Sao Paulo Grand Prix – Max Verstappen will start on pole on Sunday after his banker sealed him the position before heavy rain ended the session early.
The start of qualifying was delayed by 15 minutes while marshalls swept the track of debris after Pirelli reported multiple punctures and cuts were found on tyres after free practice one. There were also dark clouds overhead and there was a potential for rain to play a part in qualifying once things got underway.
Oscar Piastri led the rush out of the pits once the session did get underway. With the rules changed now so that stopping at the pit exit is not allowed, after the chaos in Mexico where cars were stopping to create a gap, this time there were instead cars going very slowly along the left of the long pit exit.
The McLaren driver started things off with a 1:11.494 on the softs and after everyone had set a time it was the Australian’s teammate, Lando Norris, who was top of the times with a 1:10.623. Lewis Hamilton was P2, two and a half tenths back while Max Verstappen was six hundredths back.
After the session George Russell and Pierre Gasly will have to report to the Stewards for the the Mercedes potentially impeding the Alpine by going slowly and not staying to the left on the pit exit, so Gasly was half on the grass trying to overtake.
With ten minutes to go both Ferraris, Sergio Perez, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu were in the drop zone after their opening efforts. Though most were still out and on quicker second laps.
With four minutes to go Leclerc was on top with a 1:10.472 with Piastri and Lance Stroll within a tenth of him in P2 and P3 while the two Haas, Zhou and the two Williams were in the elimination positions.
Drops of rain were being reported in the final few minutes of the session while Leclerc, Piastri, Alex Albon, who’d moved himself to P4, and the two Alfa Romeos remained in the pits.
In the end Russell and Verstappen went quicker than Leclerc’s earlier effort, the Mercedes driver setting a 1:10.340 with the Dutch driver just less than a tenth behind. At the back neither of the AlphaTauris, Alfa Romeos or Sargeant will be continuing on in their qualifying journey.
The two Alpine drivers will also be heading to the Stewards later as they impeded a few drivers by going slowly in the middle of the pit exit road.
Dark clouds remained overhead with spits of rain continuing as the second part of qualifying started. The Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez were at the top of the queue to get out of the pits and the Dutch driver started things with a 1:10.162. Everyone once again on soft tyres.
With ten minutes to go Verstappen had been joined at the top by the two McLarens, Norris 0.161 seconds slower on used softs while Piastri, on new, was just 0.007 seconds further back.
The track quietened down with only the Mercedes, Ferrari and the Haas cars, who were last out and just setting their first timed laps, it was Alex Albon, Fernando Alonso, the two Ferraris and Russell in the drop zone.
As the other cars started to re-emerge, Carlos Sainz and Russell moved up to P2 and P3 with Charles Leclerc taking P6 to demote the two Haas cars and Pierre Gasly out of the top ten.
Norris improved to the top of the times with a 1:10.021 before heading to the pits to watch the last couple of minutes of the session from there, Perez, the Aston Martins and Albon all saw out the end of Q2 in their garages.
There weren’t really any improvements so Norris ended P1 ahead of the Red Bulls and Alonso while Hulkenberg, Gasly, Ocon, Magnussen and Albon failed to get into the top ten.
The Aston Martins were at the head of the queue this time while the clouds overhead had gotten ever darker so it was almost impossible to imagine the session would finish in dry conditions.
The first time on the board was Alonso’s 1:11.387 and after everyone but Piastri, who’d gone off as rain started, had set times it was Verstappen on provisional pole with a 1:10.727, three tenths up on Leclerc with Stroll and Alonso P3 and P4.
All cars retreated to the pits and Alonso summed it up saying “it’s night” as the clouds completely drowned out any light while thunder sounded. The session was Red Flagged with 4:19 on the clock and the message “session will not be resumed” was posted.
Verstappen and Leclerc will start on the first row while the two Astons will share the second row. Behind them will be the two Mercedes with Hamilton taking P5 ahead of Russell, and row four will see Norris and Sainz in P7 and P8 while Perez and Piastri round out the top ten.