Verstappen bins it into the wall in his final flying lap to start a disappointing third after promising pace.
Lewis Hamilton made the most of Max Verstappen’s misery to take a brilliant pole at the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas is set to start just behind him, while Max Verstappen, who looked set for a pole in his final flying lap but made an unusual driver error, will be starting third at best.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc put in a smashing evening for the Scuderia after a massive FP2 crash to start fourth ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Pérez. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly will start fifth ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris. Rookie Yuki Tsunoda, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi wrap up the top ten, with the Italian putting in an impressive Saturday show.
It is definitely advantage Mercedes starting 1-2, and given the narrow nature of the circuit, Max Verstappen will need to put in a Herculean effort on Sunday to overcome his disappointing Saturday performance.
For Red Bull, though, what will be promising is that they have shown impressive pace in the final practice session and throughout the qualifying sessions. The Dutchman Verstappen will also hope his late hit into the wall didn’t damage his gearbox, and if it did, it might make matters worse for him, with a grid penalty imminent if the gearbox needs change.
With the championship on the line, Valtteri Bottas’ second place will be gold dust for Mercedes, as the Finn will be playing second fiddle to Hamilton in an attempt to block those behind him.
Qualifying Session 1 | Eliminated: Nicholas Latifi, Sebastian Vettel, Lance Stroll, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin
In one of the firsts for the season, all 20 cars were on the track together to kick off the inaugural Saudi Arabian qualifying.
It was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who set the benchmark time for session 1 with 1:28.659s. His stay at the top was short-lived, however, as his championship rival Lewis Hamilton went quicker with a 1:28.466s, a good two-tenths faster than the Dutchman.
The Ferrari of Carlos Sainz pipped Hamilton, though, and took P1 with a stunning 1:28.330s, with cars down till 14th under a second to the leader, showcasing the tight nature of the qualifying session.
With two minutes to go for the session, the pairs of Aston Martin and Haas as well as Williams’ Nicholas Latifi were in the bottom five. As the chequered flag fell, it was Latifi, Sebastian Vettel, Lance Stroll, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin who were eliminated, with the two Aston Martins being the shock eliminations of the session.
Qualifying Session 2 | Eliminated: Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso, George Russell and Carlos Sainz
It was Verstappen once again with the first competitive time of the session with a 1:27.953s, going almost a second quicker than his teammate. Hamilton, on the other hand, could only manage P3 with a 1:28.715s behind the impressive Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc, though, was quickly displaced by Valtteri Bottas, who overcame a late technical issue in Q1 to put in a solid first time in the second session.
As the final times came through, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso, George Russell and Carlos Sainz were the ones who failed to make it to the top ten shootout. Hamilton, meanwhile, finished the session on top with a 1:27.712s
Qualifying Session 3 | Hamilton makes the most of Verstappen’s mistakes
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas set the benchmark time of 1:28.143s for the rest of the pack, but the Finn only stayed on provisional pole for a short while, as his teammate went even quicker with a 1:28.035s.
Hamilton, much like his teammate, was also pipped, as Verstappen put in a stunning solid lap with a 1:27.653s to take provisional pole, almost four-tenths quicker than both Hamilton and Bottas.
As the cars got down for their final laps of the session, Hamilton took provisional pole with a 1:27.511s. Verstappen put in a scrappy final lap, eventually going into the wall, calling out the yellow flags and effectively ending the session. His misery meant Hamilton took pole ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas in P2.
*subject to gearbox damage