Qualy: Kevin Magnussen secures his and Haas’ remarkable first F1 pole position

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Kevin Magnussen clinched an incredible first F1 pole position in a topsy-turvy, rain-affected qualifying session for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

On the eve of team owner Gene Haas’ 70th birthday, the 30-year-old set the fastest time in a Q3 session that was effectively ruled all over after the opening runs when George Russell spun into the gravel and triggered the red flags.

It means Magnussen, who often finds himself fighting to get through Q1, will be at the front of the grid for the sprint at Interlagos, ahead of Max Verstappen, the double World Champion, and Russell as nobody could go faster after his accident as the rain began to intensify.

Haas celebrated wildly in the garage with Magnussen still sitting in the car as his pole was confirmed, the driver banging his fists on the car with joy in arguably the biggest F1 qualifying shock for many years.

It was a huge difference from Q1 in which Sergio Perez had been fastest by four thousandths of a second from Charles Leclerc, but that was before the rain began to fall in Sao Paulo. It was at its heaviest half an hour or so before qualifying, but had eased off by the time the cars were due to leave the pit lane.

That still meant intermediate tyres to start with though and as Leclerc headed out, he was told rain was expected in 10 minutes – which meant a banker lap ASAP could be vital in the quest to make the Q1 cut.

Lap times were initially around eight seconds down on what they had been earlier and at the halfway mark of Q1, AlphaTauri were first to bite the bullet and go for slicks – clearly happy to take the chance the Ferrari weather forecast was wrong.

It was Pierre Gasly on the soft tyres but while not quite a ‘Bambi on ice’ scenario, his first effort was nothing special – second time around was when he began setting ‘purple’ sectors, crossing the line fastest by 0.425sec. That triggered the others to swiftly follow suit for the final stages.

Entering the last two minutes, the top eight times had been set on slicks and it became all about timing as the P1 slot changed hands every few seconds. Starting the final ‘hot’ lap at the wrong moment would spell disaster.

Would there be a shock casualty? Yes, in the shape of Valtteri Bottas, who had been fast in FP1, exiting along with his Alfa Romeo team-mate Zhou Guanyu. Also bowing out were Nicholas Latifi (Williams), Mick Schumacher (Haas) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri). Bottas admitted over team radio he had “made the wrong call” by not switching to slicks earlier.

Q2 began with DRS in use for the first time and rain close by on the radar but not falling at the circuit. On the opening runs, the order almost resembled a lucky dip with Lando Norris, who had been fastest in Q1, at the top again and Alex Albon’s Williams up in the top five.

Several drivers reported drops of rain and that was a worry for Hamilton, last of the 15 with seven minutes to go. His team-mate Russell improved from 12th to third and the seven-time former World Champion eased his own concerns by slotting in just behind him.

The Mercedes duo briefly looked to have had the last of the conducive conditions but faster times were still being achieved, Sainz leaping up to P2 just when it was needed and Kevin Magnussen booking a surprise Q3 appearance in the Haas.

There was to be no further running though for Albon, Gasly, Aston Martin duo Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel – on his Interlagos swansong – and Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren).

The shootout for sprint pole was all going to hinge on the weather and as the lights turned green for Q3, the sky was increasingly gloomy but nine of the 10 cars had lined up on slicks – the exception being Leclerc on inters.

A Red Bull radio message to Verstappen initially suggested Ferrari may have got it right for the Monegasque – “rain incoming” – but that was not borne out on track as Leclerc had to abandon a first effort and stop for slicks. As he did, the unlikely figure of Magnussen took an early provisional pole.

That remarkable prospect became more likely when Russell beached his Mercedes, bringing out the red flags, the Briton P3 at the time. The rain began to fall heavier, suggesting that, when the session resumed, times would not improve. Cue amused and anxious faces in the Haas garage – and a “you’re ******* kidding” message from the flabbergasted Dane when told his position.

There were still over eight minutes remaining but it was inters and no DRS for Perez, who was first out – and straight back in. Hamilton also had a sighter, but it was a fruitless exercise – sparking jubilant scenes at Haas.

Times

1 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:11.674
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.203
3 George Russell Mercedes +0.385
4 Lando Norris McLaren +0.589
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.683
6 Esteban Ocon Alpine +0.751
7 Fernando Alonso Alpine +0.830
8 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.937
9 Sergio Perez Red Bull +3.927
10 Charles Leclerc Ferrari No Q3 time
11 Alex Albon Williams +0.750 (Q2)
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +0.794
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +0.797
14 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +1.259
15 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1.329
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams
17 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo
18 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo
19 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri
20 Mick Schumacher Haas

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