Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton will share the front three places on the grid for the first time in F1 2019 at Sunday’s Brazilian GP.

Arguably the sport’s three biggest names, the trio have qualified together in the leading positions only twice before – and this time it is Red Bull’s Verstappen who has the starting advantage after an impressive run to pole position on Saturday.

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Both Vettel and Hamilton admitted surprise at the single-lap performance of the Red Bull-Honda – a package which usually tends to get stronger over a race distance.

“It’s definitely going to be a close race,” predicted Hamilton. The Brazilian GP at often-dramatic Interlagos starts at 5.10pm live on Sky Sports F1, with build-up from 3.30pm.

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen joins Karun Chandhok at the SkyPad after qualifying in pole position for the Brazilian GP.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen joins Karun Chandhok at the SkyPad after qualifying in pole position for the Brazilian GP.

Hamilton won last year’s Interlagos race but only after Verstappen, who had brilliantly surged into the lead from fifth, collided with a lapped Esteban Ocon and dropped to second.

But 12 months on and the Dutchman believes Red Bull are in strong shape to capitalise on their second pole of the season.

“Already last year I think here we were quite good but yeah, I think again we made a step forward this year, we learned from our mistakes in some recent races and we came back stronger and everything is working well,” he said.

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The Dutchman’s performance also drew praise from Mercedes technical director James Allison: “Max has looked quick all weekend and it’s not the first time this year that Max has been the quickest car.

“It would be wrong to say this is a complete bolt from the blue – that’s a very good car and an extremely good driver. He did a better job than we did and deserved the pole position.”

Top six on Brazilian GP grid1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes4. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes5. Alexander Albon, Red Bull6. Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso

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Lewis Hamilton claims he ‘feels so fresh’ after qualifying third for the Brazilian GP and says pole position wasn’t a reality.

Lewis Hamilton claims he ‘feels so fresh’ after qualifying third for the Brazilian GP and says pole position wasn’t a reality.

But do Mercedes have the best race car?Winning races when not starting from pole position has become Hamilton’s speciality this year: eight of the 2019 world champion’s 10 victories have come from second or third on the grid.

“The long run pace has been good, that’s been something that’s been quite strong this year,” said Hamilton, who was quickest in the P2 race simulations on Friday.

“I think it’s going to be a struggle for everyone, the track temperature could potentially be 50 degrees which we’ve not seen all weekend. I’ve been conscious with that with my setup so hopefully the setup I’ve got works well.”

And adapting best to the expected rise in temperatures will likely determine the outcome of the race, according to Allison.

“It’s a race where we’ll have to go into it with an open mind because the conditions we expect are very different to the ones we saw [on Friday] when we did most of our assessment of the tyre behaviour,” said the Mercedes technical boss.

“Given the top three cars are very close to each other in overall performance, I think it will be a race where the car that reacts best to the hotter track and makes judgements based on the degradation they are seeing on the fly as the race actually happens will probably be the ones who are happy at the end of the race.”

What about Ferrari’s prospects?Starting from second for the third consecutive race, Sebastian Vettel is chasing a record-equalling fourth career victory at Interlagos – and a first for Ferrari since Singapore in mid-September.

Ferrari’s race pace has often proved their undoing, with their straight-line speed advantage not as big and tyre management proving difficult, but Vettel believes they have “improved the car” across the weekend in Brazil.

“Obviously we know the race for us is maybe not as strong as quali but I was quite pleased with the balance and we therefore did another long run this morning in practice and it felt much better than yesterday,” explained the four-time champion. “So that gives me hope.”

In any case, the veteran of 12 Brazilian GPs knows it is a dangerous game to second-guess exactly what might happen in Sao Paulo…