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Interlagos Qualifying: Hamilton from Vettel

Lewis Hamilton claimed his tenth pole position start of the season, also Mercedes’ 100th Formula 1 pole position as he edged Sebastian Vettel in qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix by the narrowest of margins on Saturday.

It was a tricky and tense session as clouds hovered overhead throughout the afternoon session, spitting rain on occasion to challenge drivers on the day.

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In Q3 Hamilton did enough with a best lap time of 1:07.281 which was less than tenth up on Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari and a tenth and a bit up on Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in third.

Hamilton had a scary moment with Sergey Sirotkin early in the session, the Mercedes driver lucky not to get clattered into by the Williams.

Afterwards, in parc ferme, he said, “Obviously with the weather going up and down, and the Ferraris are quick this weekend – I’m going with my engineer to get the car in the best shape. I’m happy to be here in Brazil I’ve got Senna on my helmet, and I didn’t know if I could get pole.”

“The first year I came here I was fighting against Felipe (Massa) and I was the enemy here. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, the Ferraris are quick, they had more blistering on the supersoft tyre than we did, we wanted to be on the soft but we’ll see if I can do the best with it,” added Hamilton.

Vettel had his own dramas, a heated moment in the weigh area late in Q3 made him angry and he let it be known in no uncertain terms. He also failed to switch off his car and because of this was to see the stewards after the race.

The Ferrari driver said, “Yeah, I think it was good fun. Good start to second attempt in Q3. I lost some time but it was a fun session.”

Of the tete-a-tete on the weigh-bridge, “They shouldn’t call us in when the conditions are changing like that. To call someone in, I think it isn’t fair and I wanted them to hurry up.”

When it mattered Bottas again had no answer to his teammate’s pace and had to settle for third, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari. A mere 0.175 of a second separating the top four.

Bottas summed up, “Not too far away but here the margins are always small here. I know it was hard but I couldn’t take it today. I was more than two tenths up but then I lost it in Q3 on the straight. It depends on the situation, but once the rain started coming down, but sometimes you need to go for it and try.”

Half a second down on the Big Two were the Red Bull duo, lacking the horsepower to shoot for the front row as they did in Mexico. Max Verstappen was fifth, a couple of thousandths up on Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

Marcus Ericsson was all smiles after his best qualifying in Formula 1 with the seventh fastest time, fractionally faster than Charles Leclerc as Sauber came to the fore in the battle of the Best of the Rest.

Romain Grosjean was ninth in the Haas, Interlagos proving to be a happy hunting ground for Ferrari power this weekend. Toro Rossos Pierre Gasly rounded out the top ten.

It was another miserable day for McLaren as Stoffel Vandoorne was slowest of the bunch, and as has become tradition a couple tenths down on teammate Fernando Alonso who was good only for 18th.

FIA Blow-By-Blow Report:

Ahead of Q1 circuit weather forecasters increased the likelihood of rain for the session from an earlier 40% to 60% and with ominous clouds moving towards the track a stream of cars took to the track in search of banker laps at the start of Q1.

Verstappen set the early pace, with the Dutchman setting a time of 1:08.205. That put him more than two tenths clear of Räikkönen, with Hamilton third ahead of Vettel, who eventually improved to steal third with a time identical to that of his team-mate.

At the lower end of the order the men in danger in the final minutes of the session were Sainz, Hartley, Alonso, Stroll and secondVandoorne.

With rain falling in the closing moments of the segment, none was able to find the time needed to escape the danger zone and all five were eliminated in their pre-final final run positions.

Q2 proved to be a race against time as the rain closed in and after the first runs Bottas held top spot ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo. Räikkönen, though, chose to abandon his supersoft tyres and drove back to the pits to take on soft tyres.

Vettel wanted to make a similar move but as he went to make the switch he was called to the weighbridge, leading to the incident with the FIA officials. He subsequently bolted on softs and jumped to P2, setting hbis best time on the yellow-banded compound.

Red Bull and Mercedes tried the same switch but none of their drivers could improve and thus they will start the race on supersofts, while Ferrari will start on softs.

In mixed and difficult to read conditions at the end of the session Leclerc delivered a spectacular lap to rise from P11 and potential elimination to P8 and safety ahead of team-mate Ericsson and Gasly, who was the last man through to Q3.

Eliminated at the end of Q2 were Magnussen, Perez, Ocon, Hulkenberg and Sirotkin.

In Q3 Hamilton seized control of proceedings, setting an opening time of 1:07.301 to sit 0.073s ahead of Vettel, with Bottas third ahead of Räikkönen. Verstappen again took P5 ahead of Daniel, though by the incredibly small margin of just 0.002s.

And that was how the order remained. Hamilton improved marginally to 1:07.281 to claim his 82nd career pole position ahead of Vettel who made a small error on his final lap.

Bottas took third ahead of Räikkönen and with no improvement forthcoming, Max ands Daniel qualified on row three of the grid. Seventh place went to Ericsson with Leclerc in eighth ahead of Grosjean and Gasly.