Verstappen locked up at his final braking point of the day, tried to stay on the power on the exit of the corner, and the rear of his Red Bull hit the wall.
The shunt means Lewis Hamilton has pole for the race, while Verstappen is set to start third. Given there is just eight points between them, the title lead could very well change hands on Sunday before the decider next weekend.
“It’s of course terrible,” said Verstappen, who was two and a half tenths up on Hamilton before his last-gasp mistake. “It’s extremely disappointing… I thought in the last corner there was still a bit to gain.
Verstappen’s lap was indeed a cracker before Turn 27, finding the limits of the street circuit – he even clipped the wall in the first sector – and he had posted the best two sectors of qualifying before the final turns.
He was two tenths up on Hamilton, who had long completed his last lap, at that stage. Could he have taken the last corner less aggressively given the dash on the steering wheel was telling him how much faster he was?
“I knew that I was at the time second behind Lewis,” Verstappen told Sky F1. “Arriving at the first corner I was three tenths under my lap time.
“But then of course I still wanted to do a good last corner. I thought I braked at a similar point and I just got a lock up. I still tried to rescue the lap but I hit the wall and really quickly broke the rear.”
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“It’s very difficult when you’ve committed as much as Max clearly had on that last lap to just just go, ‘I’ll go a bit gentle’,” said Hill. “He was fully committed the whole way round.
Not only did Verstappen’s crash cost him pole, but there was immediate worry surrounding his new gearbox, as damage to that could lead to a replacement and a subsequent five-place grid penalty.
“Hopefully it’s not a gearbox penalty because that would be especially brutal,” said Horner, with Red Bull currently investigating the damage.
Verstappen said he also wasn’t sure but commented: “It didn’t look too bad when I looked at it.”