Ferrari superstar Charles Leclerc was very impressed by Aussie young gun Oscar Piastri, who wrapped a strong qualifying performance and will start at eighth on the grid in Saudi Arabia.

Pole position was taken by his Sergio Perez after Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen pulled up with driveshaft failure.

The defending double world champion – as certain a bet as existed for pole before the action began – cut a dejected figure as his participation ended in Q2. He qualified only 15th.

The Mexican's pole was the second of his career, his only other coming here a year ago.

Third quickest was Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso, 0.465sec back.

Oscar Piastri exceeded all expectations in the final phase of qualifying to record the ninth-best time.

The Aussie, in just his second F1 race, was the only McLaren to reach the final stage - beating his teammate by ten places.

'It's impressive,' Leclerc told Speedcafe when asked about the youngster's performance.

'Especially after a year off and [this is his] second race, in a street track, in a very challenging one – probably one of the most challenging of the season.

'To see him have such a performance is great, however, it's not really a surprise with what he has shown in the past,' he added.

'I was pretty sure that he was extremely talented and he showed that today.'

Leclerc, who qualified second fastest, will take a 10-place engine penalty for taking on a new electronic element in his engine and bump Piastri up to eighth on the grid.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was also full of praise for the Aussie.

'I think there is nothing new; he has this huge talent,' he said.

'Very tricky place, so I'm happy for him and happy for McLaren as well.

'We need a strong McLaren as well in the fight.'

The Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were fourth and eighth respectively – more doom and gloom for an increasingly careworn Lewis, who was 0.958sec adrift of Perez and a heart-puncturing three-tenths behind his team-mate. 

As Verstappen limped home to the pits, doomed for the lower-mid grid on Sunday, his father Jos removed his headphones and turned away dejectedly.

Max was hardly wearing a brighter countenance as he removed his balaclava and climbed on to the FIA scales.

Verstappen's problems set in with what he called a 'big moment' eight minutes from the end of Q2. He recovered. Then, his session-ending setback a few moments later.

Despite the obvious pain of having the expected grid advantage ripped from his grasp, Verstappen can console himself in the knowledge that he can conceivably still win over the 50 laps of this white-knuckle track along the Jeddah Corniche.

It promises to be a much spicier race than anyone could have predicted, as the Dutchman tries to hot-rod his way through the field.

As for Alonso, he chases his first win since he won on home asphalt, in Barcelona, in 2013.

The Spaniard promises his long-run pace is better than one lap, so he is well in the mix.

Lando Norris's involvement came to a premature end when he nudged the corner of the 27th and final bend.

He returned to the McLaren garage but his men couldn't put his car back together in time and he went out in Q1.

He was annoyed with himself – 16th a dismal place to start Sunday's race.

There were a few early slips. Alonso spun, as did Williams's Logan Sargeant, who qualified last after stopping with a damaged car – a ragged session for the American rookie.

London-born Thai Alex Albon was 17th best in the other team. As new boss James Vowles admits there is a long road ahead for the illustrious team.

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2023-03-18T23:44:46Z dg43tfdfdgfd