Motor racing-Verstappen to start Saudi GP in third after Red Bull forego gearbox change

Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 4, 2021 Stewards remove the car of Red Bull's Max Verstappen following a crash during qualifying REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

(Reuters) - Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen will start Sunday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from third on the grid, with his Red Bull team choosing not to change the Dutchman's gearbox after his qualifying crash.

The 24-year-old, provisionally third, was on a blinding lap to pole position on Saturday but locked up and ran wide, thumping the barriers at the exit of the final corner to hand Mercedes a front-row lockout with title rival Lewis Hamilton on pole.

The contact broke Verstappen's rear suspension and raised concerns that it might have also damaged his gearbox.

Rules require a driver to use a single gearbox for six consecutive races and fitting a new one would have seen Verstappen incur a five-place grid drop.

The final grid published by the stewards showed Verstappen starting third and an FIA technical report, which listed parts that had been replaced after qualifying, did not include the gearbox.

Verstappen, 24, leads 36-year-old Hamilton by eight points in their battle of the generations. He has his first shot at clinching a maiden title with a race to spare later on Sunday but needs to finish in the top two at least.

Seven-times champion Hamilton needs to finish only fifth to keep the battle alive into next week's Abu Dhabi finale.

The pair will be even on points if they finish as they are and Hamilton takes the bonus point for fastest lap.

(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Clare Fallon)

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