World Champion Max Verstappen has fallen at the second stage of qualifying at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after suffering a mechanical problem in Q2 at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
The Dutchman’s engine made a strange sound – with a fail message appearing on his steering wheel – before he had even set a representative lap in Q2, with Verstappen limping back to the pits.
“I have a problem, an engine problem,” Verstappen initially reported to his Red Bull team over team radio.
“It’s almost not accelerating,” Verstappen later added.
Verstappen returned to the garage with around seven minutes of the session remaining but climbed out of the car shortly after to bring an early end to his session.
The two-time World Champion had been the overwhelming favourite for pole position after dominating all three practice sessions at the Jeddah circuit, having won the season-opening Bahrain GP in commanding style two weeks ago.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate, Sergio Perez, went on to secure pole in Saudi Arabia for the second season in succession.
Speaking to Sky Sports F1, Verstappen confirmed the problem – later revealed to be a driveshaft issue – had not been previously detected by Red Bull.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard about it,” he said.
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“Coming out of Turn 10 it happened, which is very annoying for it to happen.
“So far we had a really good weekend, every session was going really well and every time we were on the track the car was working really well, so now it will be a bit more tricky to get to the front but it’s all about scoring points and it’s very early in the season.
“Of course, you would have hoped to start a bit further up the road but we cannot change that now.”
On his targets for the race, he added: “Anything is possible at this track.
“We’ve seen a lot of crazy things but also we have to be realistic. It’s going to be tough.
“But we have good pace, so for sure we’re going to move forward.”
Nico Hulkenberg, Zhou Guanyu, Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas were the other drivers to be eliminated in Q2 after McLaren’s Lando Norris was the big name to fall in the first segment of the hour-long sesssion, before Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez eventually went on to take pole position.
Verstappen is no stranger to reliability gremlins, having retired from two of the opening three rounds of last season and fallen 46 points behind runaway leader Charles Leclerc, though the Red Bull ultimately eased to his second title with an advantage of 146 points over the Ferrari driver.