MIAMI, Florida—U.S.A.—Sergio Perez has done very well on street circuits, and with just eight points behind Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, the Mexican got a break that he really needed Saturday afternoon at the Miami International Autodrome courtesy of Charles Leclerc, who, for the second time this weekend, crashed his Ferrari into turns seven and eight, which produced a red flag and giving Perez his third pole of the season, with a time of 1:26:941, in front of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.

Despite this change of events, Perez up to this point was not happy with himself.

"I think it's been my worst weekend up to qualifying.” He said. “I just couldn't figure out how to put those things I was missing to Max and the Ferraris. I was just resetting everything; we did a small change, and everything became more alive.

It wasn't coming together. I was struggling for balance, confidence. This tarmac is very sensitive to temperature. Thank you to everyone.”

Verstappen himself had ruined an earlier lap by going wide and had to return to the pits to adjust his car for one last run. But with just under a minute, Leclerc’s accident ruined any chance for the Dutchman to return to the track, and ended up finishing ninth as the time limit expired. Leclerc, despite his accident, took seventh.

Leclerc's accident ruined any chance of Max Verstappen placing higher up the grid. Getty Images Photo

A disappointing day for both Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris as both McLaren drivers were knocked out of the opening session, along with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and home driver Logan Sargant of Williams.

But even more surprising was Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes being eliminated in the second session and was joined by Alpha Tauri’s Nyck de Vries, Haas F1’s Nico Hulkenberg, Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo and Williams Alex Albon. This was the first time in Hamilton’s career that he was out of qualifying at an early stage. The Briton took 13th.

For the rest of the top qualifiers, the Haas F1 of Kevin Magnussen had his best qualifying run for the first time since pole in Brazil last season taking fourth, while Mercedes could only salvage sixth with George Russell. Both Alpines had their best result in qualifying so far by placing Pierre Gasly fifth and Esteban Ocon eighth. Valtteri Bottas finished up in the top ten in the Alfa Romeo.

It could be too far ahead to see if Perez might be the only challenger to Verstappen for the championship, but Perez does not want to think that far ahead.

"I am just thinking race by race,” Perez continued. “I will go out and cheer for my team because they have done a tremendous job. Tomorrow is a great opportunity from pole. We are the ones that have something to lose but we will go out there and enjoy this amazing crowd."

By Mark Gero

Track marshals remove Charles Leclerc's damaged Ferrari following his accident late in Saturday's qualifying. Getty Images Photo