A beaming Kevin Magnussen was almost lost for words on Friday after claiming a sensational maiden pole position for himself and the underdog Haas team in a dramatic rain-hit qualifying session at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
“I don’t know what to say,” said the popular and modest 30-year-old Dane as wild celebrations erupted around him at Interlagos. “The team put me out on track at exactly the right moment. We were first out into the pit lane, I did a pretty decent lap and we’re on pole. It’s incredible!”
His stunning and unexpected success was also the first by a driver for an American team since Tom Pryce took pole for Shadow at the 1975 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Magnussen, who re-joined the American-owned outfit this season after being dumped for 2021, took full advantage of the changing dry-wet conditions to go out first and clock a best lap in one minute and 11.674.
His early run in Q3 gave him the initiative as rain swept across the circuit, curtailing his rivals’ efforts to respond, causing George Russell to lose control of his Mercedes and slide off into a gravel trap and bring a red flag stoppage.
Newly-acclaimed two-time world champion Max Verstappen had no chance to improve on his time of 1:11.877, two-tenths adrift of Magnussen, and had to settle for second ahead of Russell, who had clocked 1:12.059 before sliding off.
“Thank you to Gene Haas and Guenther Steiner and the whole team for this opportunity,” said Magnussen, the first Dane to take a Formula One pole position, in his 100th race for Haas and the 140th of his career. It was Haas’s 143rd Grand Prix.
“I got back this year after a year out and it’s just been an amazing journey for me. Fantastic. That decision to send me out first, to have a clear track ahead of me, was the key moment and it has been just amazing.”
His success made him the fourth different driver to claim a maiden pole position this season, following Carlos Sainz of Ferrari, Sergio Perez of Red Bull and George Russell of Mercedes, all of whom were among the quickest to congratulate him.
Magnussen began his Formula One career in 2014, finishing second on debut for McLaren at the Australian Grand Prix when, in his own words, he said “I came in as this arrogant little kid, thinking I was the king of the world – and then I found out tough it really is in Formula One.”
His father Jan was also an F1 driver, with McLaren and Stewart, taking part in 25 Grands Prix overall with a best finish of sixth at the 1998 Canadian Grand Prix, a career not unlike that of another leading driver’s father Jos Verstappen, whose son Max will line up alongside him for Saturday’s sprint race.
Vertappen senior’s career in F1 started in 1994 and competed in 107 races with Benetton, Simtek, Arrows, Tyrrell, Stewart and Minardi – a spell that saw him replace Magnussen at Stewart following his Canadian success for the remainder of 1998.
It was little surprise to hear the sense of disbelief in Magnussen’s voice when, in the final minutes of Q3, he was told of his likely feat by his team.
“Kevin, you’re P!,” he was told.
“No, I’m not,” he replied. ”You’re kidding.”
“No, you’re P1”
“No. You’re kidding me. You’re xxxxxxx me!”
“No, I’m not... You’re P1.”
“I’ve never, never felt like this in my life… Don’t celebrate. Please, don’t celebrate.”
Once out of his car, back in the Haas team garage, he was struggling with reality, but quick-witted enough to know what to say when asked if he had a plan for the start of Saturday’s sprint race.
“Maximum attack… Let’s go for something funny!”