Lewis Hamilton will head the field for the Saturday sprint at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix after beating Max Verstappen by almost half a second.
The Briton never looked likely to be beaten in qualifying after being comfortably fastest in opening practice. Both his laps in Q3 were quick enough to top the session, and his final attempt, a 1m07.934s was 0.438s better than Verstappen’s scruffy fastest lap.
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It was the first time Hamilton has topped qualifying since the Hungarian Grand Prix in August and only the fourth time he’s been fastest this season, though the sprint weekend format and his five-place grid penalty for a new engine means he won’t be credited with pole position.
“A big thank-you to all the team, because they’ve been working flat out,” he said. “Today was a really good qualifying session. I’m super happy with it.
“I feel really grateful. it’s crazy because it’s a while, so it feels like the first.”
Verstappen was accepting of defeat, putting it down to a difference in power thanks to Hamilton’s new internal combustion engine, and was undoubtedly buoyed to know pole will be his on Sunday if he finishes second behind Hamilton in the sprint.
“When they take a new engine, naturally they have a bit more power for a weekend, so for me it’s not a big shock,” he said. “I’m just happy to be second. It’s a good position to start from. Of course you always want to be closer, but sometimes you just have to be more realistic.”
Valtteri Bottas will start third, the Finn 0.535s off the pace of his teammate.
“Obviously a good starting place, and all to play for,” he said. “Hopefully it will be lap one full of action, so let’s see.”
Sergio Perez was just 0.014s behind Bottas to take fourth on the sprint grid and complete the second row.
Pierre Gasly will head the midfield in fifth ahead of both Ferrari drivers. Carlos Sainz came within 0.049s of the Frenchman and his fellow 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix podium-getter but was a comfortable 0.134s ahead of Charles Leclerc. McLaren’s Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo followed, the pair split by just 0.059s.
Alpine was next up, with Fernando Alonso knocked out 10th and last in Q3 but lining up ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon in 11th, while Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel is set to line up 12th.
Yuki Tsunoda’s three-race run of Q3 appearances ended with 13th in the classification ahead of Alfa Romeo teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, while Lance Stroll was 16th in the second Aston Martin car.
Nicholas Latifi beat Williams teammate George Russell in qualifying for the first time in his career, the pair 17th and 18th respectively.
Haas drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin completed the grid in 19th and 20th, the last-placed Russian emotional after having an opportunity to beat his teammate before running too deep into Turn 8.