Valtteri Bottas pipped Sebastian Vettel in the final stage of qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Saturday at Interlagos to take the third pole position of his Formula 1 career in a day of mixed fortunes for Mercedes.
Early drama struck in Q1 when world champion Lewis Hamilton crashed out on his first flying lap, losing his car mid-way through Turn 6 and slamming into the barrier at high speed.
While Hamilton was unhurt, the crash marked the end of his session, as well as his resulting first Q1 exit since the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix, where he opted to take no part in the session due to a penalty.
The Mercedes driver will start P20 tomorrow, having technically failed to qualify for the race and therefore starting behind any drivers who have grid penalties.
Hamilton’s crash meant the battle for pole boiled down to Mercedes teammate Bottas and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with the pair going toe-to-toe in the final stage of qualifying.
Bottas laid down the first benchmark in Q3 to take provisional pole for Mercedes, only for Vettel to go eight-hundredths of a second faster and grab P1 for Ferrari after the opening runs.
After returning to the pits for a fresh set of tires, Bottas and Vettel ventured out in search of improvements despite light rain starting to fall.
A mistake under braking at Turn 1 saw Vettel fail to improve his time on his final flying lap, giving Bottas the chance to sneak in and go faster with a lap of 1:08.322, finishing 0.038 seconds clear at the checkered flag.
The result leaves Mercedes’ cars at either end of the grid, with the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen set to line up second and third on the grid.
Red Bull failed to enter the fight at the front as Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth and fifth respectively, with the latter set to drop 10 places on the grid due to an engine penalty.
Sergio Perez led the midfield runners in P6 for Force India ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, with the Renault duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. following in eighth and ninth respectively.
Felipe Massa qualified 10th in his final home qualifying in F1, but will take to the grid from P9 by virtue of Ricciardo’s penalty.
While Perez led Force India’s charge by making it through to Q3, Esteban Ocon suffered his first Q2 elimination since Singapore after a scruffy final lap left him P11 overall.
Haas got both its drivers through to Q2, with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen taking 12th and 14th respectively, with the pair split by McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne. Brendon Hartley took 15th for Toro Rosso, and opted against setting a time in Q2 due to pending penalties.
Pascal Wehrlein narrowly missed out on Sauber’s first Q2 appearance since Baku, falling half a tenth shy of a berth in P16. Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly followed in 17th ahead of Lance Stroll and Marcus Ericsson, with Hamilton propping up the order in P20.
The Brazilian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 10am ET on Sunday.