Max Verstappen has dominated qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix to take his second career pole position in Formula One.
The Red Bull Racing driver was quickest in all three qualifying segments to take total control of the afternoon.
Ironically the one moment the Dutchman appeared at risk of losing his chance to head the grid was with his provisional pole lap. Dipping his front-right wheel onto the grass, there was worry he’d picked up damage to his front wing that would leave him hamstrung to defend what a slender 0.008-second advantage.
Any concern proved unfounded, however, and his second lap boosted his hold on pole to an insurmountable 0.123 seconds to secure the position.
“The car was really good,” he said. “Straightaway from Q1 the car was flying and it was actually really enjoyable to drive, so really happy with this pole position.”
Sebastian Vettel was Verstappen’s closest challenger, but the return of Ferrari’s straight-line speed wasn’t enough for the German to prevail.
“I’m happy with the front row, but we’ll see what we can do tomorrow,” he said. “It will be difficult. I think both Red Bull and Mercedes look a bit stronger managing the tyres.
“I’m carefully optimistic. I think it should be a good race.”
Lewis Hamilton qualified third, extending his pole drought to nine races, his longest since joining Mercedes in 2013.
The Briton was mystified by his team’s lack of performance after topping practice on Saturday morning but was nonetheless pleased to complete the top three.
“We seemed quite competitive in P3, but then we seemed to lose where got into qualifying — or [Red Bull and Ferrari] gained,” he said.
“Nonetheless happy to divide the Ferraris. It’s always a tough challenge. I gave it absolutely everything I had.”
Charles Leclerc qualified fourth but will start 14th after serving a 10-place grid penalty for taking a new internal combustion engine after failure at the previous round in the United States.
Notwithstanding the penalty, the Monegasque had the pace to beat Verstappen, with a mistake in the middle sector costing him 0.3 seconds — more than enough to bridge the 0.220-second gap to pole.
Valtteri Bottas qualified fifth ahead of Alex Albon in sixth, but the two slowest frontrunners will be bumped up to fourth and fifth with Leclerc’s penalty.
Pierre Gasly excelled for Toro Rosso to qualify seventh fastest as best of the midfield, albeit at the end of a week during which his demotion from Red Bull Racing was confirmed to extend into 2020.
Haas had an unusually positive afternoon with both drivers qualifying in the top 10 for the first time since May’s Spanish Grand Prix. Romain Grosjean was eighth fastest, two places ahead of teammate Kevin Magnussen.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen split the pair with the ninth-best time.
Lando Norris apologised to his McLaren team for not delivering on its top-10 expectations, his final imperfect lap leaving just 0.01 in arrears for the final shootout.
But of some comfort to the British team is that it bested Renault, its rival in the all-but-over battle for fourth in the constructors standings. Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg qualified 12th and 14th for the French marque, separated by Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, who spun his car on his final flying lap.
Sergio Perez was slowest in Q2, qualifying 15th for Racing Point.
Daniil Kvyat qualified a disappointing 16th, missing out Q2 by just 0.032 seconds but more than 0.6 seconds being Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly, who was easily through to Q2.
Lance Stroll followed for Racing Point in 17th, while George Russell outqualified Williams teammate Robert Kubica for the 20th consecutive race in 18th and 19th.
Carlos Sainz will start last after a power unit problem left him without a time in Q1. The McLaren driver lost power on his first flying lap and was forced back to the pits, where mechanics were unable to fix the problem in time to send him back out.