Max Verstappen rues 'brutal' last-corner crash in Saudi Arabian GP qualifying as Lewis Hamilton gets title boost
Max Verstappen reflects on the crash that cost him pole on dramatic and potentially defining day in the championship; Verstappen will start third - depending on gearbox damage - with Lewis Hamilton on pole for Sunday's Saudi Arabian GP
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 05/12/21 7:29am
Max Verstappen admitted his last-lap, last-corner crash in Saudi Arabian GP qualifying was "terrible" and "extremely disappointing" as the Red Bull driver rued the dramatic error that could prove to be a defining moment in his championship battle against Lewis Hamilton.
Title leader Verstappen, in majestic form through 26 of the 27 tricky turns of Jeddah's new street track and on what Red Bull branded the "lap of the year", looked set to land a huge blow to rival Lewis Hamilton by taking pole position for 2021's penultimate race - before disaster struck.
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Verstappen locked up at his final braking point of the day, tried to stay on the power on the exit of the corner, and the rear of his Red Bull hit the wall.
The shunt means Lewis Hamilton has pole for the race, while Verstappen is set to start third. Given there is just eight points between them, the title lead could very well change hands on Sunday before the decider next weekend.
"It's of course terrible," said Verstappen, who was two and a half tenths up on Hamilton before his last-gasp mistake. "It's extremely disappointing... I thought in the last corner there was still a bit to gain.
"In this fight you want to start first."
Red Bull boss Christian Horner described the crash as "pretty brutal".
"It's a great shame," the Red Bull boss told Sky F1. "It was a mighty, mighty lap. We're on the back foot here and he was pulling something very special out the bag."
Anxious wait for Verstappen: Could woes worsen?
Not only did Verstappen's crash cost him pole, but there was immediate worry surrounding his new gearbox, as damage to that could lead to a replacement and a subsequent five-place grid penalty.
"Hopefully it's not a gearbox penalty because that would be especially brutal," said Horner, with Red Bull currently investigating the damage.
Verstappen said he also wasn't sure but commented: "It didn't look too bad when I looked at it."
Should Max have slowed? 'Defining moment' in title race?
Verstappen's lap was indeed a cracker before Turn 27, finding the limits of the street circuit - he even clipped the wall in the first sector - and he had posted the best two sectors of qualifying before the final turns.
He was two tenths up on Hamilton, who had long completed his last lap, at that stage. Could he have taken the last corner less aggressively given the dash on the steering wheel was telling him how much faster he was?
"I knew that I was at the time second behind Lewis," Verstappen told Sky F1. "Arriving at the first corner I was three tenths under my lap time.
"But then of course I still wanted to do a good last corner. I thought I braked at a similar point and I just got a lock up. I still tried to rescue the lap but I hit the wall and really quickly broke the rear."
Sky F1's Damon Hill and Paul Di Resta agreed.
"It's very difficult when you've committed as much as Max clearly had on that last lap to just just go, 'I'll go a bit gentle'," said Hill. "He was fully committed the whole way round."
Di Resta added that he didn't think Red Bull should have instructed him: "Two tenths is nothing in Formula 1. If he'd gone into the last corner and over-slowed, you'd be kicking yourself. You've got to trust him."
Verstappen can clinch his maiden title on Sunday if he outscores Hamilton by 18 points but he also now faces the very real prospect of losing his lead before the final race, in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, December 12.
"Could Max's error be a defining moment in this title battle?" pondered Sky F1's Karun Chandhok.