Lewis Hamilton earns pole at Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after Max Verstappen hits wall

Bottas secures second on grid alongside Mercedes teammate with Red Bull driver third

Lewis Hamilton secured pole position for the inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix after title rival Max Verstappen hit the wall at the last corner on his final lap in qualifying.

The British driver, eight points behind with two races to go, was joined on the front row by Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. Verstappen qualified third at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

With just two races left, the Red Bull driver 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 at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next weekend.

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.

"What a tough track this is. It's amazing what they've built, the speed and the pace around here is phenomenal," said Hamilton.

"It's a great result for the team and a great job by Valtteri - he's the best teammate there's ever been in this sport, for sure.

"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," Hamilton added.

"Those guys were so fast. Those Bulls were incredible round this track."

Verstappen hit the wall on the exit of the final corner when he looked set to displace Hamilton from the front of the grid. He was on what looked a superb lap but was late on the brakes for Turn 27 and slid wide on the exit and broke his rear suspension.

Verstappen climbed from his damaged Red Bull and walked down the street circuit shaking his head in dismay. He then climbed through a hole in the safety fencing, caught a ride in the backseat of the safety car and returned to the paddock.

There will also 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.

"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 earlier was summoned before the stewards for violating yellow flag rules in practice, but the British driver was not penalised. He was later issued a warning, though, and Mercedes were fined £25,000 ($33,000).

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

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

Updated: December 4th 2021, 7:19 PM