Valtteri Bottas secured the third pole position of his career with a superb last-lap effort at the Brazilian Grand Prix as teammate Lewis Hamilton will start from the back of the grid.
Hamilton crashed out in the early stages of Q1 as he lost control on his first flying lap of the session. The newly-crowed world champion lost the rear of his car at Turn 7, sliding at high-speed across a run-off area and hitting the tire barrier side on, heavily damaging the left-hand side of his car.
That opened the door for Bottas to take advantage, but with a stern challenge from Ferrari it took an impressive final attempt to secure P1. Sebastian Vettel had taken provisional pole but was unable to improve as light rain started falling at the end of Q3 – admitting he “chickened out a bit” on the brakes into Turn 1 – and Bottas produced the lap he needed to snatch pole right at the end by just 0.038s.
Kimi Raikkonen will start from third after fading slightly on his final lap to end up 0.2s off the pace in third, Max Verstappen fourth for Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo qualified one place behind his team-mate but will drop ten positions on the grid due to power unit penalties, promoting Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso to the third row.
Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz and Felipe Massa completed the top 10, with the Brazilian catching a big slide at the same point Hamilton crashed when on his first attempt.
While light rain also started to fall at the start of Q2, conditions remained good enough for running to take place on the slick tires and the rain didn’t intensify enough to impact on lap times. Vettel hit the front for the first time at the end of the session but those fighting for a place in Q3 were part of a very tight midfield battle on such a short lap.
Esteban Ocon was the man to drop out in 11th place, with the Force India driver ending up only 0.07s adrift of teammate Perez in ninth place but being pipped to a spot in Q3 by Sainz. Romain Grosjean was also right in the mix in 12th place, the last of eight cars covered by less than 0.3s.
Stoffel Vandoorne dropped out in 13th ahead of Kevin Magnussen, while Brendon Hartley failed to set a time after advancing to Q2 after a troublesome weekend for Toro Rosso.
The first part of qualifying had to be red-flagged for eight minutes while marshals moved to clear Hamilton’s car, with the delay allowing Williams to finish replacing Lance Stroll’s power unit and gearbox after problems in FP3. However, Stroll was unable to progress and will also face a five-place grid penalty for the gearbox change having dropped out in 18th place.
Only Marcus Ericsson split Stroll from Hamilton at the end of the session, with Pascal Wehrlein dropping out in 16th place in the other Sauber, 0.053s adrift of Hartley. Wehrlein was able to pip Hartley’s Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly by a mere 0.008s.
The two Toro Rosso drivers also have power unit penalties this weekend, but Hamilton is guaranteed to start last on the grid having failed to set a time in qualifying.