Mexican Sergio Perez roared to a first career Formula One pole position on Saturday. The Red Bull driver left his best for last as he lapped the 6.1-km long Jeddah Corniche circuit on the banks of the Red Sea in one minute 28.200 seconds.
The lap, 0.025 seconds quicker than second-placed Charles Leclerc, was just enough to stop the Monegasque and team mate Carlos Sainz, who scored a Ferrari one-two in last week’s Bahrain season-opener, from sweeping to a front-row lockout for the resurgent Italian team, Reuters reported.
“What a lap, unbelievable!” said Perez, who had to wait 215 races for his first pole. “I can do a thousand laps and I don’t think I can beat that lap.”
Perez’s success came on the 11th anniversary of his first-ever Formula One qualifying session at Australia’s Albert Park circuit on March 26 2011.
The 32-year-old will be hoping to convert that into a third career win on Sunday after he and world champion team mate Max Verstappen both failed to make it to the finish in the Bahrain season-opener.
Perez’s lap stunned championship leader Leclerc, who was fastest in all practice sessions and on provisional pole until his Red Bull rival’s blinder.
“I more or less put everything together, a few bits here or there, but I didn’t expect Checo to come in with that lap,” Leclerc said.
Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton made a shock early exit after failing to get past qualifying’s opening knockout phase. The Briton, the winner in Saudi Arabia last year, will line up 16th in his Mercedes, 10 places behind new team mate George Russell.
Verstappen, dominant in qualifying in Jeddah last year until crashing at the final corner, was only fourth after struggling with a lack of grip.
“I couldn’t feel comfortable to really put the power down, throw the car into the corners,” he said. “When you don’t have that around a street circuit it’s not going to happen for you.”
Saturday’s session, around the challenging Jeddah layout made up mainly of high-speed blind sweeps and flat-out straights, was halted by two red flags.
Mick Schumacher crashed heavily during the second phase of qualifying, bringing the session to a halt for nearly an hour.
The German Haas driver, who did not appear to have any injuries following an initial assessment at the track and was able to speak to his mother, was taken to an armed forces hospital in Jeddah for precautionary checks, the governing FIA said.
Haas later confirmed he would not take part in Sunday’s race.
Esteban Ocon took a strong fifth for Alpine, ahead of Russell and team mate Fernando Alonso. Valtteri Bottas was eighth for Alfa Romeo, ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly in ninth.
Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10 for Haas.