Sao Paulo Grand Prix – After being disappointed in qualifying yesterday, Lando Norris turned things around to take top spot for the Sprint later today.
After qualifying yesterday evening had dark clouds to begin with and ended in a dramatic thunderstorm, today’s Shootout however started in sunshine with blue skies and fluffy white clouds overhead. The Red Bulls were the first to emerge from the pitlane, about a minute and a half into the 12 minute opening part of the Shootout.
Verstappen opened the timesheets with a 1:11.888 on mediums, which are compulsory for both SQ1 and SQ2. With about five minutes to go, once everyone had a time on the board, it was Carlos Sainz who led the way with a 1:11.796 with Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen in P2 and P3 both within a tenth of the Ferrari driver’s effort.
At the other end of the field, it was Lance Stroll, Zhou Guanyu, Yuki Tsunoda and the two Williams cars who needed to improve to escape the drop zone.
Everyone but Verstappen was out on track and trying to improve in the final couple of minutes but Esteban Ocon went into the barrier at T3 bringing the Red Flag out with half a minute left on the clock. The session wouldn’t be resumed. As that was happening, Fernando Alonso was shown to have a front left puncture, his second after one in FP1, and was sparking his way back to the pits.
Replays then explained what happened, Ocon was on a fast lap and as he was coming up to overtake Alonso, the Alpine driver lost the rear and got out of shape and that saw him go into the side of the Aston Martin driver before continuing on into the barriers with his rear right tyre having escaped from his wheel.
The Red Flag meant a lot of cars weren’t able to set a final lap, Lando Norris being one of the few who did complete and improve, so he moved up to P2 behind Sainz. At the back, Tsunoda had just gotten into P15, demoting Ocon to P16 before the session was suspended. The other drivers in the drop zone were Stroll, Zhou, Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant.
There was a half hour wait before the Shootout got back underway as the tyre barrier that Ocon hit into needed to be repaired. Despite Aston Martin’s best efforts, Alonso’s car wasn’t able to be repaired in time so the Spaniard wouldn’t be participating in the fight for the top ten.
The Red Bulls were once again the first to head out with Verstappen starting with a 1:11.449 and halfway through the ten minute session only ten drivers had set times, Verstappen still the best of them with Sainz and Sergio Perez in P2 and P3, while Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, Valtteri Bottas and Tsunoda were in the drop zone and still to take to the track.
All fourteen cars competing in the session were on track for the final few minutes and there was a lot of time to be found with the timesheets everchanging. In the end Norris took the top spot with a 1:11.221, Perez and Verstappen both within 0.041 seconds of the McLaren driver.
Both AlphaTauri’s made it through, Ricciardo in P4 and Tsunoda P10. There was just half a tenth separating Tsunoda from Kevin Magnussen in P11 while Hulkenberg, Gasly, Bottas and Alonso, who didn’t participate, rounded out the rest of the top 15.
It was a quiet start to the final 8 minutes of running, cars only emerging on the mandatory soft compound with three and a half minutes to go. The McLarens of Piastri and Norris were the first out with the two Mercedes drivers the last to appear.
Norris was the first into the 1:10s with a 1:10.622 and Verstappen wasn’t able to beat him, the reigning champion 0.061 seconds slower. Perez had looked to be on a very quick lap but lost time at the end so could only go P3.
Norris was surprised when his team told him he was on pole and said he felt it was “one of the worst laps I’ve done”. Russell took P4, less than a tenth ahead of Hamilton while the AlphaTauri’s beat and split the Ferraris with Tsunoda taking P6 ahead of Leclerc while Ricciardo beat Sainz. The first to set a time, Piastri, was the slowest on his used tyres and finished P10.