Lewis Hamilton bested teammate Valtteri Bottas at the last moment to claim pole for the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Bottas had swept all three practice sessions at Portimao and the first two segments of qualifying to hold provisional pole halfway through the top-10 shootout, but an inspired decision on Hamilton’s part to start his final run early enough to complete an extra timed lap allowed him to build an irresistible momentum.
The pair, unusually shod with mediums rather than the peaky soft tire, traded fastest laps with their first fliers, but Bottas wasn’t fueled for a reply lap, leaving the door open to Hamilton to snatch the fastest time with his final attempt.
“I’ve just been digging to find that extra time,” Hamilton said. “At the end there I chose to do three laps [in total] to give me a chance to have a stab at it and beat his time, and I think he decided to do one. That last lap it got better and better as I went through it.
“I can’t tell you how hard that was today. Yes, we’ve got a great car, but you have to drive the nuts off of it to pull out a lap.”
A rapid final run, and a 9️⃣7️⃣th pole for @LewisHamilton 💪
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 24, 2020
Bottas was left to rue his decision to set only one timed lap and now faces starting the race from the dirty side of the grid on this slippery new surface.
“It was my decision to go for one time because it worked in Q2,” he explained. “But apparently doing two laps for Lewis was just better.
“It was a decent lap, not perfect. It’s been tricky here to get really clean laps this weekend.”
Max Verstappen qualified his customary third, the Red Bull Racing driver 0.25s off the pace.
“Again P3, not too far behind,” he said. “A lot to play for tomorrow and we hope we can stay close.”
But the Dutchman may be at a tactical disadvantage, with both Mercedes drivers starting the race on the medium tire while he’ll take to the grid on softs, the trio diverging on strategies in Q2.
Charles Leclerc will start alongside Verstappen after qualifying a sensational fourth, just 0.4s off the benchmark, validating Ferrari’s waves of upgrades at recent rounds, most recently a new diffuser installed this weekend.
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez was half a second off the pace in fifth, enough to beat under-pressure Alex Albon’s best time in his Red Bull Racing machine.
Albon, who is fighting to keep his seat in 2021, had to use a set of medium tires for his first Q3 run after using too many sets of softs in earlier qualifying segments just to secure a top-10 berth.
McLaren teammates Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris will share the fourth row of the grid, the pair closely matched around 0.87s off the pace, ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
Daniel Ricciardo will start 10th, but the Australian failed to set a time in the top-10 shootout after crashing at the end of Q2. Ricciardo spun at Turn 11 and rear-ended the barriers, and though he was able to drive back to his garage for repairs, the team couldn’t rectify the damaged rear wing in time for him to make it back onto the track for Q3.
His teammate, Esteban Ocon, outqualified Racing Point’s Lance Stroll by 0.012s, the pair missing out on a top-10 berth by a little more than a tenth of a second.
Daniil Kvyat qualified 13th for AlphaTauri ahead of Williams driver George Russell.
Sebastian Vettel could manage only a disappointing 15th for Ferrari after complaining about a lack of tire temperature. The four-time champion had been sent out on the slower medium compound for his first lap of Q2 and ended up half a second down on the cut-off time, albeit having locked up at Turn 3. But with teammate Leclerc comfortably through to Q3 on the same compound, Ferrari sent Vettel out on a new set of the harder tire for his second run. Without the time to build temperature in the rubber, Vettel struggled again and qualified slowest of the segment.
Alfa Romeo teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi qualified 16th and 17th, topped by a late-improving Q2-bound Russell at the end of the first qualifying segment.
Haas pair Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will start 18th and 19th, and Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi will start last, having lapped almost a second slower than his teammate in Q1.