Hamilton on pole in Saudi after Verstappen smash

Lewis Hamilton has eased his way to pole position after championship leader Max Verstappen smashed his car at the death of a thrilling qualifying hour in Saudi Arabia.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

Mercedes’s Friday advantage ebbed away through to Saturday evening, and by the time Hamilton and Verstappen lined up for the pole shootout Red Bull Racing had a decisive advantage in hand and looked certain to propel Verstappen to pole.

Hamilton was first on track, and his final flying lap of 1 minute 27.511 seconds was good enough to snatch provisional pole. But Verstappen started his last lap as the Briton finished he immediately started lighting up the timing board.

He was more than 0.2 seconds up on Hamilton after the second sector, and he was super committed through the third split, but at the final corner of this 27-bend track he locked up his front-left tyre and ran wide.

Eager to make it to the line and set the time, he got too early on the throttle and propelled himself toward the barrier, smacking his rear-right into the wall and ending the lap on the spot.

Title rival Hamilton had secured a potentially crucial pole position, with Valtteri Bottas slotting alongside him for a Mercedes front-row lockout.

“What a tough track this is,” Hamilton said. “Those guys were just so fast. That Bull around this track is something else.

“Given where we are, I’m grateful for what we managed to pull out.

“For us to get a one-two, I’m really proud of Valtteri and the men and women in our team, who have been working so hard. It’s a great result.”

Bottas was only 0.1 seconds adrift of his teammate, and the Finn said his team was now well placed to do some damage to Red Bull Racing in the constructors championship battle.

“Of course I want to get a race win, but first things first we need to focus on the team championship, and Lewis is fighting for the title,” he said.

Verstappen qualified third even without his final lap, although the Dutchman risks a penalty if his gearbox was damaged in the crash.

But the title leader tried to remain optimistic, with his car’s pace strong compared to pre-race expectations and after a lukewarm Friday of practice.

“It’s of course terrible, but in general a good qualifying,” he said. “I know the pace was there and it showed in the last lap.

“I don’t really understand what happened, but I locked up and tried to keep the car on the track.

“P3 is a bit disappointing today knowing what lap I was on, but nevertheless it shows that the car is quick, and let’s see what we can do in the race.”

Charles Leclerc was an excellent fourth to pip Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez, with Pierre Gasly slotting into sixth.

Lando Norris led the way for McLaren in seventh ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, while Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi completed the top 10.

Daniel Ricciardo will start 11th after being knocked out of Q2 by 0.052 seconds, the Australian having stuck with the slower medium tyres to his detriment while teammate Norris used the softs to progress to the top 10.

Kimi Raikkonen was off the pace of teammate Giovinazzi on his was to 12th, and at the end of an uninspiring session he made light contact with Bottas, his rear-left tyre brushing his compatriot’s front wing, as he attempted to zip past.

Fernando Alonso was knocked out 13th ahead of Williams driver George Russell in 14th.

Carlos Sainz was a disappointed 15th after looking quick enough to contend for the top six for most of the day. The Spaniard lost his first flying lap to a track limits infringement and then his second to a spin through turns nine and 10, which damaged his rear wing in a gentle brush with the barriers.

The Ferrari driver made it out for a final attempt, but the damaged wing endplate made the car undriveable, leaving him without a representative time.

Nicholas Latifi will start 16th for Williams ahead of Sebastian Vettel and teammate Lance Stroll in a diabolical qualifying session for Aston Martin. It’s the first time this season neither of the team’s drivers has been able to progress to Q2, and they were both more than 1.1 seconds off the pace of the session.

Mick Schumacher will line up alongside Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin on the back row of the grid, the German more than a second quicker than the Russian.