Having sealed his fifth title at the last meeting Lewis Hamilton followed it with a further statement of authority by taking pole for the Brazilian Grand Prix with a peerless lap at Interlagos. Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari was in second but faces a potential penalty that may cost him his place. Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was in third.
Hamilton put in two sparkling laps, in the final session, neither of which could be matched and he took pole with a track record time of 1min 7.281sec.
He was almost a 10th clear of Vettel, whose position remains in the balance, having been referred to the stewards after he did not turn off his engine when boarding the weighbridge during Q2, damaging the device. Vettel was keen to finish the process as quickly as possible to put in a lap before the rain became heavier but could now be disqualified from qualifying. “They shouldn’t call us when the conditions are changing like that, it is unfair to call us in,” he said.
Hamilton, too, may yet face sanction after he may be deemed to have moved across on Sergey Sirotkin in the Williams but the stewards had yet to announce any investigation.
Having secured his fifth title at the last round in Mexico at a race where Mercedes were off the pace, Hamilton’s 10th pole of the season is a strong return to form and the 100th for Mercedes. It is his 80th career pole, his third at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, and much as the title has been decided there is still unfinished business for the British driver.
Mercedes have yet to clinch the constructors’ championship and Hamilton has been clear he wants to ensure the team do so. They are 55 points in front of Ferrari with 86 available from the last two races. Ferrari must outscore Mercedes here by 13 points to take the fight to the final round in Abu Dhabi.
Should Mercedes secure the title they will have equalled Ferrari’s record of five consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships, which they achieved with Michael Schumacher between 2000 and 2004.
For Hamilton on a personal level he will also want to convert pole into a win. He has taken the flag only once before in Brazil and has never won a race after taking the championship in any of his previous four title-winning seasons. There is also a remarkable batting average to protect. Between 2014 and 2017 he has averaged 10 wins per season and this year he has nine.
With Mercedes having struggled in Mexico they once again returned to form as the weekend progressed. Ferrari had looked strong on the circuit, with the improved pace they showed in the US and Mexico again clear, but Mercedes and Hamilton were able to produce their best when it mattered as they have done repeatedly this season.
The pole will give him the best possible position from which to impose his will on the race. Ferrari and Red Bull both have shown good long run pace, however, and the British driver will need to ensure he can hold his lead through the first lap to ensure he is in position to dictate strategy to his advantage.
It may not be straightforward however. Vettel and his team-mate Kimi Räikkönen, who was fourth, set their times on the soft tyre in Q2, giving them greater strategic options compared with their rivals, who will all start on the supersoft rubber. It was a perfectly timed, bold tactical decision by Ferrari that may yet prove to be inspired.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fifth. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was in sixth place but will have a five-place grid penalty after taking a new turbocharger. The Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc were in seventh and eighth, with Haas’s Romain Grosjean in ninth and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in 10th.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon was in 13th but has a five-place grid penalty after taking a replacement gearbox. His team-mate Sergio Pérez was in 12th. Kevin Magnussen in the Haas was in 11th, with Nico Hülkenberg in the Renault in 14th in front of Sirotkin.
The McLaren’s of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were both knocked out in Q1 in 18th and 20th. Renault’s Carlos Sainz was in 16th, with Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley in 17th. Lance Stroll in the Williams was in 19th.