Lewis Hamilton took his 60th career pole position at Interlagos, edging Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by a tenth of a second. Kimi Raikkonen was third for Ferrari, ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and the second Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel was in trouble ahead of qualifying, with Ferrari hard at work in the garage in the minutes leading up to Q1 as they worked on his car’s brake system.
There was no sign of the German as the session got underway and a stream of cars headed on track to put in ‘baker’ laps just in case of rain later in the session.
Hamilton quickly took P1 followed by Rosberg, Verstappen, the first Ferrari of Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Williams’ Felipe Massa. All then retired to the garage to sit out the rest of the session, comfortable with their times.
Vettel made his appearance after five minutes and any panic was averted with his first flying lap. He set a time of 1:12.159 to steal P5 from Ricciardo and secure passage to Q2.
In the drop zone from 17th pace as the final runs approached were McLaren’s Jenson Button, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson and Renault’s Kevin Magnussen.
Magnussen made the most significant step, jumping to P18 from P22 but none of the bottom six were able to escape the drop zone and Button exited in P17 ahead of Magnussen, Wehrlein, Ocon, Ericsson and Nasr.
As has become customary, Mercedes were first on track in Q2 and neither Hamilton and Rosberg made an attempt to try to progress on a different tyres to other. Both bolted on soft tyres immediately and Hamilton secured his Q3 berth with a P1 time of 1:11.238. Rosberg slotted into P2 0.135s behind his team-mate ahead of Verstappen, Vettel, Ricciardo and Raikkonen. Bottas was seventh ahead of Alonso, Hulkenberg and Perez.
This time, as the clock counted down, it was local hero Felipe Massa on the edge of being eliminated in P11 ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat, Renault’s Palmer and the Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez.
And surprisingly given the pace they had shown in the free practice sessions, where even in the cooler conditions of final practice the team had finished seventh and ninth, Williams were the team to miss out. In Q2 Bottas dropped to P11 and Massa was eliminated in P13 behind Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez. Behind the Mexican Kvyat, Sainz and Palmer were also knocked out.
Williams’ slump was good news for Constructors’ Championship rivals Force India who saw Perez make it through in P8 behind Alonso, with Hulkenberg 10th behind Grosjean.
Hamilton drew first blood in Q3 powering through a lap of 1:10.860 to take provisional pole, 0.162 ahead of Rosberg. Verstappen was third with a lap of 1:11.485 , a hundredth of a second ahead of Vettel, with Ricciardo four hundredths further back and a just under a tenth ahead of Raikkonen.
Both Hamilton and Rosberg found more time on the final run but it was Hamilton who found most. Despite being in deficit to Rosberg over the first sector, Hamilton dug deep and when Rosberg crossed the line, the Briton found himself in P1 qwith a time of 1:10.736, a tenth ahead of his team-mate.
Behind them Raikkonen was the only one of the top six to improve and the gain meant that her vaulted to third ahead of Verstappen, Vettel and Ricciardo. Grosjean’s single run netted him an excellent seventh spot ahead of Hulkenberg, Perez and Alonso.