Max Verstappen has taken his second career pole position with a confident drive in qualifying at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Dutchman took provisional pole by just 0.008s with his first lap, but despite failing to improve in the first and third sectors, a purple second split was enough to pull him 0.123s clear of the field and seal the deal.
“The car was really good,” Verstappen said. “Straightaway from Q1 the car was flying and it was actually enjoyable to drive, so really happy with this pole.”
The return of Ferrari’s straight-line power seemed certain to put the red cars in the pole fight, but second was the best Sebastian Vettel could manage after failing to improve with his second flying lap.
The German was equivocal about his race prospect from the front row, with Ferrari’s appearing slowest of the front-running three on race simulations during practice.
“I’m happy with the front row, but we’ll see what we can do tomorrow,” he said. “It will be difficult. I think both Red Bull and Mercedes look a bit stronger managing tires.
“I’m carefully optimistic. I think it should be a good race.”
Lewis Hamilton completed the top three, 0.191 seconds off pole and confounded by Mercedes’s loss of performance between Saturday practice and qualifying.
“We seemed quite competitive in P3, but then we seemed to lose when we got into qualifying — or [Red Bull Racing and Ferrari] gained,” he said. “Nonetheless, happy to divide the Ferraris. It’s always a tough challenge. I gave it absolutely everything I had.”
Charles Leclerc qualified fourth, but the Monegasque had the pace for pole, losing a crucial 0.3 seconds in the second sector to his personal best that would have had him close the 0.220-second deficit to Verstappen.
Compounding his problems is a 10-place grid penalty for an unscheduled internal combustion unit change, which will demote him to 13th. He will, however, start on the medium-compound tire in an attempt to make strategic progress through the field.
Valtteri Bottas qualified fifth in the second Mercedes, 0.366s off pole but a tenth ahead of Alex Albon in the sister Red Bull Racing machine.
Pierre Gasly was superb for Toro Rosso to qualify seventh fastest, edging Haas’s Romain Grosjean by just 0.017s. Grosjean was split from teammate Kevin Magnussen in 10th by Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen in the American team’s first double Q3 appearance since the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
Lando Norris lamented not putting together a clean lap on his way to 11th, just 0.01 outside a Q3 berth, but the McLaren driver was quick enough to beat both Renault drivers by the end of Q2. Daniel Ricciardo was quickest for the French team in 12th, split from the 14th-placed Nico Hulkenberg by Antonio Giovinazzi, who spoiled his final qualifying lap by spinning his Alfa Romeo at Turn 8.
Sergio Perez was slowest in Q2, qualifying 15th.
Daniil Kvyat qualified 16th, missing out on Q2 by 0.032s after a touch of oversteer at Juncao, but the Russian was nonetheless 0.6s slower than teammate Gasly, who cruised through the session.
Lance Stroll was 17th fastest and 0.2s behind Kvyat, while Williams teammates George Russell and Robert Kubica rounded out the qualifiers.
Carlos Sainz failed to set a time due to to a power unit problem on his first attempt at a flying lap. The Spaniard was rocketing up the hill through the final sector when his McLaren suddenly lost power, forcing him back to his garage for urgent repairs that couldn’t be completed before the end of Q1.