Mercedes came into the São Paulo GP weekend somewhat on the backfoot, after being soundly defeated by Red Bull and Max Verstappen last time out at the Mexico City GP. But even there, the Brackley squad led the way in qualifying. And Friday in São Paulo saw Mercedes once again on top in a qualifying session, although this time it won’t directly set the grid for Sunday’s race because it’s a 'Sprint' weekend, meaning a Saturday race, of 1/3 of the distance of the grand prix, sets the grid for Sunday.
Another factor counting against the reigning champions starting on pole is the 5-place grid drop Lewis Hamilton will take after yet another engine change in his W12. But Hamilton was happy with his dominant showing on Friday, mentioning setup changes between practice and qualifying as a key factor in his success:
"I’ve been going from [FP1], and sit there for the whole hour trying to make the right setup change. The anxiety you get is crazy, and a lot of the times we get it wrong, I get it wrong, and today I got it right and the car was really nice to drive. It was everything that I wanted. And then just enabled me to just keep pushing, and you saw – purple, purple, purple.
"I loved today, for sure! We’re working so hard to try and get this car right - and it’s been tough. So to finally get the car feeling like we did today feels great. It’s just a testament to all the great work that everyone is doing, in the garage, and also back home, all the work is going back home to try and pull out everything we can from the car," Hamilton said.
His grid penalty means the highest he will start the main grand prix is from P6, if he wins the Sprint on Saturday. Talking about the decision to change the engine once again, Hamilton said he trusts the judgement of the Mercedes’ team:
"Of course, the last two poles I’ve had I had a penalty, a bit unfortunate to have the penalty tomorrow, but it is what it is. I’ll try and fight back from that.
"I think it was yesterday – I think right to the last minute they were trying to make the decision, ‘we should be able to make it to end or no’. I trust, obviously, their judgement. I don’t know how that will translate to the race," Hamilton concluded.
Valtteri Bottas had more of a tough day at the office, the Finn ending the day P3, just over half a second back from Hamilton. Polesitter last time out in Mexico, Bottas says his main struggle in qualifying was at the Senna S complex:
"It was a bit tricky [in] practice one, and I didn’t quite feel comfortable, especially in the first sector with the car. It got a bit better in qualifying, but still the main place I was losing to Lewis was turns 1-2, and a bit on the straight, so yeah, not fully satisfied.
"Obviously, it’s still a good starting place, and all to play for, and hopefully it will be a lap 1 full of action, so we’ll see," the Finn concluded.
Big day tomorrow, Team. 💜💙 Let's maximise those points. pic.twitter.com/1syvhB4SzI— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) November 12, 2021
There may well be another twist in the waiting for Mercedes, though, as a late investigation into the legality of the rear wing of its W12 was launched by the FIA. A representative from Mercedes is set to meet the stewards at 1915 local São Paulo time. The latest developments on this matter can be found on MotorLAT, as soon as it happens.