F1 – Saudi Arabian GP – Qualifying

Ahlan, MiniFans! Arriving to circuits never before seen by the F1 calendar hasn’t exactly been a novelty these past two seasons but racing in a track that’s barely been finished for the race weekend is, especially when it’s just been approved by the FIA. It’s fast, very fast, but also surrounded by walls all along the circuit, with only a couple places where going wide is not penalised by bumping into a corner.

In a circuit as narrow as Jeddah, the usual sight at the beginning of every session is a queue of cars lining up in the pitlane. Q1 checked this box and it kicked off with both teams and drivers alike knowing that getting at least one lap into the timing tower was key, due to the high risk of various flags that could impede a new push. Times kept improving by a great part of the grid. Pérez, known for his tyre management, scored his fastest time on the eighth lap on his softs. Verstappen was on the same path, but a massive traffic jam in the last handful of corners cut his attempt short. Bottas, also caught in the mess, reported misfirings in his engine and it eventually shutting off in the pitlane, creating some work for his team. An eventual investigation for an impeding incident between Gasly and Saind would come after the session. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Latifi (P16), Vettel (P17), Stroll (P18), Schumacher (P19) and Mazepin (P20).

The queue was also present at the start of Q2, but traffic seemed to be getting better with five less cars on track. Bottas had solved his engine problems and was back on the track, using the same medium tyres as everyone else, save for Russell. A double yellow came out briefly due to Sainz spinning out and saving what could have been a big crash, coming out with just a damaged rear wing. The Spaniard managed to go out again a bit tight on time, still with mediums, but would mess up his only chance at a lap by going wide in the same corner he had damaged his car in. Just one driver, Norris, decided to change to softs for an increased chance at Q3, which he got. Raikkonen and Bottas had a small collision that didn’t end in anything beyond a radio message by Bottas informing his race engineer. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Ricciardo (P11), Raikkonen (P12), Alonso (P13), Russell (P14) and Sainz (P15).

Mercedes went out almost in formation behind Leclerc, once again creating a queue in the pit lane before time started ticking off, soon being followed by the Alpha Tauris. Softs were on and it was clear that drivers were now fully squeezing their cars, as proven by the purple sectors and various out-of-track trips. It wasn’t until the last lap by Verstappen, who had gotten overtaken by less than a tenth and a half, that we finally knew who’d snatch the first pole position in Saudi Arabia. It all seemed to be in Verstappen’s favour, as his first and second sectors were fully painted purple, but the third one included a crash into the wall after very slightly blocking a tyre into the previous corner, handing the first row to Mercedes in a silver platter, and not yet knowing whether he’d have to take a penalty for a possible gearbox change.

During the weekend, we have seen both Verstappen and Hamilton topping the sheets in the three free practices scheduled. Mercedes as a team had an edge over Red Bull, as Pérez could not match Bottas and was even dropping behind other cars at times, but, individually, it wasn’t too clear. However, qualifying came along and they were, once again, at each other’s throats. It was never clear who would come out on top, until a human error decided for them and Verstappen, who had it in his hands, made the one mistake that could cost him the championship.