Our verdict on Hamilton’s Saudi woe and Perez’s first F1 pole

The second-ever qualifying session at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit provided no shortage of drama with a shock Q1 elimination for Lewis Hamilton, a monster shunt for Mick Schumacher and a surprise first-time Formula 1 polesitter in Sergio Perez.

But what does it mean for Perez’s future? How bad a result is it for Hamilton and Mercedes?

Our writers give their verdict on F1 qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Hamilton could struggle to win races this year

Scott Mitchell

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Whether Hamilton’s plight was a direct symptom of a set-up gamble or just the inherent difficulty of the W13, the cause is still the same: Mercedes’ F1 car is not where it needs to be.

The extent of how much Mercedes is fighting to improve its porpoising problem and is being limited by the knock-on effects was laid bare by Hamilton’s humbling Q1 exit.

Team-mate George Russell talked about how much the problem is holding Mercedes back at the moment because it is having to devote most of its time to improving one specific thing and less time optimizing other areas.

So even if Hamilton just had an ill-suited balance and was a long way off because of it, that all stems from the fact Mercedes can’t tune the car the way it wants.

It served as the strongest evidence so far that the world champion team faces a big uphill battle to fight for wins this season, let alone titles.

It bodes well for Perez’s future

Edd Straw

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

When Red Bull signed Sergio Perez for 2021, he appeared to be the ideal number two. It didn’t pan out that way last year and it was only in fits and starts that he did the job needed in backing up Max Verstappen.

There were days like Baku where he did exactly what he was there to do, something he also did with that run of podiums late in the season, as well as the odd cameo such as holding up Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, but it wasn’t enough.

He hoped being there from the start of a new car philosophy would allow him to deliver the performances he is capable of, which should make him a consistent, capable number two to Verstappen. So far this season, he has done that.

His pole position is not only an emotional moment given it has taken him more than a decade to achieve it but it also shows Perez can be there to pick up the pieces when things aren’t going so well for Verstappen.

We only have a sample set of two races this year and Perez needs to deliver consistently, but for those who assumed he was doomed to be dropped by Red Bull at the end of the year, it’s a reminder that there is a very capable driver in there – one who could yet make the job of Verstappen’s wingman his own.

He’s still got work to do if he is to achieve this. But it’s been a good start.

Russell made the most of his Williams experience

Gary Anderson

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

I think it’s great to see Sergio getting his first pole, he has shown in the past that the race is what he concentrates on, I’m sure that is still the case but starting from pole might just make it a little easier to pull a podium result out of his Saturday efforts.

We could say Perez has less pressure than Verstappen, and even Leclerc or Sainz. The team would have been very happy with him being fourth, two maybe three tenths off Verstappen but right in there to challenge if the opportunity arrived.

I suppose that is a bit like Mercedes, Hamilton is its man so most of the team’s attention will go in that direction with Russell picking up whatever he can.

Russell, having driven a Williams for the last three years. has learned not to seek perfection but get the best out of what you have on any given day.

Hamilton has not really been in that situation for many years if ever, today was an example of that, if the car was perfect then I’m sure Hamilton would have been right up there but it’s not and until it is a think George will have the upper hand.

A missed opportunity for Ferrari

Jack Cozens

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Ferrari was fastest in every Saudi Arabian GP session leading up to Q3.

That’s not to say pole position was in the bag – the qualifying simulations Verstappen had aborted in FP2 in particular but also in final practice suggested that if he strung one together he’d be on the pace of Leclerc and Sainz – but it must have grown more and more confident of bagging a second-straight pole position.

Then Perez rocked up out of nowhere.

Ferrari will still be happy that its speed from testing and the first round of the season has been validated at a second, very different track. But it can’t be escaped that a 1-2 on the grid – and the chance to dictate the race – has gone begging if you consider qualifying isn’t traditionally Perez’s stronger suite.

Those fine margins all add up. Having got its two cars ahead of an unusually subdued Verstappen, who complained he had no grip in Q3, the last thing it needed was to be beaten by the second Red Bull.

Early as it may be in the title race, the prospect of a second Ferrari 1-2 in two races might have seemed a lot more tangible than it does right now had it held onto its front-row lockout. That would have put Red Bull on the backfoot even more than it started the weekend – but Perez’s pole has given it the chance to get that foot back in the door and start clawing back ground.

Hamilton and Mercedes shouldn’t panic…yet

Josh Suttil

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

On paper, 16th place on pure pace is a diabolical result for the seven-time world champion and his worst since the 2009 British Grand Prix.

But in reality, the performance of his Mercedes team-mate George Russell demonstrates that a Q1 exit is still an outlier of a result even if the maximum possible was probably going to be fifth on the grid.

Whether it’s a tire warm-up issue or an extreme set-up experiment gone wrong, the Mercedes certainly seems vulnerable over one lap to pretty much the majority of the midfield.

But we saw in Bahrain, that the W13 should have the legs to clearly land in-between the lead Red Bull/Ferrari pack and the chasing midfield in the race. And the likely stop-start nature of tomorrow’s grand prix should provide plenty of opportunities for Hamilton to move back up there – especially if he uses the pitlane start to “change his car again”.

And more importantly, it’s the coming races that will really decide whether or not Hamilton and Mercedes should be worried. There hasn’t been long enough time for it to bring proper solutions to the problems it knows it has.

If this pain continues to the middle of the season it should be worried, but right now it’s simply a painful carryover of the problems that were already evident in Bahrain.

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