Max Verstappen has taken pole position for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix after a major thunderstorm truncated the pole shootout at Interlagos.
Qualifying got underway in cooling and overcast conditions, but dark clouds were gathering rapidly nearby the circuit and thundered over the track just minutes into Q3.
The thick cloud appeared to turn day into night. Heavy winds gusted through pit lane and lightning crackled overhead as the cars queued at the end of pit lane to try to get one lap in before the heavens opened.
Verstappen sets the early pace
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The Aston Martin drivers were first on track, with Lance Stroll pipping Fernando Alonso by 0.043s. Lewis Hamilton followed on the road but ended up slower than both.
Verstappen was next on track and was comfortably fastest, but conditions began deteriorating significantly as he crossed the line. His provisional pole time of 1m10.727s was more than half a second slower than his best Q2 lap.
George Russell was next and couldn’t improve. Charles Leclerc followed and slotted into second behind Verstappen but was 0.294s off the pace.
The Monegasque was the last driver to get anything close to competitive conditions. The wind cruelly whipped the remaining runners still attempting to set a time, with Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez all more than a second off the pace. The combination of drizzle and wind was even enough to blow Oscar Piastri off the road at Juncao without a time.
Thunder roared and the clouds began to burst as the cars returned to pit lane. With heavy rain lashing the circuit, race control called off the session.
“We didn’t know when it would hit in qualifying but we thought it would hit,” Verstappen said of the team’s decision to send him out early. “This is of course insane weather.
“Charles and I were just discussing — our laps felt terrible. The winds changed and felt very strong. We lost a lot of lap time because of it. It felt quite hectic, the last lap.”
Leclerc, who just squeaked in ahead of the weather, was surprised to find himself on the front row.
“To be honest, in my whole career I’ve never experienced something like that,” he said. “From Turn 4 there was no rain, but the car was extremely difficult to drive, no grip.
“I was thinking about just coming in at the end of my lap, but then I finished and P2. It was a big surprise.”
Stroll was an impressive third for Aston Martin, outqualifying teammate Alonso for just the second grand prix of the season.
“The car was feeling good throughout the session,” he said. “Q3 was really tricky. My lap was pretty bad, but I think conditions changed a lot.
“I had a few lock-ups and mixed some apexes. In the end good enough for top three, which is a great result.”
However, Stroll will see the stewards after the session for allegedly exceeding the maximum lap time during a slow lap in Q1. Assuming he avoids a penalty, Alonso will line alongside his teammate on the second row ahead of an all-Mercedes third row, with Hamilton ahead of Russell.
Russell, though, is also up for a post-race stewards investigation for blocking the long pit exit lane, with drivers having specifically been warned to keep hard to the left to avoid the sorts of impeding incidents that marred last weekend’s race in Mexico.
Norris was bitterly disappointed to qualify seventh in the worsening weather. The McLaren driver was fastest in Q2 and believed he had the pace to contend for pole position but was helpless in the conditions.
Sainz will start eighth ahead of Perez, who was the only driver behind the spun-off Piastri, forcing him to slow for the ensuing yellow flags. Perez will also face a post-session investigation for impeding in the pit exit lane.
Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg will line up 11th ahead of Alpine teammates Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly. Then again, Gasly and Ocon ended the session also under stewards investigation for blocking the pit exit lane in Q1…
Kevin Magnussen felt he had been baulked by a Ferrari at Turn 7, but television replays suggested the Dane ran deep at the corner and spoiled his own lap.
Alex Albon qualified 15th after having his fastest lap time deleted, though the quicker time wouldn’t have promoted him any higher up the order.
Yuki Tsunoda will line up 16th despite burning through three sets of soft tires in a bid to escape the bottom five, but in a super-tight session he was less than half a second off top spot and 0.044s short of Q2.
Daniel Ricciardo’s steep comedown from his Mexico qualifying heroics ended with 17th on the grid 0.006s behind his teammate and ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu at the back of the grid.