Sao Paulo Grand Prix – The 2021 title contenders will line up first and second for Saturday’s Sprint with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton taking pole ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Hamilton gave his title chances a boost at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace as the Briton’s time of 1:07.934 was half a second clear of his title rival Verstappen.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas will prove a threat to Verstappen for the Sprint as he lines up in third on the grid. But Bottas will also have a target on his pack as Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull lines up fourth.
However, Hamilton does have a grid penalty for Sunday’s race lingering over his head as the Mercedes driver has taken a new engine for this weekend.
With early rain predicted, a number of cars left the garage early, including both Ferrari’s and Red Bull cars. With only soft tyres available for this weekend due to the sprint format, there were no unusual tyre strategies available for qualifying.
In the driver’s first runs it was Mercedes who set the pace with Hamilton setting the timing screens alight with a 1:08.824, some five tenths faster than Red Bull’s Verstappen behind. Bottas was another half tenth adrift in third with and impressive Lando Norris in fourth place for McLaren.
In their second runs, the Ferrari’s raised some eyebrows with Carlos Sainz going into second fastest with a time just two tenths off Hamilton. Teammate Charles Leclerc was right up with Sainz, but had a time deleted for exceeding track limits leaving the Monaco man with it all to do.
With less than five minutes remaining, Hamilton laid down the marker with a 1:08.733 and extended his advantage over Sainz in second by a tenth. Leclerc was able to get a respective laptime in with just a minute remaining to slot into third place, just ahead of Bottas and behind his teammte.
As the chequered flag fell, the Red Bull cars got into fifth and sixth, with Perez going quicker than his teammate. But it was Mercedes who set the pace with Bottas slotting into second place behind Hamilton.
Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin, Nicholas Latifi for Williams, George Russell in the other Williams, Mick Schumacher for Haas, and teammate Nikita Mazepin were knocked out at the end of Q1.
The weather threat from Q1 seemed to abate and drivers weren’t in too much of a hurry to go out in Q2. Nearly four minutes passed before both Mercedes cars left the garage.
In the first runs, the Mercedes cars were out-paced by other cars with Verstappen going up to the top of the pile with a 1:08.567. Hamilton’s time would have been good enough for second place, but his lap was deleted for exceeding track limits.
A surprise Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri was second, three tenths off the sister team, with Leclerc in third, a further half tenth back.
Hamilton’s second stab at provisional pole was more successful and a time of 1:08.386 was good enough to move him into first place. The Mercedes was nearly two tenths faster than Verstappen, with Bottas slotting in to third place behind.
In the second runs, Hamilton extended his advantage over the field as set is 1:08.068, half a second clear of Verstappen in second place behind. Bottas then crossed the line to go into second place, bumping the Red Bull into third.
At the end of the session, the drivers knocked out were: Esteban Ocon in the Alpine, Sebastian Vettel for Aston Martin, Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri, and the two Alfa Romeo cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
In the final shootout for pole position, it was Leclerc who was first out onto the track. The Ferrari drivers’ time of 1:09.403 was immediately beaten by his teammate Sainz who went half a second faster.
However, it was Mercedes who set the pace with Hamilton going into provisional pole with a 1:08.107. Bottas did go into second on the grid, but was beaten by Verstappen who put his Red Bull into second, two tenths off the benchmark. Perez slotted into fourth place, nearly half a second slower than his teammate.
The drivers left the pits for their second runs with just minutes to spare as each driver donned a fresh pair of soft tyres in their fight for pole.
Hamilton extended his advantage up front by half a second over Verstappen. Bottas was unable to improve and stayed in third, with Perez improving his time by two tenths, but it wasn’t enough to move him up a position.
Pierre Gasly set and impressive fifth for AlphaTauri, with the two Ferrari’s of Sainz and Leclerc in sixth and seventh.
The two McLaren’s of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were in eighth and ninth, whilst Fernando Alonso in the Alpine rounded out the top ten.