Lewis Hamilton secured pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix in a dramatic session that saw errors by both the five-time world champion and Sebastian Vettel.
In a bizarre incident during Q2, Vettel was left under investigation after failing to follow instructions at the weigh bridge. The FIA called Vettel in, but he refused to turn off the engine and forced an FIA employee to move as he drove on. Vettel then drove off the scales under his own power — which is not the protocol — and in doing so broke the scales, leading to an investigation.
Q2 also saw Hamilton and Sergey Sirotkin nearly come together as the Mercedes tried to move off line late as Sirotkin approached at full speed despite being on an out lap. Hamilton was then caught in a similar situation with Kimi Raikkonen — albeit much less clear cut — but as of the end of the session there was no investigation from the stewards.
Amid that confusion and a threat of rain, an enthralling fight for pole position was developing as Hamilton, Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Raikkonen were covered by just 0.155s at the end of the first runs. Light rain made improvements tough, with Hamilton posting a 1m07.281s to edge further clear of Vettel, beating him by 0.093s as the German struggled in the middle sector.
Bottas and Raikkonen both failed to improve and will start third and fourth respectively, with Max Verstappen half a second adrift in fifth. Daniel Ricciardo qualified sixth but will start from 11th due to a power unit penalty, promoting Marcus Ericsson to a career-best sixth on the grid — which could become fifth should Vettel receive a five-place grid penalty.
The two Saubers were originally seventh and eighth with Charles Leclerc 0.2s off his teammate but he too gains at least one position from Ricciardo’s grid drop, as do Romain Grosjean and Pierre Gasly who were ninth and 10th in Q3.
Aside from the incidents in Q2, it seemed Leclerc was going to be eliminated after making a mistake starting a flying lap as rain intensified, but he managed to save enough fuel for one final attempt and pulled out an excellent effort to progress and knock out Kevin Magnussen.
Also dropping out were the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon — who will start from 18th due to a gearbox penalty — as well as Nico Hulkenberg and Sirotkin.
Teams were eager to get out early in Q1 with a threat of rain incoming, with a queue at the end of the pit lane to start the session. Leclerc spun at Turn 10 but recovered to advance safely, while the rain started to close in and those in the drop zone were left with a tough decision of when to head out for their final runs in case conditions deteriorated.
In the end light rain did not slow lap times enough and drivers were still able to improve right up until the checkered flag, but ultimately McLaren was just too slow and suffered its fourth double-elimination in Q1 in five races with Fernando Alonso 18th and Stoffel Vandoorne 20th.
Lance Stroll was sandwiched between the two McLarens as the bottom three were 0.1s adrift of an extremely close battle for the final spots in Q2, with four drivers split by just 0.021s. Progressing were Sirotkin and Ocon, with Carlos Sainz and Brendon Hartley just missing out.