Lewis Hamilton romped to pole position for the ‘sprint’ qualifying race at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix ahead of title rival Max Verstappen’s Red Bull.
The seven-time champion, who has a five-place grid penalty for the race on Sunday, was untouchable over one lap, 0.438 seconds quicker than Verstappen.
Verstappen beat Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas into third place.
There are three points for the winner of the sprint, the result of which sets the grid for the grand prix.
The margin of Hamilton’s pace advantage was something of a surprise after two consecutive victories for Verstappen.
Mercedes were on pole in Mexico last weekend, but that was more down to Red Bull not managing to get their tyres in a good working window rather than any lack of pace. And Verstappen dominated the race.
Hamilton said: “It was a very good qualifying session. I am super-happy with it. We have the penalty but we give it everything we’ve got.”
Hamilton’s target will be to win sprint qualifying, to earn the three points for victory in that race, and start sixth for Sunday’s grand prix – as high as he can be this weekend.
Verstappen leads Hamilton by 19 points with a maximum of 107 points available over the remaining four races.
Verstappen said he suspected at least part of it would be explained by his rival’s fresh engine. Mercedes have fitted the fifth engine of the season to Hamilton’s car, two more than are permitted for the season.
“When they take a new engine, they have a bit more power for the weekend so for me it is not a big shock,” Verstappen said. “I am just happy to be second; it is a good position to start from. It is nice to be closer but sometimes you have to be satisfied with what you get.”
Bottas edged Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez by 0.015secs to lead the second row, while Pierre Gasly put the Alpha Tauri fifth for the second race in succession.
Carlos Sainz led Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc, ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, with Fernando Alonso’s Alpine completing the top 10.
Towards the back, George Russell was out-qualified by Williams team-mate George Russell for the first time in their three years together, the Canadian taking 17th, just 0.056secs ahead of the Briton, who was 18th.