F1 – Saudi Arabian GP – Qualifying
Ahlan, MiniFans! After all that happened on Friday, it was decided that the race weekend would go ahead as planned, so here we are now, ready for the second qualifying session of the year. The story seems as if it’s the same as last week’s, with Ferrari and Red Bull comfortably sitting at the front but, as we know, nothing can be written as fact until the chequered flag is waved.
As usual, Haas was the first tea to put their cars on track in Q1, but they were soon followed by a good part of the grid. Getting tyres up to temperature seemed to be a problem for a few cars, as the track was at a mere 25ºC, so many needed one extra lap to warm them up. Despite this, Mercedes chose to use medium tyres, and Hamilton was seen struggling to keep his car within the racing line.
The first red flag came courtesy of Latifi, who lost the rear of his car and crashed into the protections not even halfway through the session. A few drivers saw their first timed laps halted due to this, while others hadn’t even left the boxes at this point. Before any of the favourites for pole squeezed a fast lap in, Haas was comfortably settled in first and second. When the session was restarted, Mercedes relented and used soft tyres, and Tsunoda was asked to return to the pits due to problems with the car.
The favourites soon started to poke their heads out, with Sainz coming out on top after the first run and clinching, but eyes soon turned to Hamilton, who was incredibly close to the danger zone, more than six tenths of a second slower than his teammate. He would eventually end up in the elimination zone, not being able to improve his lap time to get out and save himself, while Russell was in fourth place. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Hamilton (P16), Albon (P17), Hulkenberg (P18), Latifi (P19) and Tsunoda (P20, no lap time).
In a Q2 without Hamilton, Russell managed to climb up to the front of the midfield, once again with medium tyres on, but Ferrari and Red Bull still monopolised the top spots. With five minutes to go, the second red flag of qualifying came out after a hard crash. Schumacher lost control of his Haas and had a high speed impact, which stopped the session immediately. The driver was evacuated in an ambulance, but he was conscious and talking to the medics, something that calmed people down after seeing the car breaking in two when it was being taken away from the track.
The cleaning crew needed a long time to clean up all the debris and fluids that the Haas had left on the track, but racing did eventually resume, over an hour later, once it had bene made public that Schumacher would be taken to hospital for a further check up. The five remaining minutes saw the McLarens struggling and not being as lucky as Russell, who barely managed to make it through. Schumacher’s teammate, Magnussen, did make it through, as did both Alpines. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Norris (P11), Ricciardo (P12), Zhou (P13), Schumacher (P14) and Stroll (P15).
Before Q3 started, it seemed as if the pole position was Sainz’s to lose. Having learnt their lesson about red flags, teams didn’t want to miss a single second. The Spanish Ferrari driver was the first to get provisional pole, right in front of his teammate, once all the top dogs had put in their first lap. It was the second stint that caught all eyes, though, as fresh soft tyres were fitted on the cars for one last chance at coming on top. Against all odds, it was Pérez who stole pole position away from Ferrari, while Verstappen couldn’t make it past fourth and Leclerc overtook Sainz for a front row position.
The first great qualifying surprise of the day came by at the end of Q1, with the elimination of Hamilton, but it soon became unimportant. Schumacher’s crash silenced the paddock for almost an hour, the time it took to clean up, and worry ran amok in the circuit until it was confirmed that he was okay despite the heavy impact. No one expected the poleman to be Sergio Pérez, but the Mexican pulled a magnificent lap out of his car, upsetting Ferrari. All that’s left to see is whether he will be able to fend off the Ferrari cars tomorrow and transform his first ever pole position into a win.