Max Verstappen claimed pole position for the 12th time in the F1 2023 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.
As in 2022, the first runs of Q3 were the only ones to count after a biblical rain storm hit Sao Paulo, with Verstappen edging out Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, who made a welcome return to form on Friday.
Here are the main winners and losers from qualifying…
Max Verstappen/Red Bull
Max Verstappen and Red Bull paid the price here last year for not positioning themselves at the front of the queue in the pit lane, as the clouds rapidly darkened over Interlagos in the seconds before Q3.
They would not be doing that again, so there Max was this time doing everything to make sure his preparation lap was as ideal as it could be – even overtaking George Russell while exiting the pit lane – and take in the best of the conditions.
The lap was not great – almost six-tenths slower than his Q2 time, in fact – but in conditions in which every lap felt bad, Verstappen’s was less bad than everyone else’s.
It was a session to sum up what Verstappen and Red Bull together have become – never the type to make the same mistake twice.
Lance Stroll/Aston Martin
After six Q1 exits in a row, what a stunning result this was for Lance Stroll. If only he would tell his face.
Stroll’s quite lukewarm reaction to his best result of the season revealed why so many struggle to warm to him and why his commitment to – and enjoyment of life – in F1 is so often questioned by onlookers.
Was this the moment it all started to make sense again?
With Aston Martin reverting to an older aerodynamic specification here, Stroll was closely matched with Alonso throughout qualifying, ending up ahead of him on the grid for only the second time this season.
It was one of those occasional reminders that, if you drill down deep enough, there is some serious talent in there.
From being outqualified by Daniel Ricciardo to crashing out at the first corner, Mexico was the lowest point of Sergio Perez’s season.
Yet as he searched desperately for positives, he could cling to the fact that his underlying pace at his home race – within two-tenths of Verstappen on the grid – was very encouraging.
That theme continued here, Perez within two-tenths of Verstappen in Q1 and Q2. Then came Q3, positioned last in the queue for his only lap and having to ease off for the yellow flags caused by Oscar Piastri’s off-track excursion.
The result, after his most encouraging performance for some time? Ninth.
When your luck is out…
As the tortuous wait for a first F1 win goes on, watching yet another chance slip through the net will not do much for Lando Norris’s mood.
Like so often recently he had been lively in the upgraded McLaren, the pace coming easy to him as he topped the Q2 times.
Where did it all go wrong on this occasion? In McLaren’s misjudgement of the Q3 conditions, sending the drivers a little later than ideal.
As Piastri went off at Juncao, Norris was robbed of the confidence in the car he had before – finishing with a lap 1.9s slower than his own Q2 time and 1.2s off Verstappen’s lap for pole.
Another huge opportunity lost, another punch to the guts.
Daniel Ricciardo was daring to dream of beating Williams to seventh in the Constructors’ standings after Mexico, when the refinements to the Austin upgrade appeared to finally, at long last, unlock the AlphaTauri’s potential.
With a gap of 12 points still to bridge, the task has become tougher with both drivers out in Q1 at a circuit where Ricciardo had expected the car to be quick.
Ricciardo was convinced there was more in it, but was undone by a mistake in to the Senna S on his final lap, while Yuki Tsunoda was left to shout over the radio about traffic, his usual hobby horse.
The positive news at least? They will have a chance to prove how fast the car really can go in Saturday’s sprint shootout.