Lewis Hamilton put Mercedes on pole position for the first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday as Red Bull rival and Formula One leader Max Verstappen hit the wall at the last corner on his final flying lap.
Hamilton, eight points behind with two races to go, was joined on the front row by teammate Valtteri Bottas after the floodlit qualifying session on the new super-fast Jeddah Corniche street circuit.
Verstappen, who needs to finish at least second in Sunday’s night race to have a chance of taking the title, qualified third with a question mark over his car’s gearbox and whether he risks a possible grid penalty.
“That was looking like the lap of the year,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner of Verstappen’s effort until the moment of impact.
“It was a mighty, mighty lap. He was pulling something very special out of the bag.”
Verstappen said it was a “terrible” end to a session that promised so much.
“I knew the pace was there and it showed at the end. I don’t really understand what happened but I locked up. I still tried to keep the car on track and keep going but clipped the rear and had to stop,” he said.
Hamilton, chasing a hat-trick of wins after victories in Brazil and Qatar that narrowed the gap to Verstappen, was delighted to be leading a front row lockout.
“For us to get a one-two, I’m really proud of Valtteri and the men and women in our team who have just been working so hard. This is a great result,” said the Briton after the latest twist in a roller-coaster season of fluctuating fortunes.
The pole was the 103rd of Hamilton’s career and fifth of the season.