Lewis Hamilton is braced for an “intense” Saudi Arabia Grand Prix after claiming pole position for Sunday’s showdown as the reigning world champion fights to keep his title defence alive.
Hamilton will start from the front of the grid in Jeddah, where Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen crashed into the wall on his final flying lap.
Verstappen went fastest in the first two sectors but hit the barriers on the last corner and had to stop, meaning he will start the main race from third behind Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton has won the past two races to close the gap to Verstappen in the drivers’ standings to eight points and evaded a serious punishment for impeding Nikita Mazepin and failing to comply with yellow flags during FP3 earlier on Saturday.
If the Saudi Arabia GP finished in the order started among the top three – Hamilton-Bottas-Verstappen – it would see seven-time world champion Hamilton regain the lead heading into next week’s Abu Dhabi decider.
“This place is one of the hardest tracks to get right, I was on the limit the whole way round and the car was on a knife-edge,” said Hamilton. “Trying to pull out the maximum with the tyres was so tough.
“It’s difficult to understand why – it’s so warm here but we were having trouble getting temperature in the front and rears at the same time to have grip at the start of the lap.
“I’m very proud and thankful that we were able to put it on the front row for tomorrow, it’s going to be an intense race. It’s always important to have Valtteri beside me, particularly in this part of the year, he’s been driving exceptionally well and hopefully tomorrow we can do a good job together.”
Mercedes team principle Toto Wolff added: “What a crazy session! We expected to be stronger today, we have a quick car and it looked like those quick corners would suit us, but like so many times this season, you’re constantly surprised.
“Austin should have been our track and wasn’t, and then suddenly in Brazil we were performing really well, so you just never know. It was important today that we kept attacking and attacking, and we’ve ended up with a front row lockout which is a big advantage for tomorrow.
“There is a brutal energy running through the whole Team. We just look forward and keep pushing, and pushing, and when you go in the debrief room or in the garage, you don’t need to talk because you can feel the energy and how buzzed everyone is.”
Despite the painful ending to qualifying, Red Bull’s Dutchman Verstappen remains upbeat.
“I was on a really good lap until I lost it on the final corner, I thought I had approached it in the same way I had been doing all session, but I lost the rear,” he said.
“I’m upset with myself and it is of course disappointing but there are two races to go and anything can happen. We had a good car in qualifying and everything was coming together which gives me hope going into the race tomorrow, also knowing that the pace was there today.
“I hope we can follow well tomorrow and if that’s the case, there should be some good opportunities and we should have a good shot.”