Red Bull’s Max Verstappen grabbed pole position for Sunday’s FIA Formula 1 São Paulo Grand Prix, putting in a strong banker lap ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Aston Martin’s Lane Stroll just before a huge thunderstorm brough an early end to qualifying at Interlagos.
Rain threatened right from the start of the delayed start to Q1, with a 15-minute wait imposed so that the track could be cleaned, and when the cars finally streamed out on track it was McLaren’s Lando Norris who took top spot in the opening runs with a lap of 1:10.623. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton slotted into P2 with Verstappen taking P3 despite telling the team that his car was “jumping around like a kangaroo”.
Leclerc then went to the top of the timesheet and when Williams’ Alex Albon posted a lap of 1:10.621 in the volatile conditions to go fourth it was clear that the cut-off was going to be tight.
With two minutes remaining Verstappen, who has dropped to ninth, took to the track again and he jumped to second place at the flag with a lap of 1:10.436 behind fastest man Russell and ahead of Leclerc, Haas’ Nico Hülkenberg and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.
Ruled out at the end of the first session were AlhaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo, in P16 and P17 respectively, while the Alfa Romeo pair of Valtteri Bottas in P18 and Zhou Guanyu, P20, were separated by Williams’ Logan Sargeant.
With the skies over Interlagos growing darker, the Red Bull were first out on track at the start of Q2 and Verstappen set the pace at 1:10.162, with team-mater Sergio Pérez in P2 with a lap of 1:10.370. However, they were split by Norris, who took P2 on 1:10.323 while his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri stole third, four hundredths of a second ahead of Pérez.
Mercedes and Ferrari then put in early second runs with Carlos Sainz moving up to P2, 0.092s behind Max, while Russell took P3 ahead of Piastri and Leclerc jumped to fifth. Norris then emerged with four minutes remaining to take P1 ahead of Verstappen thanks to a lap of 1:10.021 and Pérez, put in a good second flyer to climb to P3.
On a cooling track and with the wind increasing there were few improvements behind the top three while in the drop zone, Hülkenberg, in P11, was ruled out ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen exiting in P15 ahead of Albon, who final lap was deleted for a track limits infringement.
With the skies now black and with spots of rain falling at the start of Q3, all 10 cars were quickly on track and despite heavy gusts of wind whipping across the circuit Verstappen posted a lap of 1:10.727 to take provisional pole ahead of Leclerc who stopped the clock at 1:11.021. But when Piastri slid off track at Junçao, a clutch of drivers were slowed by yellow flags.
And there was no opportunity to improve. Within seconds the rain that had threatened throughout finally arrived. The pit lane was plunged into almost darkness and with four minutes left qualifying was red-flagged. And with the rain falling in sheets, race control ruled that the session would not be resumed. Stroll’s team-mate Fernando Alonso took fourth ahead of Hamilton and Russell, with Norris seventh ahead of Sainz and Pérez, while Piastri qualified 10th.
2023 FIA Formula 1 São Paulo Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:10.727 – –
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:11.021 0.294 0.416
3 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:11.344 0.617 0.872
4 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:11.387 0.660 0.933
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:11.469 0.742 1.049
6 George Russell Mercedes 1:11.590 0.863 1.220
7 Lando Norris McLaren 1:11.987 1.260 1.781
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:11.989 1.262 1.784
9 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Racing 1:12.321 1.594 2.254
10 Oscar Piastri McLaren – – –
11 Nico Hülkenberg Haas 1:10.547 -0.180 -0.254
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:10.562 -0.165 -0.233
13 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:10.567 -0.160 -0.226
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:10.723 -0.004 -0.006
15 Alexander Albon Williams 1:10.840 0.113 0.160
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:10.837 0.110 0.156
17 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri 1:10.843 0.116 0.164
18 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:10.955 0.228 0.322
19 Logan Sargeant Williams 1:11.035 0.308 0.435
20 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:11.275 0.548 0.775