SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Lewis Hamilton says Ferrari has set up a fascinating strategic battle after ensuring Sebastian Vettel will start the race on a different tyre compound at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hamilton and Vettel both emerged from a controversial qualifying session with their cars on the front row, the first time they will line up alongside each other since the Belgian Grand Prix in August. Qualifying was held in challenging conditions, with scattered spells of light rain complicating the strategy of all 20 drivers.
Any driver progressing from Q2 to the Q3 pole shootout will start the race on the tyre used to set their quickest lap in the former session. In this case, Mercedes opted for a safe approach and advanced on Pirelli's super-soft tyre, while Ferrari gambled on getting its cars through on the more durable soft tyre despite the risk of the weather changing at the wrong moment.
The gamble succeeded and Vettel got through to Q2 on the soft tyre. Hamilton's tyre will offer him more grip at the start, but Vettel's tyres will go longer on the first stint.
"I was told that there's not a huge difference, but there's always a difference of some sort," Hamilton said. "It will definitely be a little bit interesting. It's not a massive run down to turn one but Ferrari are very good at their starts in general normally.
"However, we are actually quite even in terms of the overall year performance with Ferrari. We're actually quite equal with them, so we've both had a similar amount of good starts so I'm excited to just have a battle, you know. But making that tyre last I think is going to be the interesting scenario but it is what it is. We'll give it all we can tomorrow."
Vettel won last year's Brazilian Grand Prix by getting the jump on Hamilton's teammate, Valtteri Bottas, on the short run down to Turn 1. Bolstered by the prospect of an alternate strategy to the newly-crowned 2018 world champion, Vettel is confident Ferrari can take the race to Mercedes.
"All in all pretty happy," Vettel said after qualifying. "I think we got the car where it is happiest, and the balance was good in qualifying throughout, so we'll see. We'll start with a different tyre tomorrow. Maybe that can make a difference.
"I think it's the tyre that probably most of us probably wanted to start on but then with the conditions it was a bit tricky [to do it in Q2].
"We have an estimation of what the penalty might be with the harder compound at the start but it's a very short way to turn one so we'll see. I have quite good memories from P2, starting P2 here so we will see. I think it depends a lot more on the job that you do at the start, to get everything right then a little bit of difference on the tyres."
Hamilton wrapped up the championship last time out at the Mexican Grand Prix. The Englishman has never won a grand prix having already secured that year's championship -- although 2008 and 2014 went down to the final race, in 2015 and 2017 he clinched titles with multiple rounds to spare.