Hamilton takes Saudi GP pole as Verstappen clips wall

Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images

Hamilton takes Saudi GP pole as Verstappen clips wall

Formula 1

Hamilton takes Saudi GP pole as Verstappen clips wall


Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from pole position with teammate Valtteri Bottas completing a front-row lockout for Mercedes, after title rival Max Verstappen clouted the wall on his final flying lap that had looked set to earn him the top spot.

Hamilton’s time of 1m27.511s stood as the fastest time of the night after Verstappen, who was comfortably ahead of the Briton on his last attempt, slammed into the barriers at the exit of the final corner.

The Dutchman, who leads Hamilton by eight points in the overall standings and could clinch his first Formula 1 title this weekend if the permutations shake out in his favor, was leaving absolutely no margin as he brushed the walls and kissed the barriers. But he appeared to have pushed a touch too far, locking up into the final corner, understeering wide and clouting the barriers.

The contact broke his rear suspension and may have damaged his gearbox, which could result in a costly five-place grid penalty for the Red Bull driver.

“It’s of course terrible,” said the 24-year-old, who ended up 0.142s off Hamilton’s pace. “It was a bit hard to switch on the tires here but I knew the pace was there. Third is a bit disappointing knowing what lap I was on. Let’s see what we can do in the race.”

Verstappen’s error handed Hamilton the 103rd pole position of his career and fifth this season. It also gives him the best possible chance of making further inroads into the Red Bull driver’s championship lead with a third straight win.

“This is a great, great result,” said Hamilton, who needs to finish in the top five to keep the title battle alive into next week’s Abu Dhabi finale. “Those guys were just so fast — the Red Bull around this track is something else.”

Hamilton had topped both of Friday’s practice sessions but come Saturday his Mercedes seemed to be struggling to switch on the soft tires compared to Verstappen’s Red Bull.

Looking on edge and far from the assured top qualifier, Hamilton — who collected a fine and a reprimand for impeding Nikita Mazepin in a heart-stopping moment in final practice — survived a few scares of his own, including on his first flying lap in the final shootout.

“We were quick through practice but for some reason, final practice and particularly qualifying, just lacking pace,” he said.

Behind the top three, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took a strong fourth in his repaired Ferrari following a heavy practice crash on Friday.

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez was fifth. Pierre Gasly took sixth for AlphaTauri ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris. Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda in the other AlphaTauri was eighth ahead of Esteban Ocon in the Alpine.

Antonio Giovinazzi, making way for China’s Guanyu Zhou next season, put Alfa Romeo in the top 10.

Aston Martin endured a disappointing session with neither Sebastian Vettel nor Lance Stroll progressing beyond the first 18-minute knockout phase. They will line up 17th and 18th.

Carlos Sainz failed to make it into the top 10 after damaging his Ferrari’s rear wing in a high-speed slide. He will start 15th.

Pierre Gasly is being investigated by stewards for impeding Sainz during the first part of qualifying. Norris also complained of being held up by Perez.

Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and Bottas also made contact but escaped unscathed.