JEDDAH: Lewis Hamilton made history by becoming the first driver to clinch a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix pole position after edging out teammate Valtteri Bottas and world championship title rival Max Verstappen in qualifying on Saturday.
The two Mercedes drivers secured a one-two grid position, which will give them the advantage over the Red Bull driver on the Jeddah Corniche circuit, where overtaking may prove difficult.
It was the 103rd pole of Hamilton’s career, his fifth of the season, and comes off the back of a stellar qualification drive in the previous round in Qatar.
With Hamilton trailing Verstappen by eight points in the championship fight with just one more race remaining after Jeddah, the qualification victory for Hamilton felt crucial.
The seven-time world champion beat Finnish driver Bottas by just over a tenth of a second, and was 0.142 seconds ahead of Verstappen in third.
Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc was half a second back in fourth and Mexican Red Bull driver Sergio Perez rounded out the rest of the top five.
It was a difficult end to the session for Verstappen who hit the wall on his last flying lap, proving the perils of the relentlessly quick Jeddah circuit.
“I don’t really understand what happened (on the final flying lap),” he said. “I locked up a bit. P3 is disappointing but today did show that the car is quick around here ... so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Hamilton admitted the track is a tough challenge, while paying tribute to teammate Bottas who will be leaving the Mercedes garage at the end of the season.
“What a tough track this is,” he said. “It’s amazing what they’ve built, the speed and the pace around here is phenomenal.
“It’s a great result for the team and a great job by Valtteri, he’s the best team mate there’s ever been in this sport,” he added.
Bottas also sounded like he enjoyed the speed of the Jeddah streets.
“This was an important qualifying,” he said. “I was on the limit, this track is tough but I really enjoyed it. I will do my best tomorrow.”
Verstappen, with a slight lead over Hamilton with just two races left, will hope he can claim his first title on Sunday if he wins the race and Hamilton finishes outside the top six.
But belief remains strong in the Mercedes camp that Hamilton can close the gap in Jeddah and seal a dramatic championship victory in Abu Dhabi.