The seven-time world champion’s remarkable exit proved to be one of the headline stories of an extraordinary and dramatic qualifying session in Jeddah. 

Hamilton was already facing a difficult day after struggling to 11th in final practice. He then could only manage the 16th-fastest time in the first segment of qualifying as he slumped to his first Q1 exit since the 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos - though that was down to a crash. 

In terms of outright pace and excluding any reliability issues, it was Hamilton’s worst qualifying result since the 2009 British Grand Prix. The Briton’s puzzling lack of speed came at a circuit where only three months ago he stormed to pole position and victory. 

“The car just wasn’t underneath me,” Hamilton said after qualifying. “It was just difficult to drive all of a sudden, way more difficult than ever before.

“I just didn’t feel the car underneath me in qualifying. Struggled with balance, the car was nervous, so was just nowhere.” 

Asked whether something had been wrong with his W13, Hamilton replied: “For sure there’s something wrong, I don’t know what it is but I can’t comment. I had no rear end.”

Mercedes endured a difficult pre-season heading into F1’s new rules era and both Hamilton and teammate George Russell have been unable to maximise consistent performance from its 2022 challenger at the opening two rounds. 

The W13 is being dogged by porpoising and balance issues that the reigning world champions have, so far, been unable to address, leaving the team well off the pace compared to rivals Ferrari and Red Bull. It is also lagging behind in terms of straight-line speed. 

In contrast to Hamilton’s nightmare session, Russell eased through to Q3 and secured sixth place on the grid as the only Mercedes-power car to feature inside the top-10. 

Russell was seven tenths faster than Hamilton in the first sector alone during the first timed-laps in Q1, something which came as a shock to Hamilton when he was informed of the gap by race engineer Peter Bonnington.

Despite suggestions that Mercedes has taken a step backwards with its engine for 2022, Hamilton stressed his power unit “felt fine” during qualifying in Jeddah. 

Hamilton took the blame for set-up changes he made going into qualifying that differed from Russell’s car. 

“I don’t know how different the cars are for set-up, but the car was undriveable with the set-up I chose,” he explained. 

“It was my decision, I made some set-up changes. Don’t know if that was everything to do with it, but it was very unstable.”

However, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff described the differences between the two cars as “not huge”. 

“We were experimenting with set-ups to find out where the sweet spot of the car is,” Wolff said. “So on Lewis’ side they went a bit bolder and the outcome was that basically they had no rear-end in the car, and that explains that big lap time deficit.

“You can see between Lewis’ and George’s performance there was not huge set-up changes that happened but they were big enough to have dramatic consequences on the performance of the car, between going out in Q1 and making it solidly into Q3. 

“That’s why this car is tricky to set-up. We had a lower drag rear wing, we took the gurney off but still it wasn’t enough to shave more drag off the car. 

“But generally I would say this isn’t a single problem. We have many parts of the car that don’t work, that we don’t understand, they don’t perform enough, and this is not where we all expect the car to be.”

Hamilton is now bracing himself for a tricky and long race around a circuit where overtaking is far from easy. 

He indicated that Mercedes may yet decide to breach parc ferme regulations in order to change elements of his car and take the hit of a pitlane start. 

“It’s probably going to be a so-so race, it’s probably not going to be that great,” Hamilton conceded. 

"Maybe I’ll start from the pitlane and change the car again, make sure it doesn’t handle the way it just did.

“So much can happen. But I just apologise to my team – everyone worked so hard, and then when you don’t deliver for them, it’s gutting.”