Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were both surprised by Honda’s performance level in qualifying at the Brazilian Grand Prix as Max Verstappen took pole position for Red Bull.
The top three teams were almost identically matched in the final sector during Q3 on Saturday, with the power-dependent drag up the hill to the finish line seeing only a difference of 0.023s between the best sector times for Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. With Red Bull also making gains in the middle sector, Vettel — who finished 0.123s behind Verstappen in second place — says he was surprised Ferrari didn’t hold an advantage in straight-line speed.
“Obviously there is no progress from one race to another, because it’s the same engine I suppose,” Vettel said. “I don’t think they have introduced a new spec. It was a bit of a surprise; usually we’ve seen a lot of qualifying sessions and we were a bit faster than everyone in the straight, losing a bit in the corners, but today Max and Alex (Albon) were as fast down the straights as us. That’s about it — I don’t know why. I know we didn’t do anything different.”
Hamilton had a similar reaction to Red Bull’s qualifying pace, saying he wasn’t expecting the Honda power unit to be so strong at Interlagos.
“It’s obviously great for the sport that we have another manufacturer that’s starting to produce good engines and helping their team get up there,” Hamilton said. “I don’t fully understand it because we’ve only had the few engines that we have, so I don’t know if you can bring upgrades to the engines once you have a new one, but anyway they were very quick and we’ve got work to do for sure. My boys back home are working as hard as they can for next year.
“I don’t think in the last race (Red Bull) had that speed deficit to us. On top of that they are quickest in the middle sector, so they obviously still have the same amount of downforce but obviously more power this weekend. Considering we are at a higher altitude, I have no idea where that comes from.”
Despite qualifying third, Hamilton is pleased with his performance in getting so close to Vettel and being faster than Charles Leclerc before the latter took a 10-place grid penalty.
“It’s not too often it goes particularly easy but it was definitely a challenging session. I think P3 was really strong for us and then once we got to qualifying, these guys had great pace and we were losing out to Max on the straights by quite a chunk, which was the majority of where the time was coming from.
“I just kept chipping away at it and the last lap was really as good as it could for us. In all honesty the car felt really good, just lacking a bit of pace on the straights but maybe tomorrow that will put us in a good position in terms of longevity. Otherwise I’m happy to be able to split the Ferraris — it always puts a smile on my face.”