Lewis Hamilton grabbed a potentially crucial pole position for the 2021 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, taking top spot on the grid at the Jeddah Corniche street circuit when title rival Max Verstappen hit the wall in the final corner of a final lap that was set to be quicker than the Mercedes driver’s best. Despite his crash, Verstappen qualified in third place, behind Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
At the start of the session, In Q1, in case of red flags on the narrow, high-speed track, a host of drivers went out on track early in the session, including Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Pérez. They soon annexed the top two spots but after seeing their ‘banker’ laps quickly dismissed, it became clear that the opening session would be defined by the rapidly evolving track conditions and timing things right for a final run.
And in the end it was Pérez who chose the right moment. The Mexican ended the session in top spot with a lap of 1:28.021. Valtteri Bottas was second for Mercedes with a lap of 1:28.057, a good showing for the Finn whose team had to undertake a power unit change between final practice and qualifying due to a fuel leak.
Verstappen might have eclipsed both but after going quickest in the first sector of his final flyer and setting a personal best in Sector 2, his run to the flag was ruined as he encountered a slew of slow cars in the final corners and he was forced to settle for fifth place behind McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. Hamilton, meanwhile, eased through to Q2 in P9.
In Q2 the Red Bulls were again out early, on medium tyres, and this time it was Verstappen to the fore. The Dutch driver took P1 with his first flyer, setting a benchmark of 1:27.953. Pérez opened with a lap of 1:28.861, to sit third behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. He was then displaced as Hamilton stole P3 with a lap of 1:28.715. Pérez was already well into his second flying lap, however, and after going purple in Sector 1 he set personal best times hrough the final two sectors and jumped to P2 with a lap of 1:28.175. The duel between the Mexican and Hamilton then continued the Mercedes driver found more pace to claim P2 behind Max but again Pérez found more pace and he jumped back to P1 with a lap of 1:27.946. It looked like Pérez might hang onto P1 but Hamilton went for a final run on his medium tyres and in the final seconds he jumped to P1 with a final lap of 1:27.712.
Eliminated at the end of the middle segment were McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo in P11, followed by Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, Williams’ George Russell and Sainz who missed out on a final flyer after he spent time in the garage following a lurid spin in Turn 11 that left him with rear wing damage.
In Q3 Hamilton had laid down the gauntlet with his second run of the final session, posting a blistering lap of 1:27.511. But just before the chequered flag came out Verstappen crossed the line to start his final flying lap and the Dutchman quickly got his head down and his elbows out as he powered to a purple first sector. The gains continued in the middle part of the track as he went purple again, and pole position looked guaranteed as he went two tenths clear of Hamilton at that point.
But in the final corner Verstappen made a small mistake and locked his front-left tyre. He slid wide and slapped the wall with rear right of his RB16B and then with the front. The lap was gone and Max was forced to settle for third place on the grid behind pole-sitter Hamilton and second-placed Bottas.
Leclerc claimed a valuable fourth place for Ferrari, while Pérez claimed fifth spot for tomorrow’s start after failing to match his medium-tyre pace after switching to the soft compound for Q3. Behind Pérez, Pierre Gasly qualified in sixth place for AlphaTauri, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and the second AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda. Esteban Ocon was ninth for Alpine and Antonio Giovinazzi will line up tenth for Alfa Romeo.
2021 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:27.511 7 253.984
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:27.622 0.111 0.127 9 253.662
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 1:27.653 0.142 0.162 5 253.572
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:28.054 0.543 0.620 7 252.417
5 Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda 1:28.123 0.612 0.699 5 252.220
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 1:28.125 0.614 0.702 7 252.214
7 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 1:28.180 0.669 0.764 5 252.057
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda 1:28.442 0.931 1.064 7 251.310
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 1:28.647 1.136 1.298 5 250.729
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:28.754 1.243 1.420 5 250.427
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 1:28.668 0.956 1.090 8 250.669
12 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:28.885 1.173 1.337 8 250.057
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 1:28.920 1.208 1.377 7 249.959
14 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 1:29.054 1.342 1.530 7 249.583
15 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:53.652 25.940 29.574 7 195.565
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 1:29.177 1.156 1.313 9 249.239
17 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:29.198 1.177 1.337 10 249.180
18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:29.368 1.347 1.530 9 248.706
19 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 1:29.464 1.443 1.639 9 248.439
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas/Ferrari 1:30.473 2.452 2.786 8 245.668
Source : Fia