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Max Verstappen Storms to Pole Position in Near-Darkness at Sao Paulo

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

The top three qualifiers at Sao Paulo; Image Credits - Formula One

Max Verstappen took his 11th pole position of the season, in a qualifying session held under big dark clouds, with the threat of rain always looming throughout the hour-long qualifying session. He took pole ahead of Charles Leclerc, and Lance Stroll finding himself in a surprise third position.

Qualifying was always expected to be an exciting affair around the famous Interlagos circuit. Ferrari had taken a 1-2 in the only Free Practice session of the weekend, with George Russell third in the session, albeit on the medium tyres, compared to the soft tyres on both Ferrari cars. With upto 60% chance of rain during the session, drivers constantly had one eye on the skies, and looked to get their laps in as soon as possible.



A highly-anticipated qualifying session finally got underway, after a short delay due to debris from an incident earlier during the Porsche Carrera Cup Brazil race. The session finally resumed, after a 20-minute delay.

The threat of rain hovered around on the radar, as 20 drivers rolled out onto the track, setting lap times on slicks, anticipating the skies opening up any time. At the end of the first runs in the session, it was Lando Norris topping the timesheets in his McLaren, with a 1:10.623, a full three-tenths ahead of championship leader Verstappen in third.

The two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz set laps on newer tyres, getting into the top five, as did Sergio Perez in the Red Bull. All three drivers escaped from the drop zone in the session.

A storming lap from Alex Albon catapulted him up into the top four, and it was certainly clear for drivers to be on the track, taking advantage of the track evolution. And this wouldn't be the case for the Alfa Romeo drivers, both Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu eliminated even before the chequered flag dropped, having stayed in the pits.

After the highs of Mexico's qualifying session, it was back down to earth for Daniel Ricciardo, who was knocked out in Q1, along with teammate Yuki Tsunoda, the animated Japanese racer calling for a penalty for Lewis Hamilton, having been impeded in the pit lane.

Logan Sargeant was the other driver to get knocked out, with late laps from Esteban Ocon, George Russell, and the two Haas drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen getting them into Q2. The whole field was covered by less than a second, Russell's fastest time being 0.935s quicker than Zhou's time.

Eliminated in Q1: Tsunoda, Ricciardo, Sargeant, Bottas, Zhou

Albon went off, and had his lap time deleted; Image Credits - Formula One


With reports of 'drops of rain' towards the end of the session, and just before Q2 got underway, the 15 drivers lined up at the end of the pit lane, looking to set a lap time before any rain hit the Brazilian circuit.

It was three-time champion Verstappen setting the benchmark early on, with a 1:10.162, a tenth and a half ahead of Norris's McLaren. In contrast, the Ferrari drivers looked to manage their tyre allocation, setting laps on older tyres, compared to the rest.

The temperature dropped, and drivers were once again out on track, trying to improve their lap times to make it into the top ten shootout. Leclerc and Sainz made it into the top ten, as did George Russell. Fernando Alonso too put in a storming lap time to pull his Aston Martin into what was fourth by the end of the session.

Ultimately, the time to beat would be his teammate Stroll's 1:10.375, with the main challengers for the top ten being the two Alpine racers Ocon and teammate Pierre Gasly, apart from the two Haas drivers Hulkenberg and Magnussen.

Despite both drivers having taken pole position here before, both Haas drivers were knocked out in Q2, along with both Alpine drivers, ensuring Stroll's passage into the Q3 session.

Alexander Albon's quickest lap of the session was deleted for exceeding track limits at turn four, the Thai-Brit driver just edging over the white line denoting the extremities of the circuit.

Eliminated in Q2: Hulkenberg, Ocon, Gasly, Magnussen, Albon


As was the case for the other two sessions, rain was an imminent threat to the session once again, with the ten drivers taking part in the session, lining up in the pit lane. Dark clouds loomed overhead, with ponchos coming on in the grandstands. The rain looked to be nearing the track, and according to the Ferrari pit wall, set to hit the track in seven minutes time.

And it would indeed be one lap deciding the grid for Sunday's race, with the clouds getting darker and darker, with every passing minute. Verstappen laid down the gauntlet, nearly three tenths ahead of Leclerc in second, and the only driver to lap in the 1:10s in the session.

The clouds continued to loom in the background, almost resembling the night sky, with the lights switched on along the main straight.

The shot of Verstappen passing into the first corner on the track, with near dark skies looming, is surely one not to miss. The situation saw many drivers vary of the conditions, with Alonso even quipping, "It's Night", highlighting the sheer size and volume of the rain cloud hovering over the track

The dark clouds during the Q3 session; Image Credits - Formula One

Elsewhere, it was a stunning qualifying for Aston Martin, with Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso locking out the second row of the grid. A yellow flag in sector three, caused by Piastri's spin at turn 12, caused drivers behind to slow down.

The two Mercedes drivers, Hamilton and Russell, along with Sainz and Perez would have been ruing a missed opportunity, the quartet rounding out the lower half of the top ten. McLaren made a call to send their drivers later onto the track, and with both drivers having the wettest track, finished only seventh and tenth in the session.

With gusty winds, and near storm-like conditions, the red flag was called out, putting an end to proceedings. In the end, Verstappen notched up yet another pole position, ahead of Charles Leclerc, getting a strong lap time in at the right time, and Stroll putting his knowledge of changeable conditions into good use, getting third on the grid, his best race start of the season so far.

Verstappen aced the changing conditions to claim pole position; Image Credits - Formula One


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