Lewis Hamilton will start a lowly 16th in Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as Mick Schumacher was airlifted to hospital following a terrifying 160mph crash.
As Sergio Perez raced to pole position under the thousands of bulbs that light up the Jeddah street circuit, seven-time world champion Hamilton failed to make it out of Q1 in one of the worst qualifying displays of his record-breaking Formula One career.
Hamilton and his Mercedes team have struggled to get on top of the sport’s new regulations, but nobody would have predicted the grid’s most decorated driver would fall at the first hurdle.
A disconsolate Hamilton – nearly seven tenths slower than George Russell in the other Mercedes, who ended up qualifying sixth – replied: “I am so sorry, guys.”
Charles Leclerc will start second ahead of Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz with world champion Max Verstappen fourth.
With two minutes of Q1 remaining, Hamilton, who started from pole and won in Jeddah last year, said: “Can’t seem to improve, man… are we at risk right now?”
His race engineer, Peter Bonnington replied: “Affirm, we are at risk.”
And although Hamilton improved with his final run to temporarily move up to 15th and out of the danger zone, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll beat his time to cause a shock result.
It marked the first time Hamilton had failed to get out of Q1 on pure speed since the 2009 British Grand Prix.
Following his early exit from qualifying, Hamilton told Sky Sports: “I just struggled with the balance of the car, it’s not where we want to be.”
As Hamilton spoke in the television pen, the focus turned to Schumacher following the 23-year-old German’s crash.
Mick, the son of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, lost control of his Haas as he rode the kerbs through Turn 12 and slammed into the concrete wall on the opposite side of the circuit.
The force of the impact tore the front wing and both wheels off the right-hand side of his car before he came to a standstill.
The television cameras immediately cut away and no replays were shown. An ambulance was soon on the scene as Schumacher’s mechanics stood in the Haas garage with their hands on their heads.
But following several minutes without any updates, news eventually filtered through that Schumacher was conscious.
Schumacher’s machine was so badly damaged in the accident that it split in two as it was towed away by a recovery vehicle.
Schumacher was taken to the medical centre and then airlifted to the King Fahad Armed Forces Hospital seven miles south of the circuit for “further precautionary check-ups”. Haas also said Schumacher spoke to his mother, Corinna.
The running was delayed for 57 minutes as the barriers were repaired and the debris from Schumacher’s accident cleared.
A day on from a missile strike on an oil refinery 12 miles east of the track, the drivers – some of whom signalled their intention not to take part in Sunday’s race during an extraordinary four-hour meeting on Friday night – were back on track.
And following Hamilton’s early demise, it was Perez who stole pole, edging out Leclerc by just 0.025 seconds. Verstappen, who said he had “zero grip” was 0.261 seconds slower than his Red Bull team-mate.