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Thursday November 23rd, 2017 11:57AM

Bottas takes Brazilian GP pole after Hamilton crashes

By Stephen Wade-AP Sports Writer
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SAO PAULO (AP) — Valtteri Bottas claimed pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix from a qualifying session in which Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton crashed on the first lap on Saturday.

Hamilton, who won his fourth Formula One championship two weeks ago in Mexico, walked away from the car without injury and will start at the back of the grid on Sunday.

It's been a tough weekend in Brazil for Mercedes.

Several team members — Hamilton was not present — were held up at gun point on Friday. There were no injuries, and the team reported watches and passports being stolen when a team van was attacked.

Also, FIA spokesman Matteo Bonciani said the car in which he was riding from the track on Friday was also attacked by a gun-wielding gang. He was not injured as the thieves failed to penetrate the armor-plated car.

"First of all, I'm happy that everyone is one big piece," Bottas said after qualifying, referring to Mercedes team members robbed at gun point. "Nothing happened physically to anybody, but obviously it's a pretty bad situation to be in. I'm just happy everyone is still here."

Hamilton stunned fans when he was out of qualifying just minutes after it began.

He came sideways out of a turn and crashed the left side of his car into a padded retaining wall. As the car was lifted off the track, the front left tire dangled from the mangled front end.

Hamilton suggested a damp track might have been to blame.

"I'll do the best that I can to try to recover from it," he said.

There's almost nothing left in the season to decide, apart from the winners of the last two races. The secondary fight is for second, with Vettel of Ferrari leading Bottas by 15 points.

"The maximum stimulation you can get now is to finish second," Vettel said. "If we don't manage to do that, then we failed. We failed once this season, and I don't want to fail again."

Added Bottas: "Our target is to still try to get second place. So we really need to have a strong race here and also in Abu Dhabi."

Bottas will be shooting for his third victory this season to match wins in Russia and Austria. It's also his third career pole.

In the team standing, the top four teams are set and will not change in the last two races.

Bottas set an Interlagos track record of 1 minute 8.322 seconds. Vettel was second followed by Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari and Max Verstappen of Red Bull fourth.

Vettel was leading until Bottas posted a quicker lap. The German acknowledged he should have had the pole.

"I chickened out a little bit on the brakes in the final run and it cost me," Vettel said.

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