Max Verstappen will start the São Paulo Grand Prix on pole ahead of Charles Leclerc after the final stage of qualifying was red flagged due to a storm with four minutes remaining in the session.

The early stoppage saw Lance Stroll outqualify Fernando Alonso as Aston Martin lockout the second row of the grid ahead of the Mercedes duo headed by Lewis Hamilton.

Read More: F1 2023 São Paulo Grand Prix – Qualifying Results

The start of Friday’s qualifying session was delayed by 15 minutes following calls from Pirelli for a clean of the racing surface. During FP1, loose nails and screws led to punctures for Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton with stones leaving drivers feeling “sandblasted”.

There were reports of rain nearing ahead of Q1, making it no surprise that all drivers were keen to take to the track as soon as possible.

Lando Norris set the time to chase with an early run on fresh softs. 1:10.623s was enough to keep Verstappen at bay by three-tenths.

Charles Leclerc would dislodge Norris with an improvement to 1:10.472s. Oscar Piastri slipped his way into second place within half-a-tenth of the Ferrari driver.

Lance Stroll and Alex Albon occupied third and fourth with just two minutes remaining in the opening phase, indicating that there were considerable gains to be found despite drops of rain beginning to fall.

As the flag fell in Q1, 2021 winner George Russell found himself atop the timesheets, with Verstappen following by 0.096s. Leclerc slipped to third.

Yuki Tsunoda was the first to be eliminated from the session, but the Japanese driver was heard fuming with the antics of some in the pitlane despite the FIA’s clarification on stopping and slowing to build a gap.

He was followed by AlphaTauri team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Logan Sargeant and Guanyu Zhou.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 leaves the pits.
03.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Qualifying Day.
–, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

By the start of Q2, the rain was still limited to small droplets despite the darkening of the clouds overhead. The opening laps in Q2 may have proven pivotal if the rain were to reach the circuit.

The Red Bull pair led the field out on fresh softs and despite a deficits in the first and second sector, Verstappen would open up a two-tenth lead on Sergio Perez.

McLaren were able to split the Red Bulls with both cars as Norris and Piastri both set times 0.16s slower than that of the champion.

As track temperatures dropped, Russell, Alonso and the Ferrari duo found themselves in the drop zone before all jumping into the top ten as the track grew faster still.

Norris returned to P1 with a 1:10.021s, a position he maintained with Verstappen unable to find any improvements after a scrappy lap in his RB19. Perez ended Q2 third.

Improvements were tough to come by at the climax of the second stage with the track continuing to cool. After an impressive opening 18-minutes, both Haas cars were unable to advance to the final shootout with Nico Hulkenberg eliminated P11, Kevin Magnussen P14.

The Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly were P12 and P13 respectively while a track limits violation for Alex Albon saw him exit P15.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Haas F1 Team.
03.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Qualifying Day.
–, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

In the break between Q2 and Q3, the skies grew darker yet as Ferrari forecasted downpours 7 minutes into the top 10 shootout. With nobody wanting to get caught out by the inbound weather, the pressure was certainly on as rain began to fall at points around the circuit.

Verstappen was fastest in the first sector, going purple again in sector two and three to set a 1:10.727s on his way to provisional pole, sixth tenths slower than his Q2 effort. Leclerc, three-tenths slower than Verstappen, placed second ahead of Lance Stroll and Alonso, both six tenths off.

Sector three was the first part of the track to be hit by rain, with the slippery surface beginning to catch out drivers.

Those on track early were handed a massive advantage, as Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piastri both had off-track excursions in sector one and three respectively.

With four minutes left on the session clock, a red flag was thrown with the track being plunged into almost complete darkness and lightning in the vicinity.

Unsurprisingly, the session would not be restarted calling time on Friday’s running, and cementing the grid for Sunday. Teams were also allowed to close their garage doors to take shelter from the storm.

The result is another Max Verstappen pole ahead of Leclerc. Stroll outqualified Alonso for third as Aston Martin occupy row two.

Row three on Sunday will be reserved for the Mercedes duo headed by Lewis Hamilton ahead of Russell.

Having kept Red Bull and Verstappen honest throughout qualifying, Norris will have to settle for P7 ahead of Sainz. Perez’s lap was compromised by Oscar Piastri’s spin with the Australian unable to set a laptime after his off. He will start 10th on Sunday.

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