Qualy: Hamilton’s P1 joy short-lived in Sao Paulo

Henry Valantine
Lewis Hamilton salutes the crowd after qualifying. Brazil November 2021.

Lewis Hamilton gives the crowd a thumbs-up after qualifying fastest for the sprint at Interlagos. Brazil November 2021.

Lewis Hamilton qualified first for sprint qualifying at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, but he is waiting on a decision to see if a technical infringement will drop him to the back of the field.

Mercedes have been summoned to the stewards for an accused breach in the regulations surrounding their DRS use, meaning Hamilton’s excellent performance in qualifying may have been in vain.

The Mercedes driver appeared in strong form, finishing over four tenths faster than the leading Red Bull of Verstappen, with Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez set to line up behind them on the second row, and Pierre Gasly rounded out the top five.

Mercedes appeared to have the upper hand throughout qualifying, but sprint qualifying will determine the official grid for Sunday’s grand prix.

Cool, cloudy conditions were what the drivers were facing at Interlagos, with Hamilton going into the session knowing that a five-place grid penalty will be coming his way – which will come into effect after sprint qualifying on Saturday, meaning his grid slot from Friday will be where he starts the sprint.

The first few minutes of Q1 were relatively muted, but the drivers slowly crept out of the pit lane to set their first flying laps.

Having set the fastest lap of FP1, Hamilton laid down an impressive marker on his first full qualifying effort around Interlagos, with his 1:08.824 putting him 0.505s clear of Verstappen behind.

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz both leapfrogged the Red Bull pair and into second and third, but Leclerc had his lap time deleted after running too wide at Turn 4, leaving the Monegasque with the need to take an extra run to get through to Q2 – and eventually put his car back in third in the standings to avoid any danger.

The first shock of the session came as Nicholas Latifi officially out-qualified George Russell for the first time as Williams team-mates in a traditional qualifying session, without the influence of grid penalties or sprint results.

Neither lap was enough to get the Williams cars through, though, as they’ll line up on the ninth row together, with both Haas drivers at the back and the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll falling on the wrong side of the knockout line in Q1, in a disappointing turn of events for the Canadian.

Onto Q2, then, and the cars again took a few minutes to emerge on the track, with both Mercedes drivers out first. Hamilton set a strong time, but he fell foul of track limits himself at Turn 4, meaning the World Champion needed to take another punt at getting back into the top 10.

He duly did so by setting a 1:08.386, nearly two tenths quicker than Verstappen as he took top spot on the leaderboard.

The midfield was tightly-packed as they jostled for position ahead of the final runs, with only 0.348s separating Pierre Gasly in P4 and Esteban Ocon in P11 heading into the last laps of Q2.

Lando Norris briefly dropped into the drop zone, but he was able to climb out again and, ultimately, Ocon would be the one to miss out and fall back into P11, just 0.052s behind team-mate Fernando Alonso.

Yuki Tsunoda, Sebastian Vettel and the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were also knocked out in the session, before a Q3 session which would decide the sharp end of the grid for sprint qualifying on Saturday.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner sounded downbeat about his team’s chances during the session while speaking to Sky F1, given Hamilton’s advantage in the first two sessions, but there was still a chance for the World Championship leader to overhaul his title rival.

But the Mercedes driver was fastest after their first flyers, with a 1:08.107 being the fastest lap of the weekend, ahead of Verstappen, who was 0.265s behind and complaining of his tyres overheating towards the end of the lap.

Verstappen appeared to to struggle slightly on his final run too, getting snaps of oversteer at several corners and needing a couple of attempts at turning in, and he was unable to improve on his previous effort.

Hamilton, meanwhile, went even faster – and managed to take P1 for Saturday’s sprint, lapping more than four tenths faster than his World Championship rival.


Qualifying classification

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:07.934
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.438s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +0.535s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.549s
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +0.843s
6 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.892s
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1.026s
8 Lando Norris McLaren +1.046s
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +1.105s
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine +1.179s
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:09.189
12 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +0.210s
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +0.294s
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing +0.314s
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing +1.038s
16 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:09.663
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams +0.234s
18 George Russell Williams +0.290s
19 Mick Schumacher Haas +0.666s
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas +0.926s


Brazilian Grand Prix preview

As F1 heads to Brazil, will Lewis Hamilton close the gap to Max Verstappen and can McLaren take back P3?