Sergio Perez claimed pole position in a dramatic Saudi Arabian GP qualifying which saw Lewis Hamilton eliminated early in 16th and two drivers heavily crash out, with Mick Schumacher airlifted to hospital after a big shunt.
Perez edged the Ferraris to seal a superb and unexpected first pole position for Red Bull in his 219th Grand Prix, with the epic Q3 shootout completing a Jeddah qualifying session full of significant moments.
Nicholas Latifi earlier crashed out in Q1 in the Williams before a major shock as Hamilton, F1’s most successful driver in a previously dominant Mercedes, was knocked out in the first segment for the first time since 2017.
There were more red flags in Q2 as Schumacher lost control of his Haas before a huge crash at Turn 12, which led to an hour delay to qualifying as the Haas car was removed and the Jeddah street track repaired.
Schumacher was airlifted to hospital but was said to be “physically fine” and was released late on Saturday night. He will, however, miss Sunday’s race.
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Ten drivers went through to Q3, and not many would have predicted Perez as the favorite.
But just as Charles Leclerc looked set to head a Ferrari one-two on the grid for Sunday’s race, Perez pumped in one of the laps of his career to beat the Monegasque by just 0.025s.
Carlos Sainz was third ahead of Max Verstappen, Perez’s Red Bull team-mate who was surprisingly off-color when it mattered most. Red Bull and Ferrari are likely to go head-to-head for the win in F1’s fastest street race.
George Russell, managing to get much more out of the Mercedes than Hamilton, qualified sixth behind the impressive Esteban Ocon in the Alpine.
Saudi Arabian GP Qualifying Results — top 10
Sergio Perez, Red BullCharles Leclerc, FerrariCarlos Sainz, FerrariMax Verstappen, Red Bull Esteban Ocon, AlpineGeorge Russell, MercedesFernando Alonso, AlpineValtteri Bottas, Alfa RomeoPierre Gasly, AlphaTauriKevin Magnussen, Haas
Hamilton’s Q1 exit and scary crashes: Qualy drama in Saudi
Saudi Arabian GP qualifying took place following crisis talks between the drivers late into Friday night after a missile attack on a nearby oil facility. It was finally decided between F1, the FIA and the grid that they would continue with the Jeddah event, with final practice and qualifying taking place as planned on Saturday.
There was drama throughout the shootout, and it all started in Q1 with Latifi’s crash at Turn 13, with the Williams the first to push the limits of the unforgiving Corniche circuit. He was taken to the medical center, but was unharmed.
That preceded one of the biggest shocks in recent qualifying memory with Hamilton eliminated in 16th.
It was not due to weather or bad luck; Hamilton was down in that position on a lack of pace alone and despite his best efforts and plenty of flying laps on the softest tires, he was subjected to a humiliating exit when Lance Stroll improved.
It was his first Q1 elimination since the 2017 Brazilian GP when he crashed, and his first with no mitigating factors since the 2009 British GP.
Hamilton sounded surprised when told of the deficit to Russell, who was fourth in that segment, and Sky F1’s Paul Di Resta said: “That’s not the Lewis Hamilton we know.
“There must be something within that car that’s not right.”
There was then another crash, this time more significant, as Schumacher slammed sideways into the barriers at Turn 12 during Q2.
Pictures did not immediately show replays — leading to fears over his well-being — although the German, son of F1 legend Michael, was said to be conscious before making his way to the medical center.
Haas stated he was “physically fine” but he was airlifted to hospital in a helicopter for further precautionary checks. He was released later but will not line up for Sunday’s race, and Haas will not call up a replacement.
Perez sets up another Red Bull vs Ferrari battle
Following an hour delay, Q2 concluded — with Lando Norris narrowly avoiding the top-10 shootout in the McLaren — before Ferrari appeared to be romping away in the battle for pole in Q3.
Verstappen, who is almost exclusively Red Bull’s lead driver on a Saturday, endured what he described as a “terrible” first lap while Leclerc and Sainz found form. But just as it looked like Ferrari were going to continue their perfect start to F1 2022, Perez pumped in purple sectors on his way to snatching pole.
“I can do a 1,000 laps and I don’t think I can beat that lap, it was unbelievable,” said the Mexican.
It’s set up for a cracking race with Red Bull and Ferrari fighting at the front and a mixed-up grid behind. Watch it all on Sky Sports F1 at 6pm, with build-up from 4.30pm.