Lewis Hamilton said he was “incredibly disappointed” after dropping out of qualifying for Saturday’s road race in Austria.
In a desperate night for Mercedes at Spielberg, Hamilton’s teammate George Russell also ended up in the barriers as Max Verstappen delighted his 60,000-strong Orange Army by taking pole position. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished second and third for Ferrari.
Hamilton looked set to challenge the Red Bulls and Ferraris in his rejuvenated Mercedes machine.
But, with just five minutes remaining, the British driver lost control of his car at the seventh left-hand corner before sliding across the gravel and crashing into the tire wall.
Hamilton sat in the cockpit of his Mercedes as Verstappen fans celebrated his misfortune.
The 37-year-old man emerged from his high-speed accident uninjured before he was taken away in the medical car.
But his Mercedes mechanics face some serious repair work overnight for Saturday’s 24-lap race after Hamilton sustained extensive damage to the front right of his car.
And Hamilton could be subject to a grid penalty if he has to change gearboxes.
“I am incredibly disappointed in myself and I am so sorry for the team,” he said.
“Everyone worked so hard to put this car together and I never like to bring it in damaged.
“We were fighting for the top three. I don’t have an answer for that. I lost the rear at turn seven and that was it.
“I am encouraged by our performance because I did not expect to be so close today. That’s very positive for the team, but I’m really quite behind.
“I don’t know what’s possible from there, but we have a sprint race tomorrow, so hopefully I can make up for lost time.”
Qualifying was suspended for 11 minutes to recover Hamilton’s injured Mercedes, but moments after it restarted Russell was off the track.
While attacking the final corner, Russell’s Mercedes fell off and he crashed into the barrier, damaging his rear wing.
Russell finished fifth but was later promoted to fourth at the expense of Sergio Pérez, who was demoted to 13th after his Q3 lap was scrapped for exceeding track limits.
However, like Hamilton, who moved up to ninth following the Mexican’s suspension, Russell could be penalized if he has to add new parts.
“I wouldn’t say it was a lucky escape because we need to check the crash damage, and there’s nothing lucky about making a mistake like that,” the 24-year-old said.
“It could have been fourth because I was a tenth above my lap.
“I feel sorry for the team and for the guys in the garage. I’m a little worried about the car and if we can fix it.”
The Red Bull Ring is the setting for the second of three Formula One speed rounds this season.
Saturday’s abbreviated race to the checkered flag sets the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix, which marks the halfway point of this season’s 22-round campaign.
It is effectively a home race for Verstappen after 60,000 Dutch fans embarked on the nine-hour journey from Holland to fill the 105,000-capacity arena.
Orange smoke billowed over the 2.7-mile 10-corner track as the traveling contingent lit flares in support of the world champion.
And the Orange Army reveled, first in Hamilton’s crash and then in Verstappen’s pole lap, which beat Leclerc by just 0.029sec.
“It’s amazing to see so much orange in the stands,” said Verstappen, who leads the championship by 34 points.
“The support definitely makes me smile and I hope we can make it a great weekend.”