Max Verstappen looked all set to retake pole position from his fierce title rival Lewis Hamilton in Q3 for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but a small yet costly lock-up into the final corner curtailed his certain attempt at jumping the Mercedes pairing and disposing of their 1-2 on the grid.
It was simply ambition over adhesion for the young Dutchman, doing absolutely everything right in the sessions beforehand looking to win his first Formula 1 championship of his career.
He carried slightly too much speed into the Turn 27 hairpin, locking the front-left and understeering into the exit barrier with the rear-right suspension collapsing immediately on impact.
Verstappen, who described the crash as”terrible” – referring to the potential damage it’s done to his title hopes, attempted to mitigate the physical damage the impact had done to the car by swiftly stopping on circuit once he realised the damage was terminal.
Minimising the rotation of the wheels once the suspension, gearbox or the power unit have likely been damaged is absolutely the right thing to do.
He was one of the last runners on track so there was minimal risk of cars coming up behind. No-one would challenge him for P3 after the crash – a position earned with his earlier Q3 banker lap.
Even though Verstappen did all he could post-crash to safeguard the rear of the car, there are ofcourse concerns of a grid penalty induced from any necessary component changes. The gearbox is particularly vulnerable to impacts of that nature.
“I didn’t really understand what happened, but I locked up and I still tried of course to keep the car on track, to try to finish the lap, but clipped the rear and I had to stop.”
A crumb of comfort that Red Bull and Verstappen should take away from Qualifying is the fact that he already had the banker lap in his pocket, so pushing just a little bit harder than before was less of a risk. Looking at the bigger picture though, was the risk really worth taking?
He’s leading the championship so naturally should be in a more defensive mindset, but that isn’t how Max’s mind works. He will grab any opportunity as hard as he possibly can, and it almost worked out beautifully – 26 of the 27 corners were sublimely taken. It was a spectacular lap and “the lap of the year” up to that point according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Obviously there’s the risk to yourself by consciously upping the risk factor and pushing that little bit harder. His commitment through the infamous Turn 22/23 complex was astonishing to watch moments before the lap came to its premature conclusion.
At this truly unique venue for Formula 1, the tiniest of margins make all the difference. The very best will tread the line that seperates the hero from the zero, and come out the hero. Verstappen and Red Bull can go into Sunday with a chance still very much on the table.
A grid penalty would seriously dent their chances, but I still wouldn’t count them out.