Lewis Hamilton’s first outing since claiming the 2017 title lasted less than a few minutes before he crashed out of qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
In his first mistake of the season, Hamilton lost control of his Mercedes during the first fast run of Q3 thudding into the tyre barrier.
Bottas took advantage of Hamilton’s absence and secured pole ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in a nail-bitting end to qualifying.
The Red Bull’s of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo took fourth and fifth but the Australian will drop 10 places on the grid as a result of a penalty for using too many engine parts this season.
That elevates Force India’s Sergio Perez to start fifth on the grid and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso claimed his best qualifying result of the campaign with sixth. They will begin ahead of both Renault’s and Felipe Massa’s Williams who is racing on his home track for the last time before retiring.
Hamilton Makes An Early Exit
It was an uncharacteristic error from Lewis Hamilton during Brazilian qualifying that saw his Mercedes lose rear grip around the tricky Ferradura/Laranjha double right-hand corner and hit the barrier at 160 mph.
Hamilton was quickest in the first two practice sessions on Friday but he appeared too ambitious on his first run in Q1 going into the corner with too much speed. It is the first time that he has failed to progress from Q1 since last year’s Belgian Grand Prix.
“I’m not really sure what happened, it all happened very quickly, but I take full responsibility,” said Hamilton.
“Of course, today is not the result that I would hope for, but challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them makes life meaningful. It is unfortunate – but it is what it is.”
Drawing on his comeback from 17th on the grid to third at Interlagos in 2009, Hamilton is confident that he can play a part in the race.
“Years ago, I came from quite far behind and had a great race, so I will try to have as much fun as possible tomorrow.”
Vettel Still Off The Qualifying Pace
Vettel’s title chances imploded after the mid-season break and Bottas has been far from impressive in the dominant Mercedes so both arrived in Brazil targeting a win to stop their indifferent form in the second-half of the season.
Vettel took the upper-hand early in Q2 lodging the fastest time and was on provisional pole after the first hot laps in Q3. But the German failed to improve his time and Bottas delivered a strong lap to grab pole by just 0.038 seconds.
Bottas said afterwards: “It was so close in qualifying, as it always tends to be in Brazil. I knew going into the last run in Q3 that I had to improve if I wanted to be on pole. I could feel and see that I was improving corner after corner.”
The pole will be bitter-sweet for Mercedes after a van carrying team workers from Interlagos on Friday was robbed at gun-point. No-one was hurt but it visibly rattled the pit crew and the drivers.
There were further off-track events with Torro Rosso and engine manufacturer Renault getting into a verbal stoush.
The Renault engines have been horribly unreliable this year and both Torro Rosso drivers will again be slapped with grid penalties in Brazil for needing new engine components. Torro Rosso seemed to claim that Renault were deliberately sabotaging them by not providing sufficient replacement power unit parts. It lead to Renault managing director, Cyril Abiteboul, storming down to the Torro Rosso garage and having an argument with Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko.
The intriguing sub-plot to this scuffle is that Torro Rosso are currently only five points ahead of Renault in the constructor’s table –and set to get a bigger slice of the constructor’s prize money – something clearly noted in Torro Rosso’s press statement on Saturday: “We mustn’t forget that they are fighting with Toro Rosso for a better position in the constructors’ championship.”