Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton has taken an emphatic pole position for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, setting the pace in style in the final part of qualifying.
Hamilton overcame a hugely impressive effort from Max Verstappen after the Dutch driver set a 1:27.653 midway through Q3, the fastest time of the weekend up to that point, putting in this time on his first flying lap in the crunch part of qualifying.
This was a third of a second clear of what either Mercedes driver had managed during the opening seven minutes of Q3, with Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton slotting into second and third after the first runs.
But the closing minutes of the session upped the drama stakes. Hamilton regrouped on his second run to clock a 1:27.511 and go quickest overall, with Bottas then slotting in directly behind, just a tenth slower than Hamilton.
This proved the crucial moment of qualifying, with Verstappen the first of the two title protagonists to make an error as the championship reaches its climax.
Verstappen's final run looked promising, as he went quickest overall through the first two sectors of the lap to be two-tenths ahead entering the third sector. But he made a small error into the final corner and, attempting to power out of it, went into the wall on the exit.
The damage knocked the front-right of his car askew, and Verstappen was left frustrated as he came to a halt on the start/finish straight.
Having looked set to take the pole position, Verstappen's worries will now hinge on whether his car's gearbox took a hit. Fitted with a fresh gearbox for this weekend, the impact with the wall means that the part will require full analysis by Red Bull ahead of Sunday's race.
With Mercedes locking out the front row ahead of Verstappen in third, it's Ferrari's Charles Leclerc who popped up into fourth at the chequered flag.
Red Bull's Sergio Perez finished fifth, ahead of AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly and McLaren's Lando Norris.
Yuki Tsunoda was eighth in the other AlphaTauri, Alpine's Esteban Ocon was ninth and Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi wrapped up the top 10.
Qualification - Saudi Arabian
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Hamilton finished as the quickest man in Q2, just ahead of the two Red Bulls, with Perez pipping Verstappen by 0.007 seconds.
With Q2 deciding the starting tyre for the race on Sunday, it was no surprise that almost everybody opted for the Medium tyre. Verstappen immediately set the pace with a 1:27.953 to post a weekend best time, until Perez beat that in the closing minutes of the session.
Bottas finished in third, and a tenth behind the Red Bulls, while Hamilton was a further 0.014 seconds back. Hamilton's first flying lap on the Mediums wasn't strong, as he finished seven-tenths away from what Verstappen managed, but he regrouped and went again to slot into fourth. Continuing still on the same Mediums, his eighth flying lap was a 1:27.712 and saw him take over at the very front.
While Hamilton worked away on the Mediums, doing four more laps than Verstappen did on the same compound, both Red Bulls swapped to a set of Soft tyres to get their eye in ahead of the crucial Q3 laps.
The only driver in the top 10 that used the Soft tyre to progress through Q2 was Norris, who finished in seventh.
Knocked out in the second part of qualifying were Mclaren's Daniel Ricciardo, Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen, Alpine's Fernando Alonso and Williams' George Russell.
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was in 15th and also eliminated, as the Spaniard struggled throughout. Having a dramatic high-speed spin at Turn 10, he was lucky to avoid hitting the barriers but did appear to tag his right rear wing endplate against the wall. This may explain why he reported the car was "undriveable" in the final minutes of the session, as he struggled to keep the car on track.
Perez ended the first part of qualifying on top, with the Red Bull driver setting the pace ahead of Bottas. The track experienced quite a lot of evolution, with the pace ramping up continuously during the 18-minute session as the drivers continued to circulate and improve their times.
While Bottas finished in second place, the Finn encountered an engine issue as he reported a misfire and returned to the pits.
Following the frantic engine change on his car prior to the session, he reported his engine switched off when he returned to the pit lane and had to be pushed back to the garage. The issue was quickly fixed, with Bottas able to rejoin the action in Q2.
Williams' Nicholas Latifi was knocked out in 16th place, with Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel in 17th. The German was shocked by the elimination, exclaiming, "What?!" when told he had failed to progress. He was joined on the sidelines by Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll in 18th, with the Haas duo in Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin in 19th and 20th.
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