Lewis Hamilton has claimed his seventh pole position of the season and the last for McLaren, at the season ending Brazilian Grand Prix, heading a McLaren front row with Mark Webber in third.
It was McLaren’s 62nd front row lock out, which establishes a new F1 record.
After his well judged win in Austin last weekend, this was Hamilton once again on form, highlighting what might have been had the McLaren been as reliable as it has been fast this season.
The title battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso meanwhile, will see the two start three places apart, with Vettel fourth and Alonso eighth in qualifying, but promoted to seventh after a penalty for Pastor Maldonado. As the pressure mounted ahead of the showdown, both contenders were out qualified by the team mates.
The Venezuelan missed a compulsory weight check and was given a third reprimand, which triggers an automatic 10 place grid drop.
Vettel needs only to finish fourth in tomorrow’s race, while Alonso needs to finish on the podium and hope that Vettel doesn’t score points.
The weather forecast for tomorrow shows rain, but there are many different views on when it might fall and how hard.
It looked from the outset of qualifying that Alonso would struggle for pace relative to the top four and he was once again out qualified by team mate Felipe Massa. With Alonso moving to the clean side of the track in 7th, there is no question of another Ferrari gearbox penalty to boost Alonso’s chances.
After topping the times in Q2 it seemed that Vettel would give himself the perfect buffer heading in to tomorrow, but he looked edgy and a mistake on his first run in the final phase of qualifying left the German with a lot to do and he could not regain his momentum.
Ahead, Hamilton set the initial benchmark in Q3 only to be usurped by Webber as the Brit began his final flying lap. And in his final race for McLaren, Hamilton put in a fantastic lap to take the 26th pole of his career by 5/100ths of a second. It is McLaren’s fourth front row lock-out of 2012.
It has been a dominant weekend for McLaren thus far, topping every session apart from Q2. If they are able to finish the race in their qualifying positions then McLaren will claim second in the Constructor’s Championship ahead of Ferrari; with a boost of an extra $10 million to the Woking team.
In a session that began under difficult conditions, caused by a short spell of rain in the half an hour leading up to qualifying, times dropped considerably from Q1 to the final shoot-out with the leading cars finding over two seconds and eventually lapping faster than in any other session over the weekend. The wet area was predominantly through the final sector of the lap, making acceleration out of Juncao and along the bending home straight very difficult on slick tyres. But this moisture had disappeared by the time Q2 began.
Behind the top four Felipe Massa continued his recent run of strong form, taking fifth on the grid and 3/10ths faster than Alonso. Then came equally strong performances from Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg, the two splitting the Ferrari’s before Maldonado’s penalty. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg gave his Force India team something to smile about in his last GP for them, before heading to Sauber in 2013.
The top ten is completed by Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg, both getting the better of their respective team mates but unable to challenge any further up the grid. The sister Lotus of Romain Grosjean dropped out of qualifying at the earliest stage after colliding with a HRT and losing his front wing; the incident was investigated but no action was taken. It is only the third time this year that Grosjean has failed to find himself in the final phase of qualifying, and a strong drive in to the points tomorrow will cap off a roller coaster season for the Frenchman.
For Michael Schumacher, in his final Grand Prix, it was a disappointing qualifying session as he finds himself in 14th position for the 306th race of his illustrious career. Mercedes are just twelve points ahead of Sauber in the race for fifth in the Constructor’s Championship and with a high probability of rain tomorrow both Rosberg and Schumacher will need to keep an eye on Sergio Perez in conditions that the out-going Sauber driver relishes.
[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows}
*Read all the latest on Maldonado’s penalty and Grosjean escaping section at http://connect.jamesallenonf1.com/f1-website-news/
BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX, Interlagos, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m12.458s
2. Jenson Button McLaren 1m12.513s + 0.055
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m12.581s + 0.123
4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m12.760s + 0.302
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m12.987s + 0.529
6. Pastor Maldonado* Williams 1m13.174s + 0.716
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m13.206s + 0.748
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m13.253s + 0.795
9. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m13.298s + 0.840
10. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m13.489s + 1.031
11. Paul di Resta Force India 1m14.121s + 0.912
12. Bruno Senna Williams 1m14.219s + 1.010
13. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m14.234s + 1.025
14. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m14.334s + 1.125
15. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m14.380s + 1.171
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m14.574s + 1.365
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m14.619s + 1.410
18. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m16.967s + 1.892
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m17.073s + 1.998
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m17.086s + 2.011
21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m17.508s + 2.433
22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m18.104s + 3.029
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m19.576s + 4.501
24. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m19.699s + 4.624
* 10 place grid drop, will start 16th on the grid.