Lewis Hamilton made a remarkable Q1 exit in Saudi Arabia, failing to clear the opening hurdle for the first time since 2017.
The seven-time former World Champion had qualified in pole position for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in December and went on to win the race, putting him level on points with title rival Max Verstappen going into the Abu Dhabi decider.
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In fairness, the Briton and his team-mate George Russell were inconvenienced by a red flag only seven minutes into the session when Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams.
Both on medium tyres, Russell had just set a fastest sector and Hamilton was also on course for a respectable lap which he had to abort due to the stoppage.
Hamilton was surprised to learn he had been seven tenths of a second down on Russell in the first sector alone and when back out on soft tyres, it quickly became apparent the 37-year-old was facing an uphill task to progress.
He gave it one last try on the same set of rubber as there was not enough time to stop for a fresh set of tyres and although he went slightly quicker, along came Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin to snatch the all-important P15.
“So sorry, guys” was Hamilton’s response upon confirmation from his race engineer Pete Bonnington that qualifying was over for him.
Third in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Hamilton was 1.488sec adrift of the fastest Q1 time set by Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari in Jeddah and around two-thirds of a second behind Russell.
With the exception of Yuki Tsunoda who was unable to set a time due to a problem with his AlphaTauri, all of the cars eliminated in Q1 were powered by Mercedes engines, the others being Williams duo Latifi and Alex Albon and Nico Hulkenberg’s Aston Martin.
The last time Hamilton exited in Q1 was at the 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix, but on pure pace alone you have to go all the way back to Silverstone in 2009 for McLaren.
Arriving in the media pen for his post-qualifying interview, Hamilton was more concerned with the wellbeing of Mick Schumacher who had just crashed heavily in Q2 and was taken away in an ambulance.
Informed the German had been talking to the medical crew, Hamilton said: “I hope he’s okay.”
Regarding his early exit, he added on Sky F1: “Just struggled with the balance of the car and we are not where we wanted to be. We went the wrong way with the set-up.”