Lewis Hamilton claimed his 100th pole position for Mercedes in qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix, while nearest challenger Sebastian Vettel faces a race stewards investigation.
Hamilton went fastest using supersoft Pirellis on the first runs in the pole position shootout, setting a time of one minute, 07.301 seconds.
The Mercedes driver was the only one of the frontrunners to improve on his second run, shaving off a further two-hundredths of a second to make sure of P1.
Vettel had been up on Hamilton after the first sector on his final run, but a lock up in Turn 8 contributed to him losing time and he had to settle for second based on his earlier lap, 0.093 seconds down.
Valtteri Bottas was third fastest in the second Mercedes, pipping Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by 0.015 seconds.
As expected, the Red Bull drivers annexed the third row with just 0.002 secondss separating Max Verstappen in fifth and Daniel Ricciardo in sixth. However, the honey badger will drop five places on the grid following a turbo unit change.
Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson was the only driver other than Hamilton to improve on his second run, ensuring he held onto the seventh place he secured on his first attempt.
That put him two tenths faster than his Sauber team-mate Charles Leclerc, with Haas driver Romain Grosjean ninth and comfortably ahead of Pierre Gasly.
Both Ferrari drivers will start the race on soft Pirellis after aborting their initial Q2 runs on supersofts to change tyres, with the rest of the top ten qualifiers all locked in the softest compound.
But Vettel was frustrated to be called to the FIA weigh bridge early in Q2 when he dived into the pits while in a hurry to change tyres in case of racing.
He was reported to the stewards for refusing to turn off his engine, then driving onto the scales and leaving under his own power.
Technical delegate Jo Bauer’s report to the stewards pointed out this made it difficult to get a stable weight, and that in driving off Vettel “destroyed the scales”.
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was knocked out at the end of Q2 by a superb lap from Leclerc, who looked set to miss out on a place in the top ten when rain hit with six minutes remaining.
At that point, Magnussen had just pushed Leclerc down to P11, but the Sauber driver returned to the track after the rain eased and returned the favour.
When the rain came, Racing Point Force India driver Esteban Ocon did improve his lap time on a second set of supersoft Pirellis but it was only good enough for P13 behind teammate Sergio Perez.
Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg was P14 after improving his time, but not his position, with a late lap to end up ahead only of the Williams of Sergey Sirotkin.
Sirotkin had to swerve and skirt the grass on the approach to the Juncao left-hander while on an out-lap after Hamilton attempted to move out of his way by jinking to the left too late.
The Williams driver then appeared to express his frustration by attempting a pass on Hamilton into Turn 1 on the following lap.
Renault driver Carlos Sainz was the fastest of those eliminated in a frenetic Q1 session, during which spots or rain made it difficult for drivers.
Gasly bumped Toro Rosso team-mate Brendon Hartley into the drop zone with a few minutes remaining, putting Ocon into P15.
But Sainz then posted a lap 0.005s slower than Ocon to take P16, and slot in 0.011 seconds ahead of Hartley, who complained of a lockup on his best lap that cost him time.
McLaren pairing Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were P18 and P20 respectively and separated by 0.199 seconds – as well as the second Williams of Lance Stroll.
Qualifying positions, Brazilian Grand Prix:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m07.281s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m07.374s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m07.441s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m07.456s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m07.778s
6 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m08.296s
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m08.492s
8 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m08.517s
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m09.029s
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m08.659s
11 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m07.780s
12 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m08.741s
13 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m08.834s
14 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m10.381s
15 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m09.269s
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m09.280s
17 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m09.402s
18 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m08.770s
19 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m09.441s
20 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m09.601s