Lewis Hamilton takes pole position in Saudi Arabia as Max Verstappen crashes

Hamilton Verstappen qualifying crash
ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP) (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Max Verstappen slapped the wall in the 27th and final turn of Formula One’s newest circuit, and his crash handed the front row for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.

Hamilton, the seven-time world champion, jumped to the top of the qualifying board with about 80 seconds remaining in Saturday’s session. Valtteri Bottas, his Mercedes teammate, then moved to second.

It gave the current championship leader one final lap around the high-speed course to try to claim pole. But the Dutchman went wide in the second turn and nearly brushed the wall, then finally gave it a hard slam in the final turn as Verstappen desperately tried to bump Hamilton and Bottas from the front row.

Verstappen climbed from his damaged Red Bull and walked down the street circuit shaking his head in dismay. He then climbed through a hole in the safety fencing, caught a ride in the backseat of the safety car and returned to the paddock.

“That was terrible,” Verstappen said. “We don’t understand what happened. I locked up and I still tried to, of course, keep the car on the track to try to finish the lap but it clipped the rear and I had to stop. P3 is is a bit disappointing.”

Verstappen was likely on pace to take the pole from Hamilton.

The two championship rivals – they are separated by eight points with two races remaining – bumped fists after the session.

“What a tough track this is, incredibly technical and complex,” Hamilton said. “It’s amazing what they’ve built here, track-wise the speed and the pace around here is phenomenal.”

Hamilton earlier was summoned before the stewards for violating yellow flag rules in practice Saturday, but the British driver was not penalized. He was later issued a warning, though, and Mercedes was fined 25,000 pounds ($33,000).

With a perfect race on Sunday, Verstappen could clinch his first F1 title with a victory and a seventh-place finish by Hamilton. But he may also receive a penalty on the starting grid if Red Bull needs to make significant repairs to Verstappen’s car.

Hamilton used back-to-back victories last month to slice 11 points from Verstappen’s lead. After qualifying, he embraced Bottas for locking up the front row for Mercedes.

Bottas is being replaced at Mercedes next year and Hamilton heaped praise on his teammate.

“The collaboration has been just epic with Valtteri, he’s the best teammate there’s even been in this sport, for sure,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton, who was fastest in both of Friday’s practices, has a chance to leave Saudi Arabia tied with Verstappen in the standings if the Mercedes driver wins on Sunday and scores maximum points.

The drivers have praised the high-speed street circuit that spans 6.2 kilometers (3.8 miles), with 27 corners (16 left turns, 11 right turns). It was built along a 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) coastal resort area in Jeddah and workers were still completing final touches ahead of this weekend’s F1 debut in the country.

F1 is closing its season with three consecutive races in the Middle East and four total stops in the region this year. Hamilton spoke out in Bahrain and Qatar and said on Thursday he wouldn’t choose to race in Saudi Arabia. The season concludes next week in Abu Dhabi.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”