In a qualifying session that saw Latifi and Alonso crash out, Charles Leclerc made the best of the situation and set the fastest qualifying lap in tricky conditions due to the low sun. The Red Bulls followed up next as Norris surprised with 4th for McLaren.
Qualifying saw quite a lot of drivers out early as the softest compound of Pirelli was expected to be quite useful over a number of laps and perhaps even more useable in the second or third laps. Already in Saudi Arabia it turned out that the new tyres were a bit more peaky, resulting in some drivers able to go faster on a scrubbed set.
It proved reality as Verstappen went on to go faster and faster, eventually topping the timesheet on the third lap on his set of tyres. Sergio Perez did a similar strategy and ended up shading his team mate in second.
Both Ferraris on the other hand seemed to struggle a little bit, not least due to the removal of the new DRS zone that was added for this year on the back "straight". Drivers argued the kink there would prove dangerous during the race. It turned out that Ferrari suffered a bit from this as their already obvious porpoising on Friday get emphasized due to not being able to open the rear wing in the fastest section of the track.
Behind the top 2 teams, Alonso confirmed his free practice pace by going 5th fastest, ahead of Bottas, Norris, both Mercedes and Ocon.
4 minutes from the end of Q1, the session got stopped as Nicholas Latifi had a big crash. It was not his fault though as it appeared that Lance Stroll was completely oblivious to the Williams behind him trying to make a pass. Latifi had first let Stroll past by almost driving off the track, only to get squeezed by the Aston Martin. When it appeared though that Stroll wasn't yet on a quick lap and in fact going very slowly, Latifi tried to go past again, only to see Stroll cut to the right, off the racing line, and bumping his front right into the left rear tyre of the Williams.
The session was restarted after a stoppage of around 10 minutes, leaving just 2 minutes left on the clock. This obviously resulted in a crazy dash to get a flying lap in for those at risk. Ricciardo was first to get out on track and set a lap, followed by a big queue, including Sebastian Vettel whose team only just got his car ready for a single lap at the very end of this session.
Vettel just made it over the finish line with 0.5s to spare to start his flying lap and was quick to thank his team for the effort, even though it still meant Q3 elimination, along with both Aston Martins, Magnussen and the Williams duo. To make things worse, Albon was told to stop the car, ensuring some work on his side of the Williams garage as well.
Q2 immediately saw a lot of track action with both Mercedes, Red Bulls and Ferraris soon taking to the track, happily joined by everybody else as they try to cover for any lost laps due to traffic.
Verstappen was immediately on it and went fastest. After Alonso settled into second, Perez improved on his first lap and moved on top himself, bettering Verstappen's first lap by 0.271s. At the same time, Verstappen almost clashed with Hamilton as the Mercedes driver was on a flying lap, something Verstappen was clearly unaware of.
Having driven a few slower laps, both Ferraris found some better pace on the slightly used tyres, bringing Leclerc up into second and Sainz into fourth, pushing Alonso down to 5th. By that time, with 2 minutes left on the clock, Norris had moved up into 6th, Russell 7th, Ricciardo 8th and Hamilton 9th. Gasly was 10th.
As Ocon sat eleventh he made an effort to improve in the closing seconds. The Frenchman improved to 9th before dropping to 10th again when Hamilton made another improvement. Both men were through though, leaving Gasly 11th, out along with his AlphaTauri team mate, both Alfa Romeos and Mick Schumacher. Tsunoda was on a late hot lap too but then found himself kicking up lots of gravel off track, nullifying his attempt.
As the sun started to come lower, drivers complained of getting blinded, leading Verstappen, Hamilton and Leclerc to all change to helmets with a darker visor.
In the final part of qualifying it was Verstappen who kicked off his flying lap first after passing both Ferraris on their intentionally slow out-laps. Perez then beat his teammate by 0.001s before Leclerc improved on that by another 0.159s to take provisional pole.
Meanwhile, Alonso went purple again in the second sector but then found himself in the tyre barrier at Turn 11. The Spaniard went on the radio saying he lost hydraulics before the crash, making it unable to downshift and therefore going into the corner too quickly.
The resulting red flag saw Sainz to not be able to set a time, missing the finish line crossing by just a few seconds.
At the time of the stoppage, Ricciardo sat fourth, followed by Ocon, Norris, Hamilton, Sainz, Russell and of course Alonso as the latter Alpine driver was unable to set a time.
After the stoppage, all 9 drivers were out on track again. While both Mercedes did two warm-up laps and Russell really wanted to do them a bit faster (but didn't and duly followed Hamilton), Perez improved but ended up at 0.001s.
Verstappen then improved to first by 0.085s only to be improved upon again by Leclerc as the Ferrari driver took pole by nearly 3 tenths of a second. Carlos Sainz on the other hand failed to improve and ended up only 9th, a massive 1.5s apart from his teammate.
|2||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Rbpt||1:18.580||1:18.611||1:18.154||21|
|3||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Rbpt||1:18.834||1:18.340||1:18.240||21|
|4||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||1:19.280||1:19.066||1:18.703||20|
|7||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Mclaren Mercedes||1:19.665||1:19.130||1:19.032||22|
|8||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||1:19.605||1:19.136||1:19.061||23|
|10||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||1:19.192||1:18.815||DNF||15|
|11||10||Pierre Gasly||Alphatauri Rbpt||1:19.580||1:19.226||19|
|12||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||1:19.251||1:19.410||13|
|13||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Rbpt||1:19.742||1:19.424||17|
|14||24||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||1:19.910||1:20.155||16|
|15||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||1:20.104||1:20.465||19|
|16||23||Alexander Albon||Williams Mercedes||1:20.135||11|
|17||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||1:20.254||11|
|18||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||1:21.149||3|
|19||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||1:21.372||8|
|NC||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||DNF||2|