SAO PAULO (AP) — Lewis Hamilton beat rival Max Verstappen in qualifying to take pole position for Saturday’s sprint race ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix, although an engine change means the British driver is facing a five-place grid penalty on Sunday.
Hamilton was more than 0.4 seconds ahead of his Red Bull rival in Friday’s qualifying at Interlagos, having also set the fastest time in the morning’s practice session. That means he’ll start first in the sprint race on Saturday, which will determine the starting grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
However, the decision by Mercedes to change the engine of his car means the British driver will not start higher than sixth in Sunday’s race, even if he wins the sprint.
“Today was a really good qualifying session, I’m super happy with it,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got the penalty but we’ll give it everything we’ve got. It’s not easy to follow, but I guess Max is starting on pole (Sunday) now so it’s going to be very hard to catch him but I’ll do my best to try and go through the field.”
The seven-time F1 champion trails Verstappen by 19 points in the standings with four races left in the season.
It’s the second time the Mercedes driver has exceeded the limit of three engines for the season, and the penalty will make it even harder to close the gap to Verstappen.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas finished third in qualifying, 0.014 ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who was faster than him in the practice session a few hours earler.
The Red Bulls had proven faster than the Mercedes cars in recent races but Verstappen said Hamilton’s performance on Friday was “not a big shock” after the engine change.
“I am just happy to be second. That is a good position to start from,” he said. “You always want to be closer, but sometimes you just have to be realistic.”
Hamilton took a 10-place grid penalty for a new engine in Turkey. Bottas has faced similar problems, which has raised questions about the engine’s reliability.
The Brazilian GP will be the third event of the season with a qualifying sprint race on Saturday to determine Sunday’s grid, with the winner also getting three points. The two previous sprint races were held in Silverstone and Monza.
The weather could still play a role at Interlagos, with a thin drizzle falling in certain sectors of the track on Friday, but not enough to impact drivers’ performances.
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