Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas claimed his third career pole position, beating Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by just ovet three hundredths of a second, as newly-crowned four-time champion Lewis Hamilton dramatically crashed out in Q1.
The Briton, who had taken to the track early in a bid to put in a solid time in case of rain, lost control as he exited Turn 6. The back end of his car stepped out and he slid off into the tyre barriers, wrecking the front right side of his Mercedes.
The crash resulted in a brief red flag period as Hamilton’s car was cleared. When the action resumed Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas quickly jumped to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:10.053.
He was soon eclipsed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and then by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with the Ferrari driver posting a time of 1:09.796. Bottas responded with a time of 1:09.452 but he was then pipped by Kimi Räikkönen in the second Ferrari with a lap of 1:09.405.
At the bottom of the timesheet, Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley was the driver to profit from Hamilton’s exit. With the Briton rooted to the bottom of the timesheet by his crash, there would be just four further eliminations and with a lap of 1:10.625 Hartley managed to take P15, five hundredths of a second ahead of Pascal Wehrlein. The Sauber driver was eliminated ahead of the second Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, the Williams of Lance Stroll, the second Sauber of Marcus Ericsson and Hamilton.
Stroll had suffered a mechanical issue in FP3 and was late to the fray in Q1 but the Canadian failed to land a good time with his final flyer. Team-mate Felipe Massa, meanwhile began his final qualifying session in front of his home crowd with an excellent lap of 1:09.789 that earned fourth place in the segment behind Räikkönen, Bottas and Vettel.
Bottas set the pace early in Q2 with a lap of 1:08.901 that left him just over a tenth of a second clear of Vettel and a further tenth up on Räikkönen. The Red Bull pairing of Verstappen and Ricciardo slotted into fourth and fifth places respectively.
Unusually for Q2, which often sees the frontrunners remain in their garages in for the final runs, the top five drivers returned to the track in the final stages of the segment and it was Vettel who found the most time. The German took top spot with a time of 1:08.494, 0.144 ahead of Bottas. Verstappen went through in third place, fourth tenths behind Bottas, with Räikkönen fourth ahead of Ricciardo.
In the drop zone as the final runs began were Haas’ Romain Grosjean in 11th, followed by McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen and Toro Rosso’s Hartley.
Hulkenberg was the man to profit, the Renault driver jumping to eighth place by the time session ended. As other times flooded in, it meant that Force India’s Esteban Ocon was the man to lose out, the French driver being eliminated in P1 ahead of Grosjean, Vandoorne, Magnussen and Hartley.
Vettel again set the pace in the final Q3 session. Bottas was first on track and set a time of 1:08.442 but Vettel bypassed it by eight hundredths of a second to claim top spot. Räikkönen was third, while Verstappen claimed fourth with his first run just under three tenths of a second ahead of team-mate Ricciardo.
But it was Bottas who made the most of the final runs. As drops of rain began to fall across Interlagos, Vettel failed to find an improvement on his last lap, the German saying that he had not done his best work in the first sector and lost most time there. That opened the door for Bottas and the Finn barged through to claim his third career pole position with a lap of 1:08.322, 0.038s ahead of his Ferrari rival.
Räikkönen took third in the second Ferrari with a time of 1:08.538 and Verstappen improved to be the only other driver inside the 1m09s mark. Ricciardo finished fifth but is set for a grid penalty for the race, while Sergio Perez was sixth. Alonso put in a good performance to claim seventh place ahead of Hulkenberg, Sainz and Massa.
2017 Brazilian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:08.322
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:08.360
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:08.538
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:08.925
5 Sergio Perez Force India 1:09.598
6 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:09.617
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:09.703
8 Carlos Sainz Renault 1:09.805
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1:09.841
10 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:09.830
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:09.879
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:10.116
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:10.154
14 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:09.330
15 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1:10.678
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:10.875
17 Lance Stroll Williams 1:10.776
18 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso
19 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:10.686
20 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes No Time