hamilton pole, but it ended in tears as he binned it at the final corner.

“It was very good. I had a lot of fun and the car behaved very well,” he continued, and when asked about his expectations for the race, he said: “As we have seen in the past, there have been a lot of crazy races around here. A lot can happen.

“Normally people say ‘it’s an easy one-stop, easy to the line’. But It’s not like that around here. A lot of straight as well.

“But I’m confident with the race pace we have that the car will work really well,” Verstappen concluded.

Leclerc: We tried to do something different

Leclerc revealed that his messy first lap in Q3 was down to Ferrari trying to do something different, he explained: “The first lap in Q3 we tried something different doing a preparation lap but that didn’t work out well for us.

“Then in the second lap I put everything together and that’s what was in the car today,” he added. “So I am really happy with the lap, a shame that we are a bit further away than what we hoped in qualifying, but tomorrow is the race and I hope we have a good surprise and can challenge the Red Bulls.”

Asked to comment his Bearman’s F1 debut, Leclerc said: “First of all I hope Carlos will recover quickly. Then on Ollie’s side, he has done an incredible job. With only one session in FP3 he was straight up to speed and comfortable with the car, so it’s good.

“I’m happy for him obviously. It’s a very special day and the first race in Ferrari having only done one session I guess is even more special. I hope tomorrow we can both have a great race and score strong points for the team,” Leclerc concluded.

Perez added: “I didn’t get much of an improvement on the final lap, which is why we missed the front row. Overall, Max had a tremendous lap and that wasn’t possible for me today but being on the front row was achievable

“Anyway, we are still in the fight for tomorrow. It’s a long race and anything can really happen,” he maintained.

As for the grand prix, the Mexican added: “It will be quite interesting. I think it will be a long, fun race. I think there will be plenty of action. The cars around is are all very close, so it will be an interesting battle tomorrow.”

Q3: Verstappen untouchable

Q2 set the stage for an exciting final stage of qualifying as the top three, Verstappen, Leclerc, and Fernando Alonso were separated by under a tenth of a second.

Again the Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were the first drivers to start their timed laps with Oscar Piastri, Perez, Alonso and Verstappen following.

With the first run in, Verstappen was on provisional pole, over three tenths ahead of Perez in second and half a second faster than Alonso in third. Leclerc was fourth after a first scruffy effort that put him eight tenths down.

Leclerc radioed his team claiming the car felt weird on the new set of Soft tyres…

Russell – Piastri – Lando Norris – Lance Stroll – Hamilton – Yuki Tsunoda completed the top ten after the first runs.

With less than four minutes remaining the second round of laps began and in the end, Verstappen kept pole with a 1:27.472, 0.319s ahead of Leclerc in the Ferrari.

It is Verstappen first pole in Jeddah, and while Perez was on pole here in 2023, he had to settle for third this time, over three tenths slower than his teammate.

After showing some early promise in Q2, Alonso failed to make it onto the front row and had to settle for fourth fastest, 0.374s off the pace.

Piastri was 0.243s behind Alonso in fifth and outqualified his teammate Norris by 0.043s, the latter sixth fastest.

The McLarens were better than Mercedes, as Russell was seventh fastest, 0.184s behind Norris and 0.144s ahead of seven-time F1 Champion Hamilton who struggles to finish eighth.

Tsunoda was ninth fastest ahead of Stroll who was tenth.

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Q2: End of the road for Oliver Bearman

The remaining 15 cars did not wait long before kicking off Q2, Hamilton posting the first time of the session, Russell right behind him on the track setting his own first lap.

Meanwhile, a worrying message from Nico Hulkenberg to the Haas pit wall, claiming he has lost power, and indeed, he soon parks his car on the side of track in the run-off area of Turn 6.

Game over for the German as the team instruct him to turn off the car. Just before that, the US outfit were attempting a slipstream given by Kevin Magnussen to his teammate who broke down soon after.

The session was Red flagged with 11 minutes remaining on the clock, with both Mercedes, both McLarens and the Haas Magnussen posting lap times.

Leclerc was on a flyer, posting the fastest first sector but had to abort, with Bearman as well having to slow down. The Red flag was not a long one and soon the action resumed, all the cars lining up in the pitlane, Bearman the first out there.

With all drivers setting their first laps, the order was: Verstappen – Alonso – Leclerc – Norris – Piastri – Perez – Stroll – Russell – Tsunoda – Hamilton.

At the end of Q2, the fastest time was posted by Verstappen once again, a 1:28.033, 0.079s ahead of Leclerc with Alonso 0.010s behind the Ferrari driver in third.

The first of the eliminated drivers was Oliver Bearman, but the youngster delivered a valiant effort, but not enough to make it into Q3, missing out by 0.036s only to Hamilton.

Bearman said over the radio: “That was a messy session. Sorry about that.”

Alex Albon was 12th fastest in the Williams, 0.374s behind Bearman and 0.040s ahead of Magnussen in the Haas, the Dane 13th fastest.

Daniel Ricciardo was 14th fastest in the RB and ahead of Hulkenberg would did not manage to post a lap.

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Q1: Pain for the Alpines

Qualifying started under the floodlights of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, with track temperatures at 31 degrees centigrade while the ambient temperature at 25 degrees.

Several drivers were eager to get out and get their qualifying underway, and lined up in the pitlane waiting for the green light.

However down in the Sauber garage, the mechanics were frantically trying to get Zhou Guanyu’s car back together after his crash in FP3.

Four minutes in Q1 and all the drivers were out except for Verstappen, Perez, Ricciardo, Tsunoda, and of course Zhou.

All the cars had the Soft tyres bolted as the first run of laps was underway, but the Mercedes drivers, Hamilton and Russell went out on the Mediums.

Replay showed one of the Williams car getting in the way of Hulkenberg who wasn’t impressed, while Piastri had a bit of a wobble coming out of the final corner when on a flyer, hitting the wall but seemed to keep going without damage.

Russell was given a black and white flag for not following the race director’s instructions and driving over the white line at the pitlane entry.

Halfway into the session the Red Bulls were out on track and setting their first flying laps, Verstappen going to the top from the first attempt.

With the first runs finished the order was : Verstappen – Leclerc – Alonso – Piastri – Perez – Norris – Bearman – Magnussen – Albon – Stroll – Hulkenberg – Ricciardo – Tsunoda – Hamilton – Russell (Mercedes times set on Mediums)

Soon the Mercedes pair were back out on Softs this times and improve their times.

TV footage showed Zhou strapped in his Sauber while the mechanics went on putting the car together with less than five minutes remaining. He was out with two minutes remaining.

In the end, Verstappen led the way into Q2 with a 1:28.171 (already faster than 2023’s pole time set by Perez) and 0.079s ahead of Stroll in second with Leclerc third, 0.147s off the pace. Bearman was ninth.

The first driver to drop out of qualifying was Valtteri Bottas, missing out by 0.072s to Albon. The Finn will start the race from 16th on the grid.

A painful night for Alpine as Esteban Ocon was 17th fastest, 0.296a behind Bottas with Pierre Gasly 0.004s further behind in 18th.

Logan Sargeant was 19th fastest while Zhou who didn’t manage to set a time despite getting out on track.

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