SAO PAULO GP – Max Verstappen beats Charles Leclerc to Grand Prix pole by three-tenths before a biblical storm curtails qualifying

Testing & Race Reports

Max Verstappen has beaten Charles Leclerc by almost three-tenths of a second to take pole for Sunday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix. The Dutchman set a 10.727 On his first run in Q3 topping the time before the sky got darker and darker as the rain moved in and caused the session to be abandoned with five minutes to go.

Going into Q3 it looked to be a close battle for pole but then came the rain, it effectively meant no one could try to challenge Verstappen, with the Dutchman taking half of the poles this season. Leclerc described the session as “super-weird” as the only laps the drivers completed were on a dry track but were considerably slower than those they had managed in the previous session. He has taken pole for the first two races of four races in five weeks in the Americas.

The track stayed dry for every driver’s first lap in the final session, but Leclerc described conditions as “super-weird” as the wind shifted direction. However the session was abandoned as the heavy rain and electrical storm caused the session to be stopped with five minutes to go.

There are reports that heavy rain caused damage at the track, with photographers reporting that a grandstand roof had collapsed at the last corner. Initial information from the organisers was that no-one had been hurt but that has not yet been confirmed.

organisers have launched an investigation, two hours after the end of qualifying, organisers said there had been “a handful of very minor incidents but nothing serious at this time”.

Aston Martin got the timing of the run right with both Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso going third and fourth, Stroll beating his teammate by four-hundredths of a second. The team has in the second half of the season slipped away from Red Bull having looked in the early part of the season the closest challenger, before being out developed by Mercedes and Ferrari.

Stroll had only just made it through to Q3 after teammate Alonso put him on the edge when he vaulted out of the Q2 elimination zone to go fastest, but the Canadian just hung on as neither Alpine managed to improve. It is the third time this season Stroll has out-qualified Alonso, and his best start in three years.

It was a strong result and something of a relief for Aston Martin, whose form has slumped in recent races after a strong start to the season. Stroll felt they had benefited from being the first two cars out on track at the start of the final session.

Verstappen said, “We didn’t know when it would hit in qualifying, we thought it would hit. This is of course insane weather. Charles and I were just discussing, our laps felt terrible, but I don’t know, I think the wind started to change and started to be very strong and we lost a lot of lap time because of it. It was all quite hectic in the last lap.”

Lewis Hamilton was eight hundredths behind Alonso and ahead of his Mercedes teammate George Russell by just under a tenth and a half. Mercedes went into the weekend with Hamilton looking confident of challenging Verstappen and it looked possible with Russell having topped Q1.

However, the arrival of almost a biblical storm halfway through Q3 caused the session to be stopped and perhaps Mercedes lost out on the chance to challenge Verstappen for pole. Another driver who could have been in the mix was Lando Norris he looked competitive throughout qualifying and even top Q2, but he was almost four tenths off Russell.

After qualifying Russell was given a two place grid penalty for breaking the guidance issued by the race director around creating gaps at the end of the pit lane, by not staying far enough left to allow oncoming cars, in this case Pierre Gasly’s Alpine, to pass. Norris was promoted to sixth with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who had off track in Q3, moved into seventh.

The effect of the sudden turnaround in conditions was nowhere more starkly felt at McLaren, who had been strongly threatening to deliver the first pole of their resurgent season up until Q3. Norris in seventh was only a tenth and a half off Verstappen, but The Englishman had also been the only driver to only need one fast lap in Q1 to make the first cut.

Norris admitted, “I don’t know what do feel about it. The car was amazing, it came alive a lot in qualifying and easily good enough to be quickest. Obviously delivering the lap and putting it together in Q3 and everything is a different job, but easily quick enough.”

McLaren who has impressed in the second half of the season, are arguably out of position given the recent form in qualifying. But they will have another chance to bounce back on sprint Saturday.

However, the timing of the changing conditions put Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez to the tail end of the best of the conditions in Q3, Sainz going seven-tenths faster. Perez, meanwhile, was forced to back out of his only run after the McLaren of Oscar Piastri got caught out as the first drops of rain started falling causing him to spin at Juncao.

That was it the effective end of qualifying with the incoming storm bringing out the red flag, ending the session as the first bolts of lighting were in the distance. Piastri who had been second to last out of the pits, was caught in the changing conditions. Typically, the ever-changing conditions created a unpredictable session where the ‘land of drizzle’ at Interlagos played its part.

Perez is under pressure after difficult races in the second half of the season after a series of shaky races, suffered because he was one of the last drivers out of the pits and Norris.

That could of prevented a dramatic climax to qualifying, which had up until the rain been defined by fine margins with the first and only runs in Q3 being covered by under a tenth and a half. The mixed up grid could create a interesting race on Sunday however there is no rain forecast for the rest of the weekend.

Nico Hulkenberg was eleventh a hundredth and a half ahead of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, both Alpines not improving after being knock out by Stroll. Last year’s pole-sitter Kevin Magnussen was nearly a tenth and a quarter ahead of Alex Albon who was slowest in Q2.

However, both Alpine’s are under investigation for impeding on the exit of the pits, having been seen moving slowly in front of the Red Bulls and Yuki Tsunoda, any penalty would be for the Grand Prix rather than the sprint.

Tsunoda had been knocked out of qualifying by Ocon, but he went six thousandths faster than teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who couldn’t repeat his performance like last weekend in Mexico City. Also knocked out by late improvements in Q1 was Logan Sargeant, his final attempt put him fifteenth before ending up two-tenths ahead of Guanyu Zhou in nineteenth.


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