Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Interlagos, 2021

Hamilton claims Saturday pole with dominant qualifying performance

2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in qualifying for the São Paulo Grand Prix at Interlagos, giving him the pole position for Saturday’s sprint qualifying race ahead of championship leader Max Verstappen.


Qualifying began at 16:00 local time, under cloudy skies, with cooler conditions than in the afternoon’s practice session. Charles Leclerc, in his Ferrari, was the first driver out on track.

After eight minutes, Lewis Hamilton broke into the one minute, eight second range in his Mercedes with a lap of 1’08.824, moving ahead of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull-Honda. Carlos Sainz Jnr slotted into second at the end of the first set of attack laps.

Hamilton improved to a 1’08.733, and Valtteri Bottas moved up to third. Charles Leclerc ran afoul of the track limits at the exit of Descida do Lago (turn four) on his first run, but eventually got up to third ahead of Bottas and behind his team mate Sainz.

Antonio Giovinazzi and Esteban Ocon escaped relegation after the chequered flag, pushing Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin-Mercedes to the wrong side of the Q1 cut line.

Nicholas Latifi out-qualified George Russell for the first time since the pair became team mates at the beginning of last year. That ended Russell’s undefeated run in qualifying at Williams after nearly three seasons. Latifi qualified 17th, Russell 18th, and then the two Haas-Ferraris of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were 19th and 20th, respectively. Schumacher had a best lap of 1’09.958 deleted due to track limits, which would have put him five-thousandths away from Russell, and even further ahead of Mazepin.

Drivers eliminated in Q1

16Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’09.663
17Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’09.897
18George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’09.953
19Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’10.329
20Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’10.589

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It took three minutes for cars to make their way out on track for the second phase of qualifying. Due to this being a sprint qualifying weekend, drivers did not have to factor starting tyre choice for the race into their Q2 strategy, as all will have a free selection this weekend.

Hamilton’s first flying lap, a 1’08.659, was deleted after he breached track limits at Descida do Lago; seconds later, Verstappen went to the top of the board with a 1’08.567. But on his second lap, Hamilton remained inside the boundary lines, and shot back to the top with a 1’08.386.

With five minutes remaining and a break in the Q2 action, the five drivers sitting on the wrong end of the cut line were Ocon, Yuki Tsunoda, Sebastian Vettel, and the two Alfa Romeo-Ferraris of Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkönen. All 15 drivers came back out for their final attack laps to try and secure a place in Q3.

Lando Norris went from 11th to seventh on his last lap, bumping Ocon down to 11th. Vettel was able to improve, but not enough to advance into Q3, as he finished ahead of Tsunoda (who locked up into the first corner on his last lap), Raikkönen, and Giovinazzi. Fernando Alonso was safe by less than six-hundreths of a second as he held on to tenth.

Hamilton improved to a 1’08.068 on his last lap to secure the top spot in the session, ahead of Bottas and Verstappen.

Drivers eliminated in Q2

11Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’09.189
12Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’09.399
13Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda1’09.483
14Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’09.503
15Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’10.227

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That left the two Mercedes, the two Red Bulls, the two Ferraris, the two McLaren-Mercedes (who didn’t use the soft tyre in practice), plus Alonso and Pierre Gasly, to fight for pole in Q3.

Hamilton set the pace in the first set of flying laps, turning in a 1’08.107 to take provisional pole. Bottas set a 1’08.469 in the other Mercedes, and Verstappen could only split the two Mercedes with a time of 1’08.372, as he spoke of his tyres overheating on the radio.

Perez, a half second slower than Verstappen on his first run, was also searching for a bit more lap time as the second and final time attacks began.

Verstappen could not improve on his final flying lap after going way wide at the exit of Junção (turn 12), he also lost top speed with his DRS oscillating down the main straight. But Hamilton was able to find more pace for one last lap: His lap time of 1’07.934 got a roar of applause from the Brazilian crowd, and secured him the number one grid position for tomorrow’s 24-lap Sprint race.

Hamilton’s five place grid drop for a change of internal combustion engines will not be applied until Sunday’s feature race.

Bottas held onto third place on the Sprint grid, just 0.014 seconds ahead of Perez, who finished fourth in Q3.

The Honda-powered AlphaTauri of Gasly was fifth, the best of the rest ahead of Sainz in sixth and Leclerc in seventh. Norris, Ricciardo, and Alonso completed the top ten in that order.

Top ten in Q3

1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’07.934
2Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’08.372
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’08.469
4Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’08.483
5Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’08.777
6Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’08.826
7Charles LeclercFerrari1’08.960
8Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’08.980
9Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’09.039
10Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’09.113

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2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix

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Author information

RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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26 comments on “Hamilton claims Saturday pole with dominant qualifying performance”

  1. I’m not a Hamilton hater by any means. In fact, I am quite a fan of the personality he has become outside of racing these days. But I get so tired of having to hear him complain about how the Red Bull is so fast only to show an extremely dominant performance shortly after.

  2. I don’t know if it’s because of the weekend format putting qualifying on Friday with a day’s gap before the main race or because of knowing this isn’t what sets the grid for the main race on Sunday but that session was just lacking something & I don’t know if it was just me but even Croft & Brundle sounded less into it than they normally would be for a qualifying session.

    Regardless of my feelings about the actual Saturday race I think the biggest downside for me of these sprint weekends has been how it’s altered the feeling & relevance of the other sessions in a way which I feel has been negative. I saw another commenter raise how the flow of the weekend has been altered & I have to say that I think I agree with that & I don’t think that has been a positive change.

    1. Yeah, that’s been the case with all three sprint weekends for me @gt-racer, and seemingly will do for those six weekends next year too. I’m not watching tomorrow evening, guess I’ll treat results on the grid as ‘post quali and tv broadcast stewards decisions’; if it works, that will likely be my recipe for next year too.

    2. @gt-racer I agree. Having the sprint race set the grid for Sunday manages to devalue all three competitive sessions for me. Qualifying loses its stakes since it doesn’t set the grand prix grid; the sprint race loses its lustre once it settles in as everyone prefers to take their chances at the standing start the next day; and the grand prix itself feels like it’s a resumption of the previous day’s action, without the sense of buildup to racing action that you normally get on a Sunday.

      Decoupling the sprint race from the grand prix would benefit all three sessions, I think. Setting the sprint race grid based on second-fastest qualifying laps would raise the stakes on Friday even more, and help mix the Saturday grid up so the grand prix doesn’t feel like a rerun.

    3. Yeah, you’ve nailed the problem with the sprint format – felt exactly the same for me.

  3. Merc rocket on a RBR track. If Sir Lewis Hamilton wins every race he’ll be WDC.

  4. I think a new ICE itself is more than 1 tenth. It affects the top speed and the acceleration. I really think this is the decisive weekend just like in 2016, when Rosberg almost spun and almost lost more than 2nd place.

  5. Now will Max say “He and Mercedes were simply faster than us, and we were left behind by very much, we can’t do anything”?
    Wouldn’t he be entitled to say such things now? But one can choose to focus on the liquid contained in a half filled bottle or in the emptiness within it.

  6. Oh god the championship is so over… Look at this gap! :)

  7. Hamilton’s five place grid drop for a change of internal combustion engines will not be applied until Sunday’s feature race.

    I hope Max doesn’t go ballistic on the first corner tomorrow. It’s preferrable to lose 1 point on Saturday and get 7 or more of advantage on Sunday, than to crash with Hamilton and send both of them (or with Hamilton’s luck, just Verstappen himself) to the back of the grid for the main Sunday event.

  8. Anthony Davidson’s comparison of the two title contenders laps is quite fascinating – shows that the difference between the two was a lot more nuanced than simply “new engine, new engine”

    1. Verstappen was dealing cards on his second lap. The car looked poor or he was over driving it looking for a huge gain.

    2. Max was almost 0.3 down in his banker lap. Trailing even more by in Q1 and Q2.

      Of course a safe approach and improving by 0.1 wouldn’t cut it, would it? Hence more risk. Results this time a messy lap but a good risk/reward choice.

      1. Verstappen choked on his qualifying the same way he did in Mexico. It is as simple as that.

        1. Jonathan Parkin
          12th November 2021, 21:24

          Still won the race the next day though. Qualifying sometimes isn’t everything, Niki Lauda won his third championship without a front row start all year

          1. No one said qualifying was everything. Just making an observation regarding the results.

            No need to be defensive.

        2. Wasnt It Lewis choking in qualifying in Mexico? Losing to his mediocre team mate again?

  9. Verstappen wasn’t flawless so I feel the gap is bigger because of that. Let’s see how the cars perform tomorrow and Sunday. A change in air temperature, humidity, track temperature, wind etc.. .it seems it could change the performance of the car a lot on other tracks. Let’s see what it does here

  10. The main headline for me is that Russel was finally beaten in a Qualifying session by a teammate!

    1. Mr Saturday’s mojo does not work on Fridays

  11. Sadly this site is full of people so unwilling to take a fair viewpoint on the actually facts. Hamilton and Mercedes had a car advantage today, fact! Max and RedBull had the advantage last weekend, fact!

    All these sarcastic “RedBull have the best car” when Mercedes win or “Mercedes’ have the best car” comments add literally nothing of value to this forum. It’s honestly embarrassing to read. I assume people commenting are grown adults and not 4 year olds.

  12. I think Mazepin needs a break from racing. He was very emotional after the qualifying.

    1. Probably getting a veeeeery long break after Abu Dhabi

  13. This was probably the first time I’ve skipped a live qualy session that was actually broadcast at a reasonable time (6am Melbourne time). I usually love qualifying and try to watch it live when possible but knowing this wasn’t real qualifying, I opted for a sleep in and watched it in 15 minutes fast-forwarding through the lulls. I know Ross has said he doesn’t want to dilute the Grand Prix with sprint qualifying but he’s sure as hell killed one of the most exciting parts of a weekend for me. I mean, what’s to be excited about when qualifying isn’t actually qualifying…?

  14. RebelAngelFloyd (@)
    13th November 2021, 18:57


    Will you now change title of this article from
    Dominant qualifying performance
    Illegal qualifying performance

Comments are closed.