Lewis Hamilton looks to have boosted Mercedes’ hopes of wrapping up the constructors’ championship with a race to spare by taking pole position ahead of Sebastian Vettel for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Their positions were briefly in doubt, but they escaped punishment for their involvement in two separate incidents during the qualifying hour.
Hamilton was almost involved in a collision with Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin, whilst Vettel was found guilty of breaching protocol at the FIA weighbridge.
Neither incidents were deemed worthy of a grid penalty, so the Briton will start his tenth race of the season from pole position, which also marks Mercedes’ 100th.
In the worst case scenario, the two incidents would’ve promoted Valtteri Bottas to pole position, but the Mercedes driver lines up in third ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
Regardless of position, Ferrari have a tactical advantage by starting on the harder tyres, if the race remains dry.
The Red Bulls line up with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo in fifth and sixth, whilst Marcus Ericsson led Charles Leclerc in an all-Sauber fourth row.
Qualifying Session One
With the chances of rain during the session being declared at 60%, teams and drivers were keen to complete laps early and avoid being caught out by a sudden downpour.
The rain made an appearance in Q1, but it wasn’t enough to hamper drivers’ qualifying efforts or cause any errors.
Renault’s Carlos Sainz was thousandths of a second away from progressing, but he forced to settle for 16th place, ahead of Brendon Hartley, Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll and Stoffel Vandoorne.
Qualifying Session Two
The rain did have an effect in Q2, but slick tyres were still required in the first half of the session. The usual suspects at the front progressed, but Ferrari took the risk of posting their only flying laps on the soft tyre, a much better option to start the race on if it remains dry. Red Bull and Mercedes will start the race on the supersofts.
The top two in the championship found themselves at risk of grid penalties as a result of their actions in Q2. Hamilton was unable to get out of Sergey Sirotkin’s way when the Williams driver was approaching the final corner at full speed and the pair nearly collided. However, there was a slightly more unusual incident for Vettel.
The Ferrari man was called onto the weighbridge but, according to the FIA, he didn’t switch off his engine – which is required for an accurate reading – and he broke the scales when he drove off them. Vettel was summoned to the stewards after qualifying.
With improvements looking unlikely at the end of Q2, many midfielders remained in the pits. However, Charles Leclerc rejected a call from his team to return to the pits and went on to improve his time and move up from eleventh to eighth.
This dumped Haas’ Kevin Magnussen out of qualifying, along with Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon, Nico Hulkenberg and Sergey Sirotkin.
Qualifying Session Three
Despite the threat of penalties hanging over them, Hamilton and Vettel locked out the front row, with the Mercedes man taking pole position by less than one tenth of a second.
Bottas’ and Raikkonen’s efforts fell short whilst, as expected, Red Bull didn’t have the grunt to compete with the single lap pace of Ferrari and Mercedes. Ricciardo and Verstappen were separated by just two thousandths of a second.
BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m07.281s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m07.374s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m07.441s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m07.456s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m07.778s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m07.780s
7 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m08.296s
8 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m08.492s
9 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m08.517s
10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m09.029s
11 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m08.659s
12 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m08.741s
13 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m08.770s
14 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m08.834s
15 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m10.381s
16 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m09.269s
17 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m09.280s
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m09.402s
19 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m09.441s
20 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m09.601s
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
What are your predictions for this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.