Mercedes felt they had missed out on a golden opportunity to challenge for pole position for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix because they weren't quick enough to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions in Interlagos on Friday.
George Russell has been fastest in the first round of qualifying, with Lewis Hamilton the quickest of the pair in Q2, but both were caught out when a storm front moved across the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in the final round.
Max Verstappen headed out on track the minute that the lights at the end of pit lane went green along with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and the two Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton and Russell weren't far behind, but that small delay proved critical to their fortunes over the next few minutes with Verstappen taking pole from Leclerc and the Astons locking out the second row.
“I think we weren’t adaptive enough," Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1. “The Aston Martins just stormed away. Max straight out of the garage with warm tyres also stormed away and that was the quickest cars.
"We were a second off the previous time, or eight tenths off, and it shows you what you should have done," he sighed, adding that McLaren had made almost the same mistake as Mercedes but had “got it even worse than us”.
For his part, Hamilton felt that he should have finished higher than P5 although he doubted he they had the pace to match Verstappen for pole even if it had been a level playing field at the end.
“The car was showing signs of decent performance, but we were generally a couple of tenths off the top guys,” he commented. We made a few changes ahead of qualifying and it did seem to make the car a little nicer to drive. In general though, it wasn't particularly fast.
“But I think the circumstances at the end, the conditions probably have us maybe a little bit further back. Maybe, I don’t know.
"P5 is never going to feel that great. I did the best I could though and hopefully we will have a better race on Sunday," he added.
"I think we've got a bit of a battle on our hands. Overheating with brakes and managing tyres will be important but if we can use our strategy to progress forward, then we will do that."
Russell still couldn't believe how much track conditions changed between the end of Q2 and the start of Q3 in the face of the approaching storm front, which ultimately led to thunder and lightning forcing the session to be red flagged.
“It’s absolutely crazy,” Russell said. “I’ve never ever seen a change of weather so drastically as that.
“I was really disappointed with the lap," he said of his last run. "I was just sliding around, I had no grip. I didn’t see that much rain on my visor but I was a second off
"I actually wanted to pit because I was confident I was going to be last, [but] ended up P6 which, whilst the lap was disappointing and frustrating, isn't a bad place to start.
"We know race pace is more important than single lap pace here so we will still be aiming to get on the podium. Aston Martin have been quick today, and will start ahead of us, but I hope our long run pace is better than theirs."
Russell will be hoping he keeps that spot on Sunday's grid, after he was among a number of drivers summoned to see the stewards after the end of qualifying for an incident in which he appeared to impede Pierre Gasly.