The Dutchman was unable to set a representative lap at the end of the session at the Hungaroring after a power unit problem blocked his progress.
With Verstappen out of the picture, Ferrari was still unable to capitalize as George Russell claimed a shocking pole position ahead of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen has a 63-point lead over Leclerc with one race before the summer break, so the Red Bull driver could afford a mediocre result or two.
“I was surprised to see it,” said Verstappen of Russell’s first pole. “They were close, but I didn’t expect them to make that jump in Q3, but it was fun for me too.
“Well, they need me a favor tomorrow. That’s more important.”
After a difficult Friday where Ferrari dominated the timesheets, Verstappen was surprised by the performance of the RB18 in Hungary.
Verstappen explained the power unit problem: “I just didn’t have the strength to leave the pitlane on that last run. The engine was running but there was no release and that is painful of course.
“I was certainly surprised. All the guys and girls here and back at the factory were analyzing a lot last night because we weren’t happy at all. But we made some really positive changes and the car was a lot better to drive for me.
“We looked very competitive, in Q2 and even on a used set of tires we were always there and very fast. I was looking forward to Q3 and then the first lap didn’t go according to plan, but then I knew the car’s pace was there. Unfortunately we were unable to show up.”
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner thinks Verstappen would have been fourth ‘at worst’.
“Look, I don’t know, theoretically I think Max was at least fourth and improved the track,” Horner added.
“I think we could have at least had a chance today, in the front row. At least it happened today, not tomorrow. We will race hard from there and give it our all.”
It was a frustrating day for Sergio Perez, who was eliminated in Q2 and settled for 11th on the grid.
“It was very frustrating to lose Checo in Q2, he got a bit of traffic in Turn 2 and then Max felt a lot more comfortable with the balance of the car today and I think we had a shot from pole today. Horn explained. “A lock-up on the first run-up to Turn 2 put us on the back foot, but we were still confident we could work it out.
“Unfortunately, a problem with the power unit on his lap, we tried to reset sensors and so on to fix it and clear it, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Not a representative time of Max in Q3 so 10th/11th on the grid, it will be a busy race tomorrow. Congratulations to George Russell on his first pole, a nice clean lap.”