Max Verstappen was left disappointed on Saturday after a last-gasp mistake in the dying seconds of qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix cost him pole and dealt a blow to his chances of wrapping up a maiden Formula One title with a race to spare.
The Dutchman had produced a stunning display under the floodlights, dancing his Red Bull right up against the walls lining the 6.1-km long Jeddah street track’s high-speed sweeps.
He was comfortably on course to seize the fastest lap from title rival and provisional pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton until he pushed a touch too far, clouting the wall on the exit of the final corner after locking up on the way in, and was forced to settle for third place.
The contact broke Verstappen’s rear suspension and may have damaged his gearbox, which could cost him five places on the grid if it needs to be changed.
It also allowed Mercedes to lock out the front row, with Valtteri Bottas second alongside Hamilton.
“I was really enjoying it and then not to finish it is extremely disappointing, especially now, in this fight, you want to start first,” said Verstappen, who was 0.244 seconds ahead of Hamilton’s time when he crashed and instead ended up 0.142 seconds adrift of the Briton.
“I saw it was a good lap, I was three-tenths faster on my delta. I thought last corner there might be still a bit to gain.
“I approached it like I always do in qualifying but now somehow I just locked up and I have to see if I actually braked later or not, for my feeling is I didn’t.”
Verstappen leads Hamilton by eight points in the overall standings and can clinch the title on Sunday if he finishes in the top two with other permutations working in his favour.
But a third-place finish, with Hamilton first and scoring the extra point for fastest lap, would see the Briton draw level on points, setting up a winner-takes-all last-race duel in Abu Dhabi.
Verstappen is confident Red Bull have the pace to challenge Mercedes on Sunday and will be going for the win rather than damage limitation.
“Of course I would have liked to start first,” he said. “Starting third is a bit more difficult but definitely not impossible.”