Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez achieved his first Formula 1 pole position by beating both Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in Saudi Arabia, while last year’s P1 driver Lewis Hamilton was knocked out in Q1.
Checo went to the top with his final flying lap of Q3 on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit with the weekend’s best of one minute, 28.200 seconds to triumph over the strong Scuderias.
That meant the late improvement of Leclerc, as the free practice pacesetter finally had an answer to Sainz in qualifying, missed out on consecutive pole positions by just 0.025 seconds.
Sainz, who had headed the leader board after the first runs in the Q3 ten-minute battle, could not put together one final lap and so slipped to third position by two tenths compared to his teammate.
A messy Q3 showing for defending champion Max Verstappen resulted in only fourth position, with the Red Bull driver struggling initially in Q3 as he battled oversteer while applying the throttle out of Turn 2.
Esteban Ocon ran to fifth for Alpine, dropped eight tenths to the leaders but beating Mercedes driver George Russell and Fernando Alonso.
Russell executed an off-beat strategy by leaving his best effort for the mid-point of the session rather than engage in a last-ditch shootout over the line.
Mr Saturday clocked a time of one minute, 29.104 seconds to land sixth over Fernando Alonso and the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas. Pierre Gasly and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen completed the top ten runners.
Russell was the only Mercedes-powered contender to move into the top ten shootout after Daniel Ricciardo and his McLaren teammate Lando Norris failed to hook up an improved lap in the massively delayed Q2 fight.
A huge crash for Mick Schumacher forced the 15-minute session to be put on ice for nearly a hour while the Haas driver was taken to hospital after an initial check at the medical centre revealed no injuries.
This came after the Haas driver ran wide out of Turn 10 over the exit kerb and on the slippery surface, the VF-22 swapped ends and Schumacher ran nose first into the wall at high speed.
As per new crash structure designs, when the car was craned, the rear end split from the main chassis to cause a further clear up delay in addition to the track needing cement dust and a steam blast before FIA race director Niels Wittich was satisfied with his inspection.
With a little under five minutes to run, late improvements were few and far between.
But Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Ocon – who was delayed by Ricciardo in an incident that remains under investigation – made it through in eighth and ninth.
That left Russell prey as Gasly improved to seventh, but Ricciardo could not whittle down his personal best to survive while Zhou Guanyu only climbed his Alfa Romeo to P13.
Norris was out in P11 ahead of Ricciardo, Zhou and Schumacher – ninth at the time of his crash – over Lance Stroll.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was the first driver to miss out on progressing into the second part of qualifying after his final flying lap was 0.087 seconds slower than the cut off set by Stroll.
The seven-time champion was only P16 in Q1 after initially losing the rear end of his Mercedes W13 challenger with a snap of oversteer at Turn 2 on his first flying soft-tyre run.
After beginning the Saturday evening session on the medium compound alongside Russell only, Hamilton was forced into a final push lap with a minute to spare in order to progress.
However, the lap started off the pace when the Brit was adrift of his personal best throughout sector two on his way to a one minute, 30.343 seconds.
Despite a better sprint to the finish to initially move P15, Stroll was next over the line to bump Hamilton out in Q1 for the first time since he crashed in Brazil qualifying in 2017.
He was only faster on merit than the Williams of Alex Albon and Aston Martin’s substitute driver Nico Hulkenberg, the pair dashing to P17 and P18 respectively.
Meanwhile, Nicolas Latifi crashed out to bring the red flags into play after seven of the 18 minutes when the rear of his FW44 snapped out of control at Turn 13.
The Williams driver appeared to immediately lose the back axle when he turned in, glancing the TecPro barrier before landing in the outside wall.
Yuki Tsunoda was unable to set a lap either side of the eight-minute delay owing to a fuel issue for the AlphaTauri, which arrived in Saudi with a fresh power unit.
So congratulations to Checo Perez in achieving his first pole position in Formula 1. To beat both Ferraris and his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen is impressive. Looking forward to the race.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:28.200
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:28.225
3 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:28.402
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:28.461
5 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:29.068
6 George Russell Mercedes 1:29.104
7 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:29.147
8 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:29.183
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:29.254
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:29.588
11 Lando Norris McLaren 1:29.651
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:29.773
13 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:29.819
14 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:29.920
15 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:31.009
16 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:30.343
17 Alex Albon Williams 1:30.492
18 Nico Hulkenberg Aston Martin 1:30.543
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:31.817
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri –