As it rained steadily at the start of Q3, all drivers knew their best chance to set a time would come right at the start of the session.
Magnussen, who led the cars out of the pits, had the best conditions and put in a brilliant lap to give both himself and his Haas team a shocking first pole position.
But Verstappen, who had been favorite to take first, thinks he would have finished the session first if he hadn’t made a mistake halfway through the lap.
The world champion said a minor lock-up in Turn 8 – the tight right-hander after Laranjinha – made all the difference, as deteriorating conditions meant there was no second chance to improve, especially after the red flag break for George Russell’s off.
“We knew it would be that one lap because there might be rain,” the Red Bull driver explained.
“I think I was the fourth or fifth car, and I went into Turn 8. So of course that cost me pole today.
“But still, compared to the right opposition for tomorrow, it looks good. And in these circumstances, anything can happen. And we’re still at the front, that’s the most important thing.”
Top three qualifiers Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, pole man Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team, George Russell, Mercedes AMG
Photo By: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
Verstappen admitted that the changing conditions from qualifying, which started damp in Q1 and then dried up before raining again for Q3, had made it particularly difficult to assess how much risk he had to take.
“It was difficult,” he said. “I mean, you have to find the limit of how much you can push. But then you also don’t want to make big mistakes and possibly drop out.
“So we stayed calm from Q1 to Q2. Back then Q3 was a bit more of a lottery. But I’m still in the front row.”
Verstappen will start one place ahead of Mercedes driver Russell, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc languishing in 10th after Ferrari sent him on intermediates at the start of Q3.
And as Saturday’s sprint race gave Verstappen the chance to get ahead for Sunday’s grand prix, he was relaxed about the situation.
Asked if, now that the championship is over, he can take more risks and have fun in the sprint, Verstappen said: “I will always try to have fun, but I think the approach should always be the same.
“But yeah, let’s see how competitive we will be in the race tomorrow. But also the weather. I mean, I have no idea what’s going to happen. But that always makes Interlagos very special for everyone.”