Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as title rival Max Verstappen crashed trying to beat the Mercedes driver’s time.
In a gripping, see-saw qualifying session, Verstappen hit the wall on the exit of the final corner when he looked set to displace Hamilton from the front of the grid.
Verstappen was ringing the Red Bull’s neck on what looked a superlative lap but was late on the brakes for Turn 27 and slid wide on the exit and broke his rear suspension.
To add insult to injury, Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas also beat Verstappen’s earlier quickest time to join Hamilton on the front row.
And there will be questions as to whether Verstappen might have damaged his car’s gearbox. If it needs replacing, he will take a five-place grid penalty and drop from third to eighth.
The Dutchman leads Hamilton by eight points with two races of the season remaining.
The championship fight hangs in the balance, but in the context of each driver’s title hopes, it is more important for Hamilton to win in Saudi Arabia than Verstappen.
If Verstappen beats Hamilton, the Mercedes driver would need the Dutchman to hit trouble in the final race in Abu Dhabi to overhaul him. But Verstappen can afford to finish second behind Hamilton in Jeddah and still be more or less level on points.
Nothing between the title rivals
Verstappen had set the pace on the first runs in final qualifying, nearly 0.4secs quicker than Hamilton.
Hamilton had a scrappy first run, a mistake at the first corner on one lap and then a slide at Turn Six on another before finally setting a time.
But he managed to sneak ahead of Verstappen’s first time on his second run, beating the Dutchman by 0.142 seconds.
Verstappen then looked on for a stunning time on his final lap.
He was right on the edge through Turn One, lightly brushing the wall on the exit, and was more than 0.2secs up on Hamilton’s time after the first two sectors of the lap.
With such an advantage, he could have afforded to be relatively cautious at the final corner. Instead, he braked too late for the final corner, went in too deep, side wide on the exit and smashed sideways into the wall.
It appeared to be his first major mistake of what has been a superlative season by Verstappen and it remains to be seen how costly it is.
“It is of course terrible,” Verstappen said. “It was a good qualifying. I knew the pace was there, I don’t really understand what happened but I locked up, clipped the wall and had to stop.
“P3 is a bit disappointing but the car is quick and let’s see what we can do in the race.”
Hamilton said: “We were so quick on Friday but for some reason in final practice and qualifying just lacking pace and struggling with the tyres, so to get a one-two, this is a great result.
“Those guys were so fast. Those Bulls were incredible round this track.”
Even worse for Red Bull, Charles Leclerc managed to get his Ferrari on to the second row in fourth place, knocking Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez down to fifth.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly took sixth, split from his team-mate Yuki Tsunoda by McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi completed the top 10.
The second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz will start 15th after a difficult session for the Spaniard.
Sainz spun at high speed at Turn Nine on his first lap in the second session. He managed to avoid a big crash, but the car’s rear-wing endplate clipped the barriers as he slid sideways and was damaged.
There was no time to repair it and Sainz did not realise it when he went out to try again, and had another moment at the same corner, the rear snapping and taking him into the run-off area.