The Formula 1 title race has taken yet another dramatic twist, with Max Verstappen crashing out at the final corner of qualifying for the first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The crash came with Verstappen on course to set the fastest lap of the session, and gifted pole position to his title rival Lewis Hamilton for the penultimate race of the season.
Verstappen throws away pole with dramatic last-gasp crash
It's been one of the most dramatic seasons in recent memory, with Red Bull hotshot Max Verstappen and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton locked in an enthralling battle for the F1 drivers' championship.
The two have tangled on track three times this season, in Silverstone in July, at September's Italian Grand Prix, and most recently at last month's Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
The momentum has swung back and forth between the two like a pendulum all year long, with the current pace advantage seemingly with Hamilton and his team Mercedes. They were dominant at the last race in Qatar, and Hamilton entered the weekend in Saudi Arabia as the favourite for a third consecutive race win.
Looking pretty under the lights 😍#SaudiArabianGP 🇸🇦 #F1 pic.twitter.com/WIDlLtrJA1
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 3, 2021
Nonetheless, Max Verstappen stormed to provisional pole with a stellar lap at the new Jeddah Circuit on Saturday night with an incredible lap - before Hamilton snatched the advantage back from him with an even better lap.
The new circuit in Saudi Arabia has been billed as the sport's "fastest street circuit", but the narrow nature of it makes it precarious for the drivers. Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was the first driver to have a big crash during Friday practice.
Verstappen was on course to reclaim pole position in the final seconds of qualifying, as he set the fastest first and second sector. Approaching the final corner, however, he locked up his inside tire and dramatically slid into the barriers, wrecking the back of his car.
MAX VERSTAPPEN HITS THE WALL ON THE LAST TURN!! 💥
LEWIS HAMILTON TAKES POLE!! 1️⃣
📺 #SaudiaArabianGP qualifying live on Sky Sports F1#SkyF1 | #F1 | 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/V5Xjy8GTCR
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) December 4, 2021
Verstappen was seen with his head bowed as he walked away from his car, and he was in subdued mood in his post-qualifying interview.
For Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, though, the crash was like a gift from the gods. Not only has Hamilton put his car on pole position, but his teammate Valtteri Bottas snatched P2 from Verstappen just before the Dutchman's crash.
Hamitlon praised Bottas as the "best team-mate there's ever been in the sport" in the aftermath of qualifying, and the two shared an energetic embrace in front of the cameras.
Lewis Hamilton is Valtteri Bottas' biggest fan ❤️ pic.twitter.com/P6uZLqLtsw
— ESPN F1 (@ESPNF1) December 4, 2021
It most certainly is advantage Mercedes and advantage Lewis Hamilton for Sunday in Jeddah after Max Verstappen's crash.
Knowing how this season has gone, however, we can expect more twists and turns on race day, and more drama as the season concludes in Abu Dhabi next week.