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Brazilian GP: Hamilton takes pole for McLaren, Vettel in fourth place

By Berthold Bouman

Lewis Hamilton did what he had vowed to do during his last race for McLaren, and took pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix, round 20 of the FIA Formula One World Championship. Jenson Button made it an all-McLaren front row as he took second place, but all eyes were of course on the two remaining title contenders Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, who were very disappointing as they took fourth and eighth position respectively on tomorrow’s start grid.

Pole for Hamilton at Interlagos

Hamilton said after qualifying, “Pole! What a great feeling! It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. We don’t yet know for certain what the weather conditions will be like tomorrow, but I hope that both Jenson and I will be able to push for victory. I’ve usually started from fourth grid position at Interlagos, and it hasn’t always given me much success. All in all, I’m very proud and happy that I got pole.”

Just ahead of qualifying the rain that was expected did indeed fall down on the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, which made qualifying even more unpredictable. But it wasn’t raining hard and by the time qualifying started, the circuit had already dried out at certain parts, but was also still slippery at other parts.

At the start of the first session a number of drivers went out for a ‘banker’ lap, in case it would start to rain again. The track was still wet at certain parts and caught many drivers by surprise, especially in the tight corners there was not much grip. With 15 minutes to go, Kamui Kobayashi was leading the pack with a lap of 1m22.415s, a time considerably slower than this morning.

Others were waiting in the garage until there was a dry line on the circuit, Nico Hulkenberg tried the intermediates, but was called in again after he ran wide at the Reta Oposta corner. Finally, with ten minutes remaining, the big guns decided to make their first run.

Hamilton’s first timed lap was good for first place, as the Briton lapped the circuit in 1m17.772s, but he soon improved his own time, while Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were second and third. Good news for Kimi Raikkonen, no penalty for him after his team had to change his engine after a failure in FP3, the Finn now has the same engine he has used during the United States Grand Prix last weekend.

Vettel, meanwhile, took it relatively easy and was 14th with just four minutes to go, but one lap later he was tenth, but as the track was still drying, soon slipped down the order again. At the same time Romain Grosjean had to pit for a new front wing, as Pedro de la Rosa had almost squeezed him into the wall on the start-finish straight, the Frenchman lost his front wing in the process. The FIA Stewards reported that the incident would be investigated after qualifying.

Vettel improved his time and he was out of the danger zone again, but Daniel Ricciardo pushed Grosjean out of the top seventeen again, and the Frenchman did not make it into the next session. Neither did Vitaly Petrov, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, Charles Pic, Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa.

Again drivers were quickly out for the next 15 minutes of qualifying, there was now clearly a dry line at the Interlagos circuit, and it was Alonso who scored the fastest lap at the time. Vettel and Webber and both McLaren drivers took the risk to stay in the garage, but with six minutes remaining they went out for their one and only run in Q2.

Set-back for Alonso as he qualified in 8th place

Hamilton was very fast and took first place on the medium tyres without a problem, but soon Vettel, also on the medium tyres, took first place from the 2008 World Champion. With two minutes to go, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa were in the drop-out zone, Massa took tenth place after completing another lap on his home circuit, but Schumacher didn’t make it into the top ten.

Paul di Resta, Bruno Senna, Sergio Perez, Schumacher, Kobayashi, Ricciardo and his
team mate Jean-Eric Vergne did not make it
into the finial qualifying session.

Ten drivers lined up for Q3 to determine who would leave from pole position tomorrow. Nico Rosberg in the remaining Mercedes was out first, the rest soon followed him. Hamilton was again very fast and took first place with a lap of 1m12.850s and set the benchmark.

Vettel was obviously a bit nervous, as he made a mistake and ran wide on his first lap, and was sixth, a full second off Hamilton’s time. Button was also fast and took second place, while Vettel went back into the pits again for a new set of tyres with only two minutes remaining.

Webber showed what Red Bull was capable of, and he took first place, he was two-tenths faster than Hamilton, but not for long, as the Briton took back his first place with a lap of 1m12.458s, and he was followed by his team mate Button, Webber stayed third and Vettel was fourth, but he was at least ahead of Alonso, who was eighth.

About the race tomorrow Hamilton said, “Jenson and I are in the best possible starting positions for tomorrow. However, if it’s wet, the lead car is the always the first to aquaplane or hit the puddles, so, even if we both get good starts, we’ll still need to be cautious. Equally, however, I don’t want to drop back at the start because it would then be very difficult to see in all the spray.”

And Button agreed and added, “I’m happy with qualifying. From the front row, you always hope you’re going to drive a calm and orderly race — but it looks like it’s going to rain tomorrow, so that may make things rather less predictable.”

Webber said he would concentrate on his own, race, and not on Vettel’s. “I think we focus on ourselves tomorrow and do the cleanest race I can. We know there is some tricky weather today. I will be focusing entirely on my own cockpit.”

Of course Hamilton is in a very good position to fulfil the second part of the promise he made to his team, and that is to win the Brazilian Grand Prix during his last race for McLaren. But of course all eyes will be on the two title contenders Vettel and  Alonso, as they will be battling to win the 2012 Drivers’ Championship.

No pole position today for Vettel

Brazilian GP: Qualifying Results

Pos Driver             Team        Q1          Q2          Q3
 1  Lewis Hamilton     McLaren     1:15.075    1:13.398    1:12.458
 2  Jenson Button      McLaren     1:15.456    1:13.515    1:12.513
 3  Mark Webber        Red Bull    1:16.180    1:13.667    1:12.581
 4  Sebastian Vettel   Red Bull    1:15.644    1:13.209    1:12.760
 5  Felipe Massa       Ferrari     1:16.263    1:14.048    1:12.987
 6  Pastor Maldonado   Williams    1:16.266    1:13.698    1:13.174
 7  Nico Hulkenberg    Force India 1:15.536    1:13.704    1:13.206
 8  Fernando Alonso    Ferrari     1:16.097    1:13.856    1:13.253
 9  Kimi Raikkonen     Lotus       1:16.432    1:13.698    1:13.298
10  Nico Rosberg       Mercedes    1:15.929    1:13.848    1:13.489
11  Paul di Resta      Force India 1:15.901    1:14.121
12  Bruno Senna        Williams    1:15.333    1:14.219
13  Sergio Perez       Sauber      1:15.974    1:14.234
14  Michael Schumacher Mercedes    1:16.005    1:14.334
15  Kamui Kobayashi    Sauber      1:16.400    1:14.380
16  Daniel Ricciardo   Toro Rosso  1:16.744    1:14.574
17  Jean-Eric Vergne   Toro Rosso  1:16.722    1:14.619
18  Romain Grosjean    Lotus       1:16.967
19  Vitaly Petrov      Caterham    1:17.073
20  Heikki Kovalainen  Caterham    1:17.086
21  Timo Glock         Marussia    1:17.508
22  Charles Pic        Marussia    1:18.104
23  Narain Karthikeyan HRT         1:19.576
24  Pedro de la Rosa   HRT         1:19.699

Q1 107% Time           1:20.330

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