Max Verstappen says trailing Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton in qualifying for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix is “not a big shock” after the Mercedes driver’s engine change.

Mercedes confirmed ahead of the opening practice session on Friday morning that it would be fitting a fresh engine in Hamilton’s car, resulting in a five-place grid penalty.

Hamilton topped all three segments during the one-hour session to take first place for the sprint race, out-qualifying Verstappen by a full four tenths of a second.

The result comes a surprise to some with Red Bull having been expected to be the pace-setters at Interlagos, but Verstappen was clear it wasn’t a shock to have been outpaced by Hamilton following his power unit change.

“When they take a new engine, actually they have a bit more power for a weekend, so for me it’s not a big shock,” Verstappen said.

“I’m just happy to be second. That’s a good position to start from. Of course you always want to be closer, but sometimes you just have to be realistic, and there was not much more in it.”

Hamilton and Verstappen will share the front row for the sprint event, with the seven-time world champion due to start Sunday’s grand prix five places back from wherever he finishes in the 24-lap race.

Asked if he would focus on damage limitation in the sprint with Hamilton taking a grid drop, Verstappen replied: “I mean there are not that many points of course to gain in the sprint race.

“So I hope of course to have a good first lap and see from there. Then of course, the most important one is on Sunday.