Setback for Verstappen – Perez saves Red Bull honor
A defect stops the absolute favorite. Max Verstappen’s catch-up mode promises a spectacle in Sunday’s race. But the 2005 and 2006 world champion is also in the fight for victory.
Max Verstappen trudged through the pits with a grim expression, team manager Christian Horner looked after his star driver with a worried look. The two-time Formula 1 World Champion has to prepare for a hot race to catch up at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after an early retirement in qualifying.
Only 15th place for the absolute top favourite, Red Bull’s honor was immediately saved by Verstappen’s colleague Sergio Perez. A year after his maiden pole position, also on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, he relegated Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari to second place in qualifying.
Alonso is confident in the race
However, the Monegasque has to move down ten positions due to a grid penalty after changing the control electronics. Also means: next to Perez will be Fernando Alonso, world champion from 2005 and 2006, 41 years old and as strong as in the best of times in the fast Aston Martin. He finished third in qualifying.
“We’re confident,” said Alonso, who was hoping for his first pole since the 2012 German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring. The strength of the car is the speed in the long run – in other words: in the race. “We should be better on Sunday than Saturday.”
They were followed by George Russell in the Mercedes, Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari and Alonso’s team rival Lance Stroll. Record world champion Lewis Hamilton did not get past eighth place in the second Silver Arrow. Nico Hülkenberg missed the top ten as a penalty in the Haas, but beat his Danish stable rival Kevin Magnussen (13th).
Even before it started, Verstappen had to smile when asked about the competition for the next pole position. “Yes, there are some,” he said. Others think that Red Bull can only beat itself at the moment. Red Bull is on another planet, said Ferrari driver Leclerc.
A look at the previous three training sessions also proved this again: Verstappen drove the fastest lap every time, even Perez he sometimes left behind by more than half a second. And the 25-year-old Dutchman also dominated in the so-called Q1, the first of three periods of knockout elimination.
Horner announces “lots of work”.
Everything was going according to plan until Verstappen suddenly slowed down. “I have a problem, the engine has a problem,” he radioed to the pits. A good six minutes remained to get the car moving again. Too little. The new strong man in the Red Bull Group, Oliver Mintzlaff, also had to watch this live in the garage. The assumption according to Horner: A defect in the drive shaft.
Verstappen got out, that’s it, the absolute top favorite had to take the first serious setback – on the second Grand Prix weekend. “I came out of turn 10 and then it happened. That’s annoying, of course,” said Verstappen. “Everything is possible on this track, we’ve seen the craziest things,” he said, but emphasized: “Of course it’s about the points, it’s a long season.” In the dense rear field, he will have to survive the tricky first lap in particular on the accident-prone and narrow street circuit, on which the drivers drive an average of 250 kilometers per hour.
They have a good racing car, good speed on the straight, but anything is possible, said Red Bulls team boss Horner and announced “a lot of work” before the red lights went out.