Hamilton to start from P1 in Saturday Sao Paulo sprint

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W12 gets pole position for the sprint. 12.11.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil
© XPB 

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was firmly on top in Friday evening's qualifying session in Sao Paulo, which sets the grid for tomorrow's sprint race.

Hamilton will start at the front with Red Bull's Max Verstappen alongside him on the first row, with their respective team mates Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez lining up immediately behind them.

Pierre Gasly was also looking strong with the AlphaTauri fifth fastest ahead of the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.

A small piece of F1 history was made with Nicholas Latifi legitimately out-qualifying his team mate George Russell for the first time in their time together at Williams (not counting the Italian GP sprint at Monza).

After a gloomy first practice in Sao Paulo earlier on Friday, the weather for qualifying saw black clouds cruising overhead but only a very limited chance for rain, with the unusually cool conditions probably more likely to be on the minds of the team strategists as the cars headed out on to the track as the first round got underway.

Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W12. 12.11.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo

Q1: Mercedes quickest as Ferrari show strong pace ahead of Red Bull

Ferrari were quick to get down to business with both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz out on used soft tyres and joined by Williams' George Russell, while the Haas pair were among those opting for fresh softs for their first run as they made a sandwich filling of AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly. It was the Frenchman who set the initial pace with a time of 1:10.062s, which was four tenths quicker than Sainz with Leclerc three tenths further back. He was actually only a little ahead of Mick Schumacher, while Nikita Mazepin survived unscathed from a wild tankslapper after slithering across the kerbs at turn 12.

More drivers were soon rolling out, and Max Verstappen went quickest with a time of 1:09.329s which was two tenths faster than Lando Norris, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo. Then it was the turn of Mercedes to show what they had in the bag, with FP1 pacesetter Lewis Hamilton going top by half a second thanks to his new ICE, and Valtteri Bottas slotting in just behind Verstappen for third. An improved lap put Sainz into second but Leclerc's latest bid was deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 4, leaving him down in 18th but still with plenty of time for him to complete a proper run.

Hamilton went again to post a time of 1:08.733s with Bottas moving up to second to ensure his own safe progression to the second round, but there was still work to do for those further down the order. Despite encountering traffic on his next run, Leclerc successfully propelled himself to safety in fourth place while Russell had managed to push his way up to 14th ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll only to be bumped back down into the elimination zone by subsequent improved laps from the Aston Martin pair.

Unfortunately Stroll's time didn't prove good enough to survive an even better lap from Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen and he ended up in 16th as the fastest car to miss the cut It meant he would sit out the rest of the session along with Nicholas Latifi whose final run had beaten his team mate Russell for the very first time in his F1 qualifying career, with both Haas drivers joining them at the bottom of the pile.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W12. 12.11.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Q2: Hamilton and Bottas stay on top, Ocon and Vettel miss the cut

With Q2 tyre selection not a factor in the new sprint qualifying format, drivers could stay on the soft compound and focus on raw pace in the second round. After a pause, first out were Hamilton and Bottas with Gasly in hot pursuit. Hamilton went top with a time of 1:08.659 only to have the lap deleted (another victim of exceeding track limits at turn 4), leaving Verstappen quickest with a better time of 1:08.567s ahead of Gasly, Leclerc, Bottas and Sainz. Hamilton was soon on the charge again and he had no trouble recapturing the top spot with a time almost two tenths quicker than the Red Bull, despite it being his second flying lap on that set of tyres.

With a gap of just a little over three tenths between Gasly and Alpine Esteban Ocon in 11th, only the top three could seriously consider themselves safely through to the final top ten pole shoot-out round. For everyone else there was still work to do in the remaining minutes of Q2, with Daniel Ricciardo backing up the field through turn 3 as he prepared to make his crucial final run.

The final flurry of push laps saw the two Mercedes drivers improve their grip on the top spots ahead of Verstappen, while Leclerc moving up to fourth ahead of Gasly and Perez. A better run for Norris put the McLaren safely into seventh ahead of Sainz, Ricciardo and Alonso, whose team mate Esteban Ocon just missed the cut leaving him 11th. Also eliminated from qualifying were Vettel, Yuki Tsunoda, Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W12 and Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W12. 12.11.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo

Q3: Hamilton breezes to Sprint P1 from Verstappen and Bottas

It was another leisurely start before the remaining ten cars started to grudgingly trundle down pit lane for the final round of qualifying, with just under nine and a half minutes remaining on the clock before Leclerc and Sainz broke cover quickly followed by Perez, Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen.

Leclerc set the initial target of 1:09.403s but his team mate promptly went four tenths quicker. Other times quickly rolled in but there was no one able to match Hamilton's 1:08.107s which was a quarter of a second ahead of Verstappen, Bottas and Perez with Gasly in fifth from Sainz, Norris, Alonso and Ricciardo leaving Leclerc back at the bottom for now.

With the initial skirmish over, there was time for one more run with Verstappen eager to take the opportunity to head back to pit lane first after complaining of overheating on the front tyres during his initial outing. With three minutes remaining everyone was back out and this time there was no holding back: Hamilton went quicker with a time of 1:07.934s but Bottas couldn't follow his example and remained third behind Verstappen who suffered a scrappy final run.

There was better news for his team mate Perez who pulled off a late flier to climb up to fourth ahead of Gasly and Sainz. Leclerc's final run saw him up to seventh ahead of the two McLarens, leaving Alonso starting from tenth in tomorrow's sprint qualifying race which will set the grid for Sunday's Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

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