Sergio Perez has revealed Red Bull were struggling to fire up the engine on his RB18, putting him out of sync in Q3 for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
After the first round of flying laps, it was Ferrari provisionally on the front row, Carlos Sainz ahead of Charles Leclerc, leaving Red Bull with work to do.
Perez’s second run was delayed, team-mate Max Verstappen inquiring over the radio as to why his team-mate had not taken to the track at the same time as him.
Ultimately Perez improved to P2 on the grid, but a sensational 1:41.359 from Leclerc meant he claimed pole, just under three tenths of a second clear of Perez.
Perez revealed the issue was Red Bull could not get the engine fired up, a problem made even more costly by the fact he then had no tow available down the long start-finish straight since he was out of sync with his team-mate and the other drivers.
“When you go to Q3, run one is when you go balls out and it was a little bit too much,” he told Sky Sports F1.
“I hit the wall a couple of times. Luckily we managed to survive, which is the key really here. But it was not an ideal qualifying because at the end we just had a problem with the engine – we couldn’t turn it on and that meant I was basically on my own and that’s very powerful around here.”
Perez was then asked if the engine problem was responsible for him failing to claim pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The Mexican racer reasoned he would have been closer to Leclerc without it, but that pole was likely still out of reach.
“Certainly we could have been a lot closer,” he said. “Would it have been good enough for pole or not…it seems like always when Ferrari put it all together they are a good step forward in qualifying.
“We lost a few tenths, but maybe not the three tenths we needed to be on pole.”
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner explained a refuelling issue was to blame for Perez’s delayed second Q3 run.
But despite describing Perez’s performance as “pretty mighty”, Horner felt Leclerc had pole in the bag regardless.
“There was a small issue with refuelling that just delayed it, unfortunately,” Horner told Sky Sports F1. “So I think it was just a numbers error.
“It was a shame for Checo because he didn’t get a benefit from a tow, but then he did have a perfect out-lap and you can see actually his performance was pretty mighty.
“I think with that tow we would have been close by, but I still don’t think we quite had the pace to nail Charles today. I think they just had the upper hand over a single lap.”
Nonetheless, Horner explained Red Bull’s focus is more on the race than qualifying, which should bode well for Perez and team-mate Max Verstappen, who starts P3, on Sunday.
“We’ve focused more on tomorrow than today,” Horner claimed.
“And we are second and third. We’ve seen this year some great racing between ourselves and Ferrari and I think this year’s cars are demonstrating you can follow a little closer and you can overtake, so we’ll be hoping to make use of that tomorrow.”