Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas has overtaken Max Verstappen early to win the sprint race at the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix on Saturday and seal pole position for Sunday’s race.
Lewis Hamilton had been set to go off first in the sprint race having topped Friday’s qualifying for the sprint but was deemed to have a technical infringement with his DRS back wing.
The Mercedes driver was therefore disqualified from qualifying and sent to the back of the sprint grid in Sao Paulo.
The Briton superbly fought his way up to fifth with a new wing but will start 10th in Sunday’s race after a previous penalty for switching engines.
Seven-times champion Hamilton trails Red Bull’s Verstappen by 21 points with Brazil the fourth-last race of the season.
Finn Bottas picked up three extra points for winning the sprint race, which was being trialled for the third and final time in F1 this season.
The 100 kilometre sprint was about a third of Sunday’s race distance – 24 laps – with free use of tyres.
“We knew the soft (tyre) would be a benefit for the start and it worked, and then it was all about trying to survive until the end,” Bottas said. “I’m glad it worked out perfectly.”
Verstappen was second in the sprint, collecting two points, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz third which is worth one point and third on the grid.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was fourth while McLaren’s Lando Norris was sixth and his Australian teammate Daniel Ricciardo 11th.
Verstappen started on sprint pole after Hamilton’s sanction but the Briton’s teammate Bottas made the better start from second and got immediately past the Red Bull man.
Sainz also overtook Verstappen early on, with the Dutchman complaining of gear problems before passing the Spaniard to reclaim second.
He bore down on Bottas but decided against any big risks and the Finn held on.
“The start wasn’t the best. I think our pace was quite good, but sometimes here you just can’t pass. We will try again tomorrow, Verstappen said.
Hamilton, meanwhile, stormed through the field in style.
“It’s not over yet,” he said over the radio after crossing the line.
Team boss Toto Wolff told him: “Brilliant job, damage limitation.”
Verstappen earlier escaped with a 50,00 euro fine ($A78,000) for going into the parc ferme restricted area after Friday qualifying and examining Hamilton’s wing.
But as the title battle between the duo gets increasingly acrimonious, the governing FIA made clear his actions had probably nothing to do with Hamilton’s wing failing its eligibility test – but Mercedes are not so sure.
“It was unlikely that Verstappen’s actions caused the fault, however [Mercedes] felt that it was an open question,” the FIA said.
After deciding not to appeal, Mercedes tweeted: “We want to win these world championships on the race track.”