F1
Laurence Edmondson, F1 Editor 12d

Mercedes, Ferrari primed for close fight, Fernando Alonso impresses again

Formula 1

SAO PAULO -- After a battle for pole which came down to just three-hundredths of a second, a round-up of the main talking points from qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix. 

Shock: For the first time this year, Lewis Hamilton didn't make it out of Q1, creating the unusual situation of a pole position shootout without the newly-crowned world champion. It was still a tense battle for pole, however, with the gap just 0.038s between Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel when the chequered flag fell. It should make for an interesting race tomorrow, with Ferrari making a significant step overnight since Friday practice and Hamilton battling his way back from the rear of the grid.

Shocker: After being the star of qualifying so often in the second half of the season, it was a huge surprise to see Lewis Hamilton make a mistake on his first flying lap in Q1. The spin appeared to catch him by surprise as much as everyone else, as his car slid into a four-wheel drift across the run-off area and into the barriers. With no obvious problem on the car, the only viable explanation for the mistake was driver error.

One for the team: After the shocking news that Mercedes team members were robbed at gunpoint after leaving the circuit in Interlagos on Friday night, Bottas was happy to be able to deliver a good news story for the team on Saturday. "I actually spoke with them this morning and I said we are going to stick it on pole and cheer everyone up, so I'm glad it happened like that," he said. "But first of all, I'm very happy everyone is in one piece and nothing happened physically to anyone, but obviously it is a bad situation to be in. I'm just happy everyone is still here."

The rain that never came: According to local weather forecasts, three of the four sessions in Brazil so far were meant to be washouts, yet the wet and intermediate tyres have remained in their blankets all weekend. The race is the one session that the forecasters are confident will be dry, so don't be surprised if there is a deluge five minutes before the start.

Turn 1: The relatively short run down to Turn 1 always holds the potential for a clash of wheels in Interlagos. As ever, Max Verstappen will fancy his chances of making up ground at the start and, despite a lack of one-lap pace, he will be looking to outmanoeuvre the Ferrari's into Turn 1 to make use of Red Bull's race pace.

Biggest gap between teammates: Felipe Massa did well to haul his Williams up to tenth in his final qualifying session on home turf, and the performance looked even more impressive compared to his teammate. Lance Stroll qualified 18th after setting a time 0.987s off Massa's Q1 time, but in his defence his car had to be rebuilt after issues with his power unit and gearbox in final practice, which limited setup time.

Star of qualifying: As impressive as Bottas' pole lap was, Fernando Alonso stood out as the driver who outperformed his machinery the most by hauling his McLaren-Honda up to seventh. Daniel Ricciardo's grid penalty means Alonso will move up to sixth -- unfortunately on the dirty side of the grid -- but it should provide a platform for Alonso to shine in Sunday's race. The lap was a reminder that one of the best drivers in the sport is still performing on a very high level.

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