Hamilton snatches pole for Saudi Arabian GP

Red Bull driver Verstappen will start third on the grid after hitting the wall in 'terrible' crash


AFP December 05, 2021

JEDDAH:

Lewis Hamilton snatched pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday as championship leader Max Verstappen smashed into a wall and could only manage third place.

Verstappen's hopes were extinguished when his Red Bull speared into the barriers at the exit of the last bend on his final flying lap on the tight, unforgiving Jeddah street circuit just as he appeared poised to unseat his rival.

"It was terrible," said a shaken but unhurt Verstappen.

Hamilton's Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was second and will share the front row on Sunday.

"What a tough track this is," said Hamilton after a lap of 1min 27.511sec and who remains on course for a record eighth world title.

"It's incredibly technical and complex. It's amazing what they have built, the speed, it's phenomenal.

"We were quick through practice but particularly FP3 and qualifying, we were struggling with the pace and the tyres, so for us to get a one-two, really proud of Valtteri and the team. It's a great result.

"Given where we were, I'm grateful for what we have got today."

For Hamilton, who has cut Verstappen's championship lead with successive wins in Brazil and Qatar, it was a fifth pole of the season and 103rd of his career.

Verstappen, who has an eight-point lead over Hamilton with just two races left, can claim his first world title on Sunday if he wins the race and Hamilton finishes outside the top six.

If not, the 2021 title battle will go down to the wire in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

"I don't really understand what happened (on the final flying lap). I locked up a bit," Verstappen.

"It was terrible but in general, it was a good qualifying. It was a bit hard to switch on the tyres because it's a street circuit but I knew the pace was there."

He added: "P3 is disappointing but today did show that the car is quick around here so we'll see what happens tomorrow."

Red Bull team chief Christian Horner was hoping Verstappen's car did not suffer gearbox damage.

If it needs to be replaced the Dutchman will face a grid penalty for Sunday's race.

"That was looking like the lap of the year. It's a great shame," Horner told Sky Sports.

"He just grabbed the front end at the last corner and tried to keep the momentum -- as he could see on his dash he was 0.4 up going into the corner -- and unfortunately he has run out of road.

"Pretty brutal but we'll hope the gearbox isn't damaged and see what we can do tomorrow. Max will be frustrated. He knows what a good lap it was."

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull made up the top five for Sunday's race, the first to be held in the kingdom.

Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), Lando Norris (McLaren), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) complete the top 10.

Securing pole capped a dramatic day for seven-time champion Hamilton.

He escaped a sanction for yellow flag incidents in Saturday practice after being summoned over an alleged failure to slow under double waved yellow flags, and for blocking the Haas of Nikita Mazepin.

However, the Mercedes star was cleared of any wrongdoing after the stewards admitted that a double-waved yellow light panel had been activated accidentally.

Mercedes were fined 25,000 euros for the second incident.

Verstappen was hit with a five-place grid penalty for failing to respect double-waved yellow flags during qualifying in Qatar last month.

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