Lewis Hamilton stood there like a little boy having his lollipop whipped off. His feet close together, his knees sag, his shoulders sag, his hands are at his side. And his voice was barely a whisper at times as he admitted he’d lost all faith in his Mercedes.
That was the somber face of the seven-time world champion, who stood as a semi-traumatized figure on the eve of a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in the Red Sea, blown open by defending champion Max Verstappen’s unexpectedly early retirement from qualifying and drive shaft failure.
Part of the fear nagging at the Master was embodied by the apprentice standing next to him in the paddock, one George Russell, his team-mate, 13 years his junior and fourth fastest on the day to his own eighth best at the dismal road circuit . Worse still, three tenths of a second separated one Silver Arrow from the other.
Remaining at the front was Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who had to set the standard with just his second career pole – both achieved at Jeddah – while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was second fastest and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third.
When tonight’s Grand Prix starts under lights, Alonso will have gained a place while Leclerc will drop 10 places due to an engine electrics change. The possibility remains, however fanciful, that the 41-year-old Spaniard from Saudi Arabia could fly at the top of the drivers’ standings. It’s the kind of conversation Lewis would love to be in, but he’s not, and it’s clear that contemplating that fact is heart-stinging at any moment.
Defending champion Max Verstappen cut a dejected figure as his participation in Q2 ended
Pole was taken by his teammate Sergio Perez, who was 1.55s quicker than Charles Leclerc
At Mercedes, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton (above) finished fourth and eighth respectively
When asked how frustrated he was, Hamilton, suddenly a boy child of 38, softly replied: “George did a great job. He’s right up there in the second row. The car obviously has power. I don’t feel connected to this car. No matter what I do, no matter what I change, I can’t build trust in it. I’m a bit at a loss with that.’
You could see the chasm between the two rivals in the black suits. Russell’s mega-watt eyes told his side of the story. He readily declared it had turned out to be a better day than he expected in a machine that is being drastically overhauled, such is its basic design.
As for Hamilton, he got the last of his 103 wins here on the Corniche 468 days ago. The longest wait of his long career. And this week he broached the possibility of leaving Mercedes, expressing just the tiniest shred of doubt about where his future might lie, before his boss Toto Wolff conceded the reality he could lose his team’s undeniable star if he does not receive equipment capable of taking him to the eighth world title that remains his guiding star.
Hamilton replied, his voice dropping again: “I wouldn’t say I enjoy this situation very much. I was there, did that, got the t-shirt. But I’m trying to be patient and work with the team to put us in a good place.
“I’m not focusing on what Toto said about the move. i love this team I’m so thankful for everyone who went on the journey with me.’
Adding just the faintest bit, he added: “I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I don’t see myself giving up.’
Don’t necessarily underestimate the importance of the word “provide”.
Leclerc receives an engine penalty of 10 places for installing a new electronic element in his engine
Third fastest was Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, but the Spaniard will start from the front row
Another topic causing a stir in the paddock is the farewell this weekend to Hamilton coach Angela Cullen, who was a key companion for seven years. He didn’t shed any light on the timing or reasoning, just saying, “Ange and I are good. She has entered a different phase of her life. We’re still super close.
“She texts every day. She supports me massively and I support her massively. I am so grateful to have had her on this trip. She is one of my closest friends and continues to be.”
Back to qualifying. Verstappen’s troubles began with what he described as a “big moment” eight minutes from the end of the second quarter. He recovered. Then moments later came his setback at the end of the session.
Despite the apparent pain of having the expected pole ripped from his gloved hands, Verstappen can take solace in the fact that he may still be able to claim victory by speeding his way through the field in a Red Bull with magic carpet opportunities.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/formulaone/article-11876165/Red-Bull-clinch-pole-NOT-Max-Verstappen-Sergio-Perez-start-top.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Red Bull take MORE poles… but it’s NOT Max Verstappen! Sergio Perez will start at the front