A black sky was closing in like night, a prelude to a deluge, but by then Max Verstappen had produced his latest exhibition of greased lightning to claim pole position for Saturday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
It turned out to be a one-lap shootout as the gathering storm brought an end to proceedings.
Anyone who dithered in the pits was doomed. Both McLarens were hobbled by their tardiness, especially so Lando Norris, who had been quick throughout and might have threatened pole – ‘easily quick enough,’ said the Briton. Instead, he qualified seventh.
‘It’s night,’ said Fernando Alonso, fourth in the other Aston, of the darkness that stalked Interlagos.
Max Verstappen will be on pole for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday after a rain-impacted qualifying on Friday
The skies darkened as qualifying went on, with heavy rain hitting the track minutes into Q3
Lando Norris could only manage seventh with his one lap despite looking threatening earlier on in qualifying
The session was called off at 4.11pm local time. Thunder and lightning started moments later.
Verstappen, ironically, was unhappy with his Red Bull early on, complaining: ‘My car is jumping around like a kangaroo.’
But, like everywhere, he came up just fine.
‘We did not know when the weather would hit but this is insane,’ said Verstappen, who had taken his 11th pole of the season.
‘It seems it will be very close in the race.’
Charles Leclerc (right) will start second for Sunday’s race after Saturday’s sprint sessions
Leclerc said: ‘In my whole career I have never experienced anything like that. From Turn 4 there was no rain but the car was very difficult to drive.
The change in the wind was unbelievable. There was no grip and I was thinking about coming in at the end of the lap.’
As for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton was fifth and George Russell sixth, pretty much representative of their pace across the session.
And so much for Daniel Ricciardo’s revival in Mexico a week ago! There, he finished a fine seventh but here the Australian qualified a disappointing 17th.