Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fired up his fans by seizing pole position at his home Dutch Formula One Grand Prix for the second year in a row with a storming final effort on Saturday.
The runaway championship leader was joined on the front row by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, after qualifying at Zandvoort ended with Verstappen’s Mexican team mate Sergio Perez crashing at the final corner.
The yellow warning flags prevented seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton making a last-gasp bid for pole in his Mercedes, and the Briton ended up in fourth place with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in third.
The pole was Verstappen’s fourth of the season and first since Austria in July, while the margin of 0.021 between the top two drivers made it the tightest qualifying battle of the season so far.
“Unbelievable,” said the 24-year-old, who had struggled in Friday practice, as the crowd celebrated in the grandstands.
“Especially after yesterday as well. We had a difficult day but we worked really well overnight with the whole team to turn it around.
“Today we had a quick race car again, but it was very close. A lap around here, a qualifying lap, is insane.”
Verstappen will be chasing his 10th win of the season and fourth in a row on Sunday at a track where overtaking is not easy.
Leclerc, a massive 98 points behind Verstappen after 14 of 22 races, was fastest after the first flying laps of the third session, with Verstappen 0.059 slower and Hamilton third quickest.
The Ferrari driver went faster again with his second effort, a one minute 10.363, but Verstappen then put in a clinching 1:10.342 before Perez ended the session.
Leclerc said he made a mistake at turn 10 on his second lap and went very wide, losing more than a 10th compared to his previous effort.
“I think the pole position lap today was in the car and I just didn’t put exactly everything together,” added the Monegasque.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff could only contemplate what might have been.
“It’s very frustrating. We were a 10th (of a second) up on Verstappen and on Leclerc so Lewis played for the pole here,” said the Austrian.
“I think he (Perez) pushed it a lot and lost it. It’s not his fault.”
Perez -- 93 points behind Verstappen and second overall in the standings -- will start fifth with Mercedes’ George Russell sixth and Lando Norris seventh for McLaren.
Mick Schumacher, his future uncertain beyond 2022, bagged eighth place on the grid for Haas while team mate Kevin Magnussen was 18th.
Yuki Tsunoda was ninth for AlphaTauri and Canadian Lance Stroll 10th, although the Aston Martin driver was unable to take part in the final phase due to a technical problem.
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, due to be replaced by fellow Australian Oscar Piastri next season, was only 17th.
“It was going OK, it wasn’t electrifying, and then I guess whoever was in front dropped a wheel (off track) in the second last corner so coming up to the last corner it was dirt everywhere,” said Ricciardo.
“I lost about three tenths there so that was the difference.”
FLARES AND PIGEONS
The second phase of qualifying was briefly halted after a smoking orange flare was thrown onto the track. The governing FIA said the person responsible had been removed by security.
Williams’ Alex Albon was alone on track at the time and he sounded more vexed by the local wildlife, reporting a “tonne of pigeons” pecking at the edge of the track.
A marshal tried to chase away the birds during the halt.
Another thrown flare was seen on television cameras at the start of the third and final phase, but it landed in the grass by the side of the track.