Max Verstappen required just one lap to put his Red Bull on pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The triple world champion saw off Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc as a huge storm brought a premature end to qualifying in Interlagos.
Verstappen finished three tenths clear of Leclerc as he chases his 17th win of a remarkable season, with Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso third and fourth respectively for Aston Martin.
Lewis Hamilton took fifth, one place ahead of George Russell in the other Mercedes, with Lando Norris, who waited too long in the pit lane as the downpour approached, finishing a disappointing seventh.
Verstappen said the Red Bull machine – which has this year carried him to a third world title and a record 16 victories from the 19 rounds so far – was “bouncing around like a kangaroo” in the opening phase of qualifying.
But the Dutchman delivered at the pivotal moment after he wasted no time in putting in a lap with Q3 predicted to be hit by a huge storm.
“We did not know when the weather would hit but this is insane,” said Verstappen
“It seems that it will be very close in the race. You can see that in qualifying and I expect the same on Sunday.”
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) November 3, 2023
Leclerc said: “In my whole career I have never experienced anything like that.
“From turn four there was no rain but the car was very difficult to drive with no grip and I was thinking about coming in at the end of the lap, but we finished second which was a good surprise.”
Verstappen was one of the first on track but Norris, who had looked to be a contender – indeed he was the fastest man in Q2 – elected to stay in his garage.
As the bad weather arrived, Norris could not get his McLaren up to speed and he finished 1.2sec back while his team-mate Oscar Piastri, who was one of the last to join the circuit, span off at the final corner.
Sergio Perez was following Piastri and he had to back out, leaving him only ninth.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 3, 2023
Moments later, the running was abandoned as heavy rain and thunder and lightning arrived underneath black skies.
Hamilton vowed not to leave Interlagos empty-handed after team-mate Russell took Mercedes’ sole victory of the season here a year ago.
However, the British driver, who is approaching two years without a win, faces an uphill task to end his losing streak after he finished seven tenths back.
Russell’s chances of following up his maiden win with another triumph on Brazilian soil also suffered a setback.
Russell, who is under investigation for impeding Alpine’s Pierre Gasly in the pit lane in Q1, was a tenth behind Hamilton. Hamilton now holds an 11-9 qualifying record over his younger team-mate.
Daniel Ricciardo put his name in the frame to bump Perez out of Red Bull next year following a display in Mexico hailed as “remarkable” by Christian Horner.
But after he qualified fourth in Mexico City, before finishing seventh, Ricciardo hit a stumbling block at Interlagos when he fell at the first hurdle.
The 34-year-old Australian will line up from only 17th place for Sunday’s race, one spot behind AlphaTauri team-mate Yuki Tsunoda.