Sergio Perez believes he was on course to secure a front-row starting berth for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix until his only Q3 attempt was scuppered by Oscar Piastri.

The anticipated arrival of a torrential deluge in the early stages of the final qualifying stage meant that every driver in the top-10 shootout only received a single-timed effort.

While Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen navigated the deteriorating track conditions to claim pole position, Perez wound up only ninth, a huge 1.5s behind the Dutchman.

However, the Mexican was hampered by Piastri’s McLaren running wide at the left-handed Juncao corner ahead, bringing out the yellow flags and forcing him to slow.

Perez asserts that he would have cemented a Red Bull front-row lock-out with a clean run as he was maintaining pace with Verstappen’s benchmark up to that point.

“We were just incredibly unlucky today,” Perez rued. “I should have been in the front row.

“My lap was very close to Max’s until the last corner… and I found Piastri so I had to back off my lap. And meant that I was just nowhere. Very unfortunate because I felt we had a lot better.”

But Perez, who is bidding to rebound from retiring on the opening lap of his home grand prix last weekend, insists his qualifying pace provides optimism heading into the race.

Asked if he retained confidence heading into the remainder of the weekend, Perez said: “Definitely, there are some good points and good opportunities to race from here.”

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates his pole position in the pits. 03.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Qualifying Day.

Verstappen, meanwhile, took advantage of being third in the queue to post a time that beat Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 0.294s, claiming his second pole at Interlagos.

Although he avoided the showers that hindered other drivers, the Dutchman asserts that the substantial change in wind direction from the outset in Q3 impacted his run.

“We didn’t know when it [the rain] was going to it, but we knew it was going to hit, and then it did hit,” he explained. “In Q3, I don’t know, I think the wind started to change, it started to be very strong, and we lost a lot of lap time because of it. In the end it was all quite hectic on the last lap.”

The Brazil round represented the only time Red Bull were defeated across the final 11 rounds of last year as the Austrian outfit got caught out by the Sprint format.

But Verstappen believes Red Bull are in a better position to deal with the revised weekend schedule at Interlagos this year as he goes in search of a 17th victory of 2023.  

“It seems that it’s all very close, you can see it already in qualifying, I expect the same, also, in the race,” Verstappen noted regarding Red Bull’s prospects for the weekend.

“Around there’s always a lot of degradation from the tyres, so it’s all about that management. Last year we didn’t get that right, but I think we are a bit better this year.”

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