Valtteri Bottas snatched pole position for tomorrow’s Brazilian Grand Prix from Sebastian Vettel, as newly-crowned Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton sensationally crashed into the wall on his first flying lap in the first qualifying session.
Vettel had provisional pole going into the final run, but he braked too early for Turn 1 and left the door open. Bottas gratefully took the opportunity and managed a 1m08.322s on his final run – a new track record and 2.4secs inside the 2016 pole – edging Vettel by 0.038s to secure his first pole since the Austrian Grand Prix.
Kimi Raikkonen will lead the second row for Sunday’s race, alongside last weekend’s winner Max Verstappen.
Having threatened to be in the fight for pole, Hamilton lost control of his Mercedes on the exit of Ferradura in Q1, collecting the tyre barrier to bring out the red flag.
Hamilton will start from the pit lane, taking a new engine, turbo and MGU-H unit.
His comeback and that of Daniel Ricciardo from 15th on the grid, will be highlights of the race. Strategically Ferrari has the clear upper hand as they can go short with one car and long with the other and Bottas cannot cover both.
It should be an excellent race.
Raikkonen led the way in the first session, setting a 1m09.405s on the soft compound tyres. The two Ferraris were split by Mercedes’ Bottas, who had led the third free practice session earlier in the day.
Setting a 1m09.643s, Vettel also did his best time on soft tyres to save a set of supersofts to give Ferrari more options with regards to tyre strategy in the race.
Home favourite Felipe Massa was perilously close to the drop zone throughout the session, but rocketed up to fourth with a late lap to edge in front of both Red Bulls, who were separated by just eight-thousandths of a second.
Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean and Esteban Ocon all completed the top 10, separated by just 0.1s.
Alongside Hamilton’s first Q1 exit since last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, both Saubers were unable to escape the drop-zone – Pascal Wehrlein outpacing Marcus Ericsson, while Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll qualified in between the two – the latter having missed running in FP3 with a power unit failure.]
There was a welcome boost for Brendon Hartley who made the cut for Q2 in the Toro Rosso. As he has a substantial engine penalty he didn’t set a time in Q2, but did some short runs and practice starts.
The beginning of the second session was peppered with light drizzle, but could not stop the times around the Interlagos circuit from tumbling, with Vettel emerging at the head of the field
Bottas became the first driver to break the 1m08s barrier with a 1m08.901s lap, but managed to take a further two tenths out of his best lap in the dying stages of the session.
Vettel went even faster, raising the bar with a 1m08.494s to set up a showdown with Bottas for pole in Q3.
Verstappen was third fastest, falling four tenths behind Bottas and beating Raikkonen to fourth – who was 0.622s slower than his team-mate.
Daniel Ricciardo bucked the trend by becoming the only driver to run in Q2 on soft tyres, meaning he will be starting tomorrow’s race on a different compound to those around him.
Fernando Alonso snatched sixth late on, dumping Ocon into the drop-zone and emerging ahead of Massa who continued to show strong form at his home race.
Hulkenberg, Perez and Sainz also progressed to Q3 as Stoffel Vandoorne, Brendon Hartley and both Haas drivers joined Ocon in being eliminated.
Vettel set the early pace on the first runs, edging Bottas’ benchmark by 0.082s before the field regrouped in the pits to prepare for their final laps.
Raikkonen was just behind the pair, asserting Ferrari’s dominance over Red Bull by keeping both Verstappen and Ricciardo at arm’s length.
With two minutes left on the clock, the field returned to the track with the threat of rain looming, but thankfully the battle for pole remained unspoiled.
Vettel’s final lap was altogether slower than his first effort, allowing Bottas to step up. Setting the best first sector time of the session en route to pole, the Finnish driver has crucial track position in tomorrow’s race as he and Vettel battle for second in the drivers’ championship.
Raikkonen and Verstappen occupy row two, Perez and Alonso lining up behind them thanks to Ricciardo’s grid penalty.
Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos, Qualifying
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