Lewis Hamilton ended an eventful Saturday at the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix with a pole position and a slap on the wrist as title rival Max Verstappen sensationally crashed out on the final corner of qualifying.
Verstappen leads the drivers’ championship by just eight points with two races remaining and Hamilton has the upper hand here at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
Having won the previous two rounds of a scintillating season, Hamilton came here with plenty of momentum, but he had to survive two penalty scares in final practice before sealing an important pole on a track where overtaking could be at a premium.
The seven-time world champion was hauled in front of the stewards for allegedly disrespecting double-waved yellow flags and impeding the Haas of Nikita Mazepin – but escaped punishment for the former and was handed a reprimand for the Mazepin incident.
That left him free to battle for what could prove to be a crucial pole position and he had two average sessions before finding speed in the third.
He was inches from clipping the barriers which offer the drivers little to no margin for error as he set the provisional pole time.
Verstappen, though, hit the track in the closing seconds and was lighting up the time sheets with a fine run.
The Dutchman, however, did not complete the lap – sitting more than 0.200 seconds clear he put his Red Bull into the wall at the final corner, leaving Hamilton on pole and the championship leader trudging back to the pits.
“It was terrible but in general it was a good qualifying,” he said.
“I knew the pace was there and it showed in the last lap. I didn’t understand what happened, but I locked up… clipped the rear and it is disappointing knowing what lap I was on.”
The error means Verstappen will now start third, with both Hamilton and the sister Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas ahead of him.
Hamilton was delighted with the outcome and full of praise for departing team-mate Bottas, saying: “What a tough track this is.
“It is incredibly technical and complex. It is amazing what they have built here, the speed and apace is phenomenal.
“This is a great result. This (a one-two) was the goal, we worked so hard through simulation.
“He (Valtteri) is the best team-mate there’s ever been in this sport.
“We have worked together to work on the set-up and get the car to where it needs to be.
“That Bull around this track is something else, but given where we are I am grateful for what we have.”
Charles Leclerc will start fourth for Ferrari, with Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez fifth.
The McLaren of Lando Norris was sandwiched between the AlphaTauris of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, with Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi rounding out the top 10.