From what was looking to be another Max Verstappen whitewash, Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix has become a lot more exciting after the Red Bull driver’s driveshaft failed in qualifying.
Verstappen showed throughout the weekend’s practices at the Jeddah circuit that his Bahrain pace was not a one off, the Dutchman finishing Saturday’s final session over six-tenths up on the other Red Bull.
He carried that pace into qualifying, fastest in Q1, and was on course for another fast one in Q2 only for his RB19 to suffer a driveshaft failure.
He pulled into the pits, his night over with him down in 15th place.
That, though, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“That has put the cat amongst the pigeons,” 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill told Sky Sports. “He did have a problem yesterday, with slow shifting and I said something to the effect of sometimes, when that happens, you get damaged gearboxes.”
His fellow pundit Nico Rosberg was also amazed by how quickly the tables can turn.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “This sport, isn’t it crazy? When you least expect it, here comes the curveball and Verstappen out of qualifying. He was on for a certain pole position.”
Max Verstappen brushes off ‘annoying’ driveshaft failure in Saudi qualifying F1 starting grid: What is the provisional grid order for the Saudi Arabian GP? Winners and losers from 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix qualifying
Max Verstappen brushes off ‘annoying’ driveshaft failure in Saudi qualifying
F1 starting grid: What is the provisional grid order for the Saudi Arabian GP?
Winners and losers from 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix qualifying
The big question now is how far can Verstappen recover in the grand prix.
Rosberg reckons he’ll need the intervention of a Safety Car to win the race, “15th seems like a bit too much to ask. But with that lucky Safety Car, it could be possible.”
Hill, however, believes the reigning World Champion and his RB19 have the pace to win the grand prix.
“Max has got the car to do it provided it’s reliable,” he said. “He’s got the car and the speed to be able to carve his way through the pack, he’s just got to stay out of trouble.”
Christian Horner also hasn’t ruled out Verstappen making it onto the top step of the podium, but concedes it won’t be easy.
“It’s going to be a tough race,” said the team boss. “The start, the first sector – you have to survive the first lap first.
“We have a good racing car, we’re fast on the straights. Anything is possible.”
As for the driver, he said: “Anything is possible at this track. We’ve seen a lot of crazy things, but we have to stay realistic. It’s going to be tough, but we have good pace so for sure we’ll move forward.”