Hamilton will be slung back five places for Sunday’s main event after Mercedes changed his engine for the fifth time this season.
But with the new power unit strapped in the back of his car, Hamilton sent out a defiant message to Verstappen by taking top spot, 0.438 seconds clear of his Red Bull rival.
Hamilton’s Silver Arrows teammate Valtteri Bottas will line up third ahead of Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull.
Hamilton, 19 points behind Verstappen with just four rounds to go, has failed to win the championship when trailing at this stage.
And news of his second grid penalty, a month after he was demoted 10 places at the Turkish Grand Prix for his fourth engine change – only three are permitted in a campaign – is unlikely to have enhanced his mood.
However, at a cold, grey and windy Interlagos – the scene of his maiden title triumph 13 years ago – Hamilton’s emphatic performance will provide him with hope that he can yet rewrite history.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team believe taking the engine punishment this weekend will at least allow their driver to compete for points in Saturday’s 24-lap dash – the third and concluding sprint race of the season.
The winner is awarded three points, the runner-up two and third place one point. The result also determines the grid for the grand prix on Sunday.
But it means that even if Hamilton wins the shortened race, he will start the 19th round of this record-breaking 22-round season no higher than sixth. Should Verstappen take second, he will be promoted to pole position, putting him in the driving seat to extend his championship lead.
Hamilton has been jeered by Verstappen’s travelling army at a number of venues this year but here in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, the British driver is the fans’ overwhelming favourite – his pole lap greeted with a deafening cheer.
His popularity was endorsed, too, by his choice of helmet design – a one-off nod to his childhood hero, the Brazilian triple world champion Ayrton Senna who is revered in this part of the world.
Pierre Gasly finished fifth for AlphaTauri. British driver Lando Norris took eighth in his McLaren.
George Russell was beaten by a Williams teammate over one lap for the first time in his 56-race career with the British team. Russell, who will join Hamilton at Mercedes next year, lines up in 18th, a place behind Nicholas Latifi in the sister car.
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