Perez on pole in Saudi Arabia as Verstappen hits trouble
Fernando Alonso will join the Mexican on the front row for Sunday's race in Jeddah
Jeddah (Reuters) - Red Bull's Sergio Perez took pole position in Saudi Arabia for the second year in a row on Saturday after Formula One champion team mate Max Verstappen suffered a driveshaft failure and qualified only 15th.
Aston Martin's 41-year-old double world champion Fernando Alonso, who had hoped for his first pole since Germany 2012 with Ferrari, will join the Mexican on the front row for Sunday's race in Jeddah.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc qualified second fastest but has a 10-place grid penalty that will drop the Monegasque to 12th place. Perez's best time of one minute 28.265 seconds around the floodlit Corniche street circuit was more than a tenth quicker than Leclerc's effort.
"You really feel the Formula One cars coming alive in this place and maximising that lap was very important," said Perez of what was also his second career pole.
"It's a shame," he added of championship leader Verstappen's early departure. "Max has been really strong the whole weekend so hopefully tomorrow we can have both cars up there."
Verstappen's early exit provided the big shock of the session. Last year's winner in Jeddah had dominated all three practice sessions and he was fastest in the first phase of qualifying with pole looking a formality before it all went wrong.
"I have a problem," he told the team over the radio after exiting turn 10. "It's almost not accelerating," added the Dutch driver as he nursed the car back to the pits and was pushed back into the garage before stepping out with just over six minutes of the second session remaining.
"Every session was going really well, every time we were on the track the car was working really well. It will be a bit more tricky to get to the front but it's all about scoring points," said Verstappen, who led Perez in a season-opening one-two in Bahrain.
"Of course I would have liked to start a bit further up the road but we cannot change that now. Anything is possible at this track... it's going to be tough but we have good pace so for sure we'll move forward."
Alonso will be the first Aston Martin driver to start a grand prix on the front row since Britain's Roy Salvadori at Silverstone in 1959.
"Qualifying was our weak point in Bahrain but today the car seemed to perform very well on one lap. Let’s see tomorrow what we can do from here," said the Spaniard, who finished third in the opener behind the Red Bulls.
"This is just amazing," added Alonso, who joined seventh-ranked Aston Martin from Alpine after the end of last season in what now looks like an inspired move. "We are confident...the car felt very strong. The strongest point of the car is the long-run pace and how we treat the tyres so it should be better on Sunday than Saturday."
Mercedes' George Russell and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz will share the second row with Canadian Lance Stroll fifth for Aston Martin and Esteban Ocon sixth for Renault-owned Alpine. Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton, winner in Saudi Arabia in 2021, will start seventh for Mercedes.
Leclerc said Ferrari had lacked pace all weekend but he had put everything together in qualifying. "It was really, really on the limit," he said. "On the other hand, Red Bull are on another planet and we are struggling a little bit."
McLaren's woes continued after a tough season-opener in Bahrain, with Lando Norris set to start 19th following contact with the wall that damaged his car in the first phase of qualifying.
Australian rookie team mate Oscar Piastri, who failed to finish in Bahrain, made it through to the second phase and will start eighth. Both the AlphaTauris also went out at the first hurdle, with Yuki Tsunoda qualifying 16th and Dutch rookie team mate Nyck de Vries spinning on his way to 18th.
The two Williams also failed to make it through to Q2, Alex Albon qualifying 17th and U.S. rookie Logan Sargeant last of all after he exceeded the track limits and then fell foul of yellow warning flags.