Victor Martins was a man on a mission as he claimed ART Grand Prix’s second consecutive pole position in a dominant fashion. The Frenchman put down a 1:41.326 to go a whopping 0.744s clear in the nick of time, as a late Red Flag denied the field a chance to get close to his efforts.
Practice pace-setter Oliver Bearman also proved that experience isn’t everything as the PREMA Racing rookie secured second. Championship leader Théo Pourchaire made it two ARTs in the top three.
Experiencing his first Qualifying session around the Saudi Arabian track, Roman Stanek was the first to get a representative time on the board. However, the Trident driver’s time didn’t stay top for long, being eclipsed immediately by Jack Doohan, Arthur Leclerc and Ayumu Iwasa in turn.
After topping Practice earlier on, Bearman acknowledged the need to be precise when putting a lap together and he teetered right on the edge of the limit throughout. Brushing the wall on the exit of Turn 27, he leapt up into P1 with a 1:42.917, over half a tenth clear of Iwasa.
He wasn’t the only rookie looking comfortable under the floodlights, as Martins slotted his #6 ART Grand Prix car in front by 0.151s and Kush Maini put Campos Racing up into a provisional second.
Despite the purple supersoft tyres fading quickly, several drivers opted to give their first set another shot. Leclerc once again emerged out in front with a 1:42.629 and the Ferrari junior’s effort couldn’t have come a moment too soon.
With 18 minutes remaining, improvements were stopped in their tracks after Van Amersfoort Racing’s Richard Verschoor spun at Turn 22, bringing out the Red Flag.
Frederik Vesti momentarily became the driver to beat when running resumed, before being leapfrogged by his teammate Bearman. With track evolution at play, it was Martins who took full advantage, throwing down the gauntlet with a 1:41.326, while Pourchaire slotted into third.
Not all drivers were able to take advantage of their fresh supersoft rubber, as the Red Flag was out once again. It wiped away Dennis Hauger’s personal best sectors seconds from the line after Leclerc stopped on the exit of Turn 22. The session was not resumed, allowing Martins to hold on to a spectacular maiden pole.
Bearman had to settle for second, only 0.001s ahead of Pourchaire. Jack Doohan left it late to snatch fourth ahead of Daruvala. Iwasa was sixth, ahead of Vesti – who carries with him a five-place grid penalty for the Sprint Race. Maini beat out his more experienced teammate Boschung for eighth.
Hitech Pulse-Eight's Jak Crawford rounded out the top 10 on his Jeddah debut. The Red Bull junior will start on reverse grid pole for Saturday's Sprint Race, which gets underway at 18:10 local time.