Hamilton snatches pole as Verstappen crashes in thrilling Saudi Arabian GP qualifying
Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after his title rival Max Verstappen looked set to beat him only to crash at the final corner…
There was very little to choose between the two title protagonists throughout qualifying with Verstappen appearing to have the slight edge as Hamilton complained of a lack of grip.
Both were leaving everything out there, Hamilton brilliantly catching a huge tankslapper on his first timed lap and then pumping in the quickest time on his next run.
But Verstappen was absolutely flying and put in a time that was four tenths quicker than anyone else, under the lights at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit that straddles the Red Sea.
Hamilton asked for a whole turn of front wing when he pitted, as he searched to find a solution to his understeer, and then promptly went quickest by 0.142s on his second soft run.
FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2021
Saudi Arabia 2021
|1 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes
|2 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes
|3 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing
|4 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari
|5 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing
Verstappen was still out there, though. It looked all lost when he got on the throttle too early at Turn 2 and ran wide, but he caught it impressively and was up by a tenth of a second at the first sector on his final run. He then put in a sensational second sector to put him a quarter of a second ahead of Hamilton.
But he locked up at the final corner, and as he got on the throttle, slid into the wall, causing so much damage it forced him to stop.
As a result, Hamilton took pole, with team mate Valtteri Bottas second for a Mercedes front row lock out, with Verstappen set to start third providing the damage he suffered will not require changes that trigger a grid penalty.
Charles Leclerc was a brilliant fourth for Ferrari, ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, with Pierre Gasly continuing his fine qualifying form with sixth.
Lando Norris outperformed his McLaren to take seventh with Yuki Tsunoda making it two AlphaTauris in the top-eight, as Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi completed the top 10.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Both Aston Martins knocked out as traffic causes problems
Verstappen set the early pace, with Hamilton running wide at Turn 1 on his first flying lap before cooling the tyres and going again and he promptly topped the timesheets by two tenths of a second.
The track was evolving quickly, while drivers were finding they could do multiple laps on the same set of tyres, and as a result – the times tumbled relentlessly. Bottas had a go sitting pretty at the top, but he later limped back to the pits reporting a engine misfire.
With two minutes to go, both Aston Martins of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll found themselves deep in the drop zone and needing to find at least seven tenths of a second to have any hope of escaping.
But there was frustration for Stroll – and many others – as the sheer number of cars out on track late on meant they were going very slowly in the final sequence of corners to get some space – which in turn forced others to back out of their lap when they reached the car park.
Neither Aston Martin could do enough to get out of the drop zone, meaning they were booted out of qualifying along with Nicholas Latifi and the Haas duo of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.
Knocked out: Latifi, Vettel, Stroll, Schumacher, Mazepin
Q3 Drama as Verstappen crashes in closing moments
Hamilton and Verstappen have gone toe to toe all season long, so it was fitting that this pattern continued into the penultimate race of the season, and in the final segment of qualifying.
Hamilton set the early benchmark, which Verstappen comfortably topped. Hamilton hit back to sneak ahead, but Verstappen was all set to usurp him, only to get it wrong at the final corner, with his Red Bull hitting the wall.
It meant Hamilton took consecutive pole positions for the first time in 2021, with Mercedes locking out the front row for the fourth time this season as Bottas lined up second ahead of Verstappen.
Leclerc’s P4 was his best Q3 performance since Turkey, with Perez making it back into the final part of qualifying – after missing out last time in Qatar – with fifth.
Gasly was sixth, with Tsunoda continuing his upward trajectory, securing his fifth Q3 appearance in six races.
Ocon found himself P9 for the second consecutive race, with Giovinazzi making it to Q3 for the fourth time this year in what is his penultimate race weekend in Formula 1.
The key quote
“Wow,” said pole-sitter Hamilton. “What a tough track this is. Incredibly technical and complex. It’s amazing what they’ve built here, track-wise. The speed and the pace around here is phenomenal. We were quick through practice but for some reason [F]P3 and particularly qualifying, [we were] just lacking pace, struggling with the tyres. So for us to get a one-two, I’m really proud of Valtteri and the men and women in our team that have just been working so hard.”
It’s advantage Hamilton as he starts on pole position for the second straight race, with his title rival Verstappen directly behind him on the grid in third. Can the seven-time world champion cut further into the eight-point deficit to Verstappen or will his Red Bull rival find a way to fight back? Sunday’s race begins at 8.30pm local time.