Max Verstappen has unfinished business at Interlagos after seeing victory slip through his fingers when he collided with backmarker Esteban Ocon last year. But the Red Bull man took the first step in righting that wrong on Saturday by dominating qualifying for Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
Verstappen spoke confidently about his and Red Bull chances this weekend on Thursday in Sao Paulo, and demonstrated on Friday that his positivity was well founded as he showed strong pace in both wet and dry conditions on various fuel loads.
And he followed through on that promise in qualifying, the Dutchman going quickest in each of the three segments and fending off a stern challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who had to settle for second, to take his second career pole – and engine supplier Honda’s first in Brazil since 1991.
Mercedes appeared to be missing a bit of pace as qualifying wore on, but newly crowned six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton found something on his final run to at least haul himself up to third. Charles Leclerc ended up fourth quickest, but will start 14th on the mediums because of a 10-place grid penalty for an engine change.
Haas have had a miserable time of it of late, but the American team finally had something to smile about as both cars made it into the top 10 for the first time since Spain – with Romain Grosjean eighth and Kevin Magnussen 10th, the duo separated by Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo.
But the day belonged to Red Bull, whose boss Christian Horner was celebrating his birthday, and Verstappen. Can he convert it this time round, though? History is on his side, with the pole-sitter having won five of the last six Brazilian Grands Prix.
Verstappen was the man on form in the opening segement of qualifying, the Dutchman setting the pace with a lap time 0.25s quicker than anyone else. Leclerc was his closest challenger, but intriguingly, his best lap came on his sixth lap on the soft tyres, suggesting there was plenty more to come from Ferrari.
It was very competitive in the fight to avoid the drop zone, with Sergio Perez scraping through with his final lap in the closing seconds, but his Racing Point team mate Lance Stroll couldn’t repeat the trick, continuing his run of never having made it out of Q1 in Brazil.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat was bumped out, too, just 0.012s behind Perez, in what was his seventh Q1 exit in 13 races. He was joined by the Williams duo of George Russell and Robert Kubica, with Russell outqualifying Kubica for the 20th straight race.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was the surprise departure, the Spaniard encountering a loss of power when he went out for his first timed lap and while he recovered to the pits, the team opted not to send him out again in case of further damage.
Knocked out: Kvyat, Stroll, Russell, Kubica, Sainz
Unsurprisingly, Leclerc opted for the medium tyres – while everyone else took the soft – because he’ll have a 10-place grid penalty added to his qualifying position for an engine change.
The Monegasque set an impressive pace, slotting into second 0.385s behind Verstappen after the initial runs. The Mercedes didn’t look like they had the legs to keep up with Red Bull or Ferrari, Hamilton nearly 0.5s adrift.
The field headed out for a second go, but a spin for Antonio Giovinazzi spun, bringing out the yellow flags and preventing anyone else from improving.
That meant Lando Norris missed out in 11th, along with Daniel Ricciardo, Giovinazzi, Nico Hulkenberg and Perez but did mean both Haas cars made it into the top 10 for the first time since Spain in May while Kimi Raikkonen reached Q3 for the first time since Monza, six races ago.
Knocked out: Norris, Ricciardo, Giovinazzi, Hulkenberg, Perez
Verstappen really had the bit between his teeth on the opening runs, the Red Bull flying around the 4.3km circuit and getting wide on the exit of Turn 8. And while he didn’t set a purple sector, three personal bests were enough to give him provisional pole by just 0.008s from Vettel.
The Dutchman tidied things up second time around, improving again and no one else could respond. Vettel, who later admitted he was beaten fair and square, slotted into second, just over a tenth of a second adrift.
Hamilton impressed in final practice, but couldn’t carry that form into qualifying and though he gradually improved as the session went on, the best he could manage was third with his final lap – but it does mean he has failed to make the front row for a fourth consecutive race.
Leclerc was fourth, the Monegasque looking quick in the early runs before being bumped down, but he’ll start 14th with Bottas promoted to that position, which incidentally is a grid slot no driver has ever won from at Interlagos.
Albon made the top six for the fourth consecutive race with Gasly seventh overall but set to start sixth because of Leclerc’s penalty, which will be his best start since is final race for Red Bull in Hungary.
Haas turned around their form from Mexico, where they were both knocked out in Q1, to get both cars into the top 10, with Raikkonen making a return to Q3 for the first time since Italy.
Lights go out at 14:10 local time tomorrow, which is 17:10 GMT, with the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix set to be fought out over 71 laps. Can Verstappen avenge his 2018 disappointment?