Valtteri Bottas took pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Saturday as teammate and world champion Lewis Hamilton endured a controversial and barnstorming day on and off the Interlagos track. Bottas claimed pole for Sunday’s showpiece by winning the 24-lap sprint race. World championship leader Max Verstappen will start the grand prix beside the Finn on the front row in his Red Bull. It was Hamilton, however, who ended the day as the chief headline maker. The seven-time world champion, who now trails Verstappen by 21 points in the title race with four events left, was relegated to the back of the grid for Saturday’s sprint. That was due to his disqualification from Friday qualifying, where he had been the fastest man on the track, after his car was judged to have breached technical rules.
Hamilton shrugged off that setback by flying through the field from last place to finish fifth from 20th in the sprint.
However, he will still start Sunday’s race in 10th place having already been given a five-place grid penalty for an engine change on his Mercedes.
“Of course, it was devastating,” Hamilton told Sky Sports of his disqualification.
“But you can’t let that hold you back, keep your head down, I’ve got to keep going.”
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff was overjoyed at Hamilton’s performance.
“Brilliant job, damage limitation,” said Wolff on the team radio.
“Copy,” replied Hamilton. “It’s not over yet.”
Verstappen was passed by Bottas on the first corner and then briefly by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz before coming home in second place.
“The start itself wasn’t the best and then we were on the harder compound, that didn’t help,” said the Dutchman.
“I think the pace was quite good but around here once you close up you can’t really pass. But it’s OK.”
Earlier Saturday, after a lengthy stewards’ meeting, Hamilton was penalised after his Mercedes’ DRS system (the flap mounted on the rear wing of the car which opens to gain top speed) was judged to have exceeded allowed limits.
“The team will not be appealing Lewis’ disqualification from Quali. We want to win these World Championships on the race track,” tweeted Mercedes.
FINED FOR ‘TOUCHING’
Verstappen, meanwhile, was fined 50,000 euros ($57,000) for “touching” the Mercedes of Hamilton but was not handed a grid penalty.
The Red Bull star was spotted examining Hamilton’s car in the secure parc ferme after qualifying on Friday.
“It is clear to the stewards that it has become a habit of the drivers to touch cars after qualifying and the races,” said a statement from the stewards.
“This was also the explanation of Verstappen, that it was simply habit to touch this area of the car which has been a point of speculation in recent races between both teams.
“This general tendency has been seen as mostly harmless and so has not been uniformly policed. Nevertheless, it is a breach of the parc ferme regulation and has significant potential to cause harm.”
The rest of Sunday’s leading places will see Sainz and Sergio Perez in the Red Bull on the second row.
McLaren’s Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari make up the third row ahead of Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri and Esteban Ocon of Alpine.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in an Aston Martin shares the fifth row with Hamilton.
The Brazilian Grand Prix, which was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, was the third race this season to stage a Saturday sprint after Britain and Italy.
After Sunday’s grand prix, three more remain in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.