Lewis Hamilton is one step closer to finishing off his McLaren career in style, taking pole position in a closely-fought qualifying in Brazil.
The Englishman, winner last time out in Austin, Texas, was on pace throughout the session, setting the benchmark early in Q3 before underlining it with a superb final effort.
Whilst the result sealed Hamilton’s seventh pole of the year, it gain McLaren’s first at Interlagos since 2000 and crucially a front-row lockout with Jenson Button a mere five thousandths of a second shy.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber ran the duo close throughout the final segment and briefly sat on provisional pole, only to be pushed back to third at the death.
The pace at the sharp end overshadowed the main title battle with Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso appearing to not have an answer for the front slots. The former heads in to tomorrow’s seventy one-lap affair as hot favourite and will start fourth, right ahead of the recurrently-impressive Felipe Massa – who delighted his home fans with another splendid effort.
Out-qualified by his team-mate and seemingly hedging his bets for rain, Fernando Alonso could go no better than eighth; although the Spaniard will start one place higher after Williams’ Pastor Maldonado (sixth fastest) received a ten-place grid penalty after amassing his third reprimand of the year for missing the weighbridge during Q2.
Nevertheless Alonso will still have to negotiate Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) ahead and be wary of challenges from behind – with Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) recovering from earlier issues to ninth and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) rounding off the top ten.
Paul di Resta was disappointed not to match his team-mate’s pace after encountering traffic on his final run. Nevertheless the Scot will start one place better than Bruno Senna – who had shone in the damp stages of Q1 – Sergio Perez of Sauber and Michael Schumacher, who lines up thirteenth for his final race.
Elsewhere Romain Grosjean made headlines for all the wrong reasons, making an early exit in Q1 after a calamity of events which saw him make contact with HRT’s Pedro de la Rosa on the start/finish straight, break his front wing and then miss the cut.
With neither driver sanctioned this leaves Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen nineteenth and twentieth, with the Marussia’s of Glock and Pic just behind.
So despite all talk of rain playing havoc with proceedings qualifying passed over with little trouble, as Lewis Hamilton took another pole. In a season which some would argue should have been his, had it not been for one let down after another, the Brit finds himself in prime position to call time on his McLaren career in the best possible way. Nevertheless, before he embarks on the brave new world of Mercedes, he will face a stern test from Jenson Button – another man out to lay a marker down as he heads into the winter expected to lead the Woking-based outfit singlehanded.
But Red Bull will also be confident of its chances, with Webber and Vettel nip and tuck with their rivals throughout the weekend.
Under normal circumstances it would take a minor miracle for Sebastian Vettel not to leave Brazil with a third crown, and even though he looked unusually ropey throughout the hour, the German may have a shot at victory tomorrow. However this is Formula One and, as ever at Interlagos, it appears that the weather will ensure that the race will run nowhere near smoothly.
Thus while this will raise the nerves in the Red Bull camp it also hands one final roll of the dice to Ferrari, with many suggesting Alonso has compromised his dry pace to contend with the wet. Even so, there is still uncertainty as to when rain might fall, at what intensity or length – only complicating manners.
Furthermore, to win the World Championship, Alonso will have to count on a massive swing to him, misfortune for Vettel and a clean drive of his own. Ultimately all three are far from safe bets, with plenty of cars capable of causing the Spaniard problems, his rival far from a slouch in these conditions and promising to charge; and the possibility of the Ferrari having its own drama.
Regardless of how it’s reported, don’t expect a repeat of Austin from Felipe Massa; although the role of the Brazilian and Webber will be another crucial piece in deciding the destiny of the crown. Will both be able to do damage to their team-mate’s chief foe and if so how much?
Though it’s understandable for the title race to dominate, tomorrow’s race will also provide many other intriguing threads with plenty of positions in both standings still to be decided. Like Alonso, Schumacher appears another one to have rolled the dice – just how many others have too and just where will this play out in the crucial midfield battle on track and off?
Should there be the same severity of weather and previously and with the added spice of a championship decider, the Brazilian Grand Prix will prove certain viewing.
They say all will be decided at the chequer, but with Safety Car, accidents and controversy who is to say we’ll have our champion after two hours of racing?
Get ready for a long and dramatic day tomorrow.