Today was one of those days that live long in the memory. On a rapidly drying track 23 year Nico Hulkenberg gave Williams its first pole position for 100 races ahead of the main championship protagonists. And he did so by a huge margin – over a second.
Sebastian Vettel was second with Mark Webber third. Lewis Hamilton starts fourth on the grid tomorrow, one place ahead of championship leader Fernando Alonso.
The Williams has often showed itself to be quick on a green track this year. In Suzuka on a green track after the heavy rain Hulkenberg was second fastest in Q1 behind Vettel and today he again used that characteristic of the Williams well. There was nothing flukey about this result. He got the tyres up to temperature quickly, which was the key to it and then kept them in, setting three laps progressively faster than each other.
“It is amazing. I still cannot believe that I have done it,” said Hulkenberg. “Since the second half of the season, since I am more familiar with Formula One, with the team, with myself and the car, everything comes a lot easier to me. I can push the car more, learn the circuits quicker. It is just a whole learning process I guess.”
Alonso paid tribute to Hulkenberg’s performance, “The surprise came from Hulkenberg, ” he said. “He was the only one to get a clean lap, everyone else, myself included, was not as clever. The dry line was really narrow and you only needed to get the tyres ten centimetres outside it and you lost a lot of time.”
Barrichello was the first to go to slicks and he made a mistake, going off and losing temperature which he was then unable to get back.
Hulkenberg has been under a lot of pressure lately, with stories that he would lose his seat to well funded Venezualan Pastor Maldonado. He clearly has a strong mentality as he has used that pressure to deliver a bravura performance. This weekend the picture at Williams seemed to have changed, even before Hulkenberg’s pole. It seemed that the driver situation was wide open with the possibility that Barrichello might be the one to make way as he is paid €5 million a year, while Hulkenberg is on less than a million. Williams’ sponsorship team are beavering away to replace the departing RBS, Philips and AT&T, with a lot of effort going into Qatar. It may be that the line up stays the same, it’s all to play for and that is why this result today is so critical to Hulkenberg’s future.
This result is also a huge boost to the team in that regeneration process and it’s hard to imagine how Hulkenberg could be allowed to leave after this.
For Vettel and Webber the overriding feeling was relief that they had come through a difficult session in second and third places. “It is very tricky in these conditions, very easy to make a mistake,” said Vettel. “We were targeting for pole, but Nico was better than all of us today.”
It will make for an interesting opening stint tomorrow, If Hulkenberg gets away in the lead. In dry conditions the Williams is a good half a second a lap slower than the Red Bulls, so he will hold them up, with Hamilton and Alonso right behind.
This battle will be interesting after what happened in Korea, where Hamilton got ahead of Alonso in the pit stops, but then made a mistake and gave the place back. He will be utterly determined to keep him behind tomorrow and it could have quite a bearing on the championship situation.
It rained hard in the morning and the free practice session was wet. However the sun was peeping through the clouds as the cars rolled out on track at the start of qualifying.
Adrian Sutil was the driver eliminated in Q1, along with the drivers from the new teams, the first time this season.
It was not raining at the start of Q2 either and the track steadily improved. It was all about being on the right tyre at the right time. Lap time wise it was at the changeover point, but the drivers were reluctant to go onto slicks. The fastest times inevitably came at the end of the session and the drivers who fell the wrong side of it were Jenson Button, Kamui Kobayashi, Nico Rosberg, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, Nick Heidfeld, Tonio Liuzzi.
The tyre management plan for Q3 was very difficult to judge; the racing line was drying, but there were still parts of the circuit where it was wet. The intermediate tyres were overheating and all of the top ten runners would be in real trouble if they needed to use their intermediates tomorrow as they have no new sets left. The forecast says that it will be dry, however.
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BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX, Interlagos, Qualifying
1. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:20.050 1:19.144 1:14.470
2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:19.160 1:18.691 1:15.519
3. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:19.025 1:18.516 1:15.637
4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.931 1:18.921 1:15.747
5. Alonso Ferrari 1:18.987 1:19.010 1:15.989
6. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:19.799 1:18.925 1:16.203
7. Kubica Renault 1:19.249 1:18.877 1:16.552
8. Schumacher Mercedes 1:19.879 1:18.923 1:16.925
9. Massa Ferrari 1:19.778 1:19.200 1:17.101
10. Petrov Renault 1:20.189 1:19.153 1:17.656
11. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.905 1:19.288
12. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:19.741 1:19.385
13. Rosberg Mercedes 1:20.153 1:19.486
14. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:20.158 1:19.581
15. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:20.096 1:19.847
16. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari 1:20.174 1:19.899
17. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:20.592 1:20.357
18. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:20.830
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:22.130
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:22.250
21. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:22.378
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:22.810
23. Klien HRT-Cosworth 1:23.083
24. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:23.796