Max Verstappen was quickest on the buzzer to take pole position in apocalyptic conditions at the 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix, as an eclipse-like change in conditions plunged Interlagos into darkness and rain halfway through Q3.
FP1 saw an outbreak of punctures due to screws left out on the circuit, with both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso affected, and qualifying was delayed by 15 minutes to allow for extra track cleaning time.
That always threatened to expose the session to a rain shower with anthracite clouds perenially hanging off the circuit, but that storm finally arrived even before every driver had completed a lap in Q3.
And it arrived with a vengeance, as if someone had turned out the lights in Sao Paulo before wind upgraded from blustery to hurricane and rain bucketed down, forcing the top-three interviews to take place in the safety car garage rather than the celebration area outdoors.
After all the talk about who’d have the fastest car at Interlagos, pitlane position proved to be the decisive factor, with Verstappen hurrying through his outlap in order to be first across the line to set a lap.
Aston Martin also sent their cars out early and were rewarded with a morale-boosting lockout of the second row of the grid led by Lance Stroll, with Charles Leclerc qualifying second.
But just a week after a strategy error caused Lando Norris‘ Q1 elimination at the Mexico City GP, McLaren were again found wanting operationally.
Oscar Piastri was last out of the pitlane and span at Turn 12, signalling conditions were swiftly becoming undriveable, while Lando Norris was seventh and over a second behind Verstappen.
Mercedes filled the third row of the grid led by Lewis Hamilton, while Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez were well of the pace of their teammates and split the McLarens.
Haas are the only team whose both drivers have previously scored pole position at Interlagos, but couldn’t make it out of Q2 as they were eliminated alongside Alex Albon and the Alpines.
It was a similar story at the end of Q1 as the Alfa Romeos, AlphaTauris and Logan Sargeant failed to make the cut meaning 15th-place Albon‘s lead in the Williams qualifying battle extends to 24-0.
Qualifying rule change fails to prevent chaos
In a throwback to 2007, pit holdups have been a theme of the 2023 F1 season, starting with Verstappen seeming very fortunate to avoid a penalty after roadblocking the end of the pitlane in qualifying for the Singapore GP.
After a fan backlash, the FIA admitted they’d been too lenient on the championship winner, but when Verstappen and George Russell pulled the same stunt at the Mexico City GP, the pair again avoided any grid drops.
For Interlagos, the stewards revealed drivers have been banned from stopping in the pitlane and instructed to keep left if they’re running slowly down the unique pit exit that winds down to turn three at the tail of the Senna S.
It didn’t seem to make much difference though – Verstappen went rallying around Esteban Ocon at the end of Q1 as he progressed while Yuki Tsunoda wasn’t so lucky.
The AlphaTauri driver complained that a Mercedes (Tsunoda initially accused Hamilton but it was later found to be Russell) had impeded him in the pitlane, with the stewards taking note of the incident but no penalties handed out at least by the end of Q3.