Qualifying was a very intense affair today at Saudi Arabia with both title contenders clearly on the edge trying to beat each other. Hamilton eventually pulled the longest straw and was fastest, ahead of Bottas. Verstappen crashed out on his final lap and had to settle for third.
Qualifying was expected to be another problematic one to manage the gaps ahead of a flying lap. It already showed on the first laps with drivers going extremely slowly ahead of the final corner. One after the other the times came in but Hamilton had missed Turn 3 and was by then trying to work out where to find a gap for a second attempt on the same soft tyres.
It proved easy enough though, as that lap was good enough to go fastest, 2 tenths quicker than Verstappen. Many other drivers went for a quick-slow-quick lap strategy, resulting in several time improvements in the next few minutes. Out of that, Sainz initially emerged on top, toppled again by Verstappen after he did 2 slow laps.
Bottas returned the favour another minute later with the same strategy, edging out Verstappen by another 0.228s, setting the benchmark at 1:28.057.
As Perez moved to the top of the board, Verstappen ended up having to abort his flying lap as he got stuck in a slow queue of cars that were "waiting" to get their final attempts started. Valtteri Bottas was even worse off as he reported his engine misfiring, slowly returning to the pits and parking it at the start of the pitlane to get pushed by his crew towards the box.
Amidst the antics, both Haas ended up at the back of the pack, but more surprisingly, both Aston Martins were just ahead of them in 17th and 18th place. Latifi was also eliminated while Alonso was the slowest to make it through into Q2.
Q2 saw the mediums being the preferred tyre in preparation for the race. On this compound, the picture was a bit more straight forward with Perez eventually going fastest, seven thousandths faster than teammate Verstappen. But, after having been on top of the sheet throughout the session, the duo was beaten by Hamilton 7 seconds from the end of the session.
Valtteri Bottas was fourth fastest at one tenth of the Red Bulls with his engine issue obviously gone thanks to a quick intervention from the Mercedes mechanics in the break. Behind him were the AlphaTauri duo led by Tsunoda and Lando Norris.
Leclerc, Ocon and Giovinazzi completed the top 10 as Ricciardo and Raikkonen just dropped out. The latter in fact came together with Bottas as the Alfa driver had clearly expected his compatriot to make a bit more room while on a slow lap.
Lewis Hamilton was the first man out in the final session but as Verstappen was still watching from the pitlane, Hamilton had a scare with some sudden loss of rear grip and went wide, forcing him to go for another lap immediately after that failed effort. He rectified the situation then by going a tenth quicker than Bottas, but it was clear the World Champion was a bit more cautious in the first sector to avoid a repeat of the earlier mishap.
When Verstappen then crossed the line after his first flyer he turned out nearly 4 tenths faster than anybody else.
Hamilton then dove into the pits and was the first man out with the second set of tyres, topping Verstappen by another tenth, a massive 4 tenths better than his previous best. Bottas followed up and moved into second place.
Verstappen at that time only started his final attempt and was such on the edge that he brushed the barriers on the exit of Turn 3. The Dutchman went on to set the best first and second sector. Two further corners later though, he locked up the front left and then was too eager on the exit, bumping the right rear hard into the barrier and coming to a halt.
The event put Verstappen third on the grid, ahead of Leclerc, Perez and Gasly, but behind a Mercedes front row.
|3||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||1:28.285||1:27.953||1:27.653||19|
|5||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Honda||1:28.021||1:27.946||1:28.123||23|
|6||10||Pierre Gasly||Alphatauri Honda||1:28.401||1:28.314||1:28.125||26|
|7||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||1:28.338||1:28.344||1:28.180||21|
|8||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Honda||1:28.503||1:28.222||1:28.442||26|
|9||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||1:28.752||1:28.574||1:28.647||22|
|10||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||1:28.899||1:28.616||1:28.754||21|
|11||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Mclaren Mercedes||1:28.216||1:28.668||17|
|12||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||1:28.856||1:28.885||18|
|13||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||1:28.944||1:28.920||17|
|14||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||1:28.926||1:29.054||17|
|16||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||1:29.177||9|
|17||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Mercedes||1:29.198||10|
|18||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Mercedes||1:29.368||9|
|19||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||1:29.464||9|
|20||9||Nikita Mazepin||Haas Ferrari||1:30.473||8|