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Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023: Max Verstappen retires from qualifying with car breakdown as Sergio Perez takes pole


When Max Verstappen clocked a lap time a second quicker than all the rival teams in the final practice session of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, pole position for Sunday’s race seemed a certainty.

But just as the two-time world champion cemented his status as the sport’s dominant force, a driveshaft failure forced him out midway through qualifying on Saturday.

It means a race that looked in danger of being a procession like it had been at the Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks ago has the potential to provide a much closer spectacle in Jeddah.

Verstappen had what he called a big moment during Q2 where he nearly lost control of the RB19 and moments later complained of a lack of acceleration, suspecting over the radio of the team that he had suffered an engine problem. Red Bull later clarified it was a driveshaft failure.

Such is the pace at Red Bull, Verstappen, who initially told his team he thought it was his driving force, could yet prove to be favorites for the race despite being forced to start from 15th place. on the grid.

His team further underscored their dominance in their absence from the track as Sergio Perez claimed only the second pole of his Formula 1 career with a best lap time of 1:29.244 at the same circuit where he set his first he a year ago.

Perez found himself in a close battle with Charles Leclerc of Ferrari and Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, but the Mexican edged Leclerc by 0.155. Leclerc, however, will start from 12th after entering the race with a ten-place grid penalty due to taking new parts on his Ferrari.

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Alonso had briefly threatened to take his first pole since the German Grand Prix in 2012 but, in the final shootout, he had to settle for the third-fastest time but a second-place start.

Lewis Hamilton has cut an unfortunate figure this season, accusing his Mercedes team of going in the wrong direction with the W14 with team boss Toto Wolff speculating his star man could still walk away from the team s is unable to turn the tide.

In the all-British battle with George Russell, the seven-time world champion was consistently behind throughout qualifying to finish eighth fastest on the grid (and seventh for the race) with Russell third for the grand prix.

Russell said he was fighting for a podium finish while Hamilton got a moderate number after qualifying.

“George did a great job, a great result for him,” he said afterwards. “He just managed to put the car in a different place than mine. The car is obviously performing well, but I don’t feel connected to this car.

“No matter what I do, no matter what I change, I can’t trust myself. I’m a bit lost with this. When asked if he expected the race to improve, he said he wasn’t holding his breath.

Lando Norris, who endured a scorching spell in the season opener in Bahrain, had another qualifying session to forget as he hit the wall with his left front tire and had to retire. He will start 19th on the grid.

Sports standard

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