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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Valtteri Bottas takes advantage of Lewis Hamilton's crash to take pole in Brazil

Finn edges out Sebastian Vettel in qualifying after his Mercedes-GP world champion teammate hits barriers during qualifying at Sao Paulo

Valtteri Bottas is a front-runner for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday. Mark Thompson / Getty Images
Valtteri Bottas is a front-runner for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday. Mark Thompson / Getty Images

World champion Lewis Hamilton vowed to have “fun” in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix after a crash in qualifying realistically wrecked his hopes of winning the race in Sao Paulo.

The Briton, who sealed his fourth drivers’ championship in Mexico two weeks ago, will start at the rear of the field for the 71-lap race, which begins at 8pm UAE time, after his Mercedes-GP slid off and into the barriers at Turn 6 at the Interlagos circuit on his first lap out of the pitlane at the start of the session.

Hamilton was unhurt in the incident but had to sit out the rest of the session and watch his teammate Valtteri Bottas claim his third pole position of the season as he edged out Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 0.038 secs as he set a new lap record of 1 minute, 08.322 seconds.

Since the grand prix returned to Interlagos in its current guise in 1990, Giancarlo Fisichella’s victory for Jordan in 2003 from eighth place on the grid remains the lowest place on the grid someone has started and gone on to win.

Hamilton was optimistic though that he could still get a good finish, looking back to the 2009 race, when he drove for McLaren, where he came through from 17th to take fourth.

“I will try to have as much fun as possible tomorrow,” he said. “Years ago I came from quite far behind and had a great race.”

As to the crash, which came when the back end of his Mercedes stepped out on him as he exited the fast right-hander, he was phlegmatic about it.

“It is what it is,” he added. “Of course it’s unfortunate. I tend to just look at it as challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them makes life meaningful.

“I just need to take whatever bubble of negativity comes from that experience and move forwards and try and grow from it. Very unusual from me. It shows we are all human and things happen.”

Hamilton’s mistake allowed Bottas to take centre stage and boost the Finnish driver’s hopes of finishing runner-up in the championship.

Bottas is 15 points behind Vettel in the championship with just Sunday’s race, and the season finale, the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26, remaining to be held.

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Bottas has won twice already this season in Russia and Austria, but the last of those successes came in July and he has struggled to match Hamilton in the second half of the season, and second in Mexico last month was the first time since Hungary in August that he had finished ahead of the Briton in a race.

“It feels good,” Bottas said of his effort to take pole, which came on his last lap of the session. “It was so close with Seb all through qualifying.

“It’s a shame Lewis went out but I’m happy I could do a good job for the team.

“Avoiding mistakes will be crucial tomorrow as well as a good start. I’m really looking forward to it.”

The pole gave the Mercedes team some cheer, coming after news that some of members of the team had been held and robbed at gun point as they left the circuit after practice on Friday.

There were no injuries, and the team reported watches and passports being stolen when a team van was attacked.

Hamilton, who was not involved in the incident, said on Twitter that “gun shots were fired”.

He went on to criticise the event security, adding: “This happens every single year here. F1 and the teams need to do more, there’s no excuse.”

Vettel was disappointed to miss out on pole, and believed he had been too cautious on his final lap.

“I chickened out a little bit with the brakes,” the four-time world champion said.

Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen was third quickest, ahead of the two Red Bull Racing cars of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, though the latter will start down the order due to a 10-place grid penalty for parts being changed on his engine.

There was cheer for the local fans as Felipe Massa, in his last home race before he retires, was 10th fastest in his Williams as he reached the final top-10 shootout.

He had been one second quicker then teammate Lance Stroll in the first part of qualifying, with the Canadian only 18th fastest.