British duo Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button locked out the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s championship-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix.
The two Mclaren drivers were separated by only five-hundredths of a second and start side-by-side at the front of the grid for the last time in the same team.
Championship contenders Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso will start 4th and 8th respectively, both men being outqualified by their team-mates Mark Webber and Felipe Massa.
If the race ends in this order Vettel will claim his third straight Formula One World Championship crown. However, the forecast for Sunday’s race suggests heavy rain may be the order of the day and provide a thrilling finale to the 2012 season.
The session began in damp conditions after a brief downpour covered the circuit only minutes before the cars took to the track. Romain Grosjean again blotted his copybook by losing the front-wing of his Lotus car against the rear end of Pedro De La Rosa’s HRT on the high speed climb up the hill which dominates the track located in downtown Sao Paulo. The Frenchman failed to progress through to Q2, a session which saw Paul Di Resta, Bruno Senna, Sergio Perez, Michael Schumacher, Kamui Kobayashi and the Toro Rosso pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne drop out of contention. Schumacher was taking part in his final qualifying hour after he announced his retirement at the end of the season back in September.
In the last ten minute shootout for pole position, Hamilton set the initial pace while Mark Webber and Felipe Massa continued to impress by out-pacing their team-mates, although Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg caused a few surprised faces in the pitlane when he set a stunning time to leap up to 4th place early on. Hamilton and Button went head-to-head in the final moments of the session, matching one another in the fast, sweeping first sector. Hamilton made up a little time in the twistier infield part of the track, but Button came back at him in the final sector and only missed out by a hair’s breadth to give Mclaren cause for double celebration.
Webber clung on in 3rd, while Vettel admitted his final qualifying lap ‘wasn’t 100%’ and was only marginally ahead of the resurgent Massa who outqualified Alonso for the second race in a row. Pastor Maldonado gave his myriad Venezuelan supporters a boost by putting in a brilliant lap for 6th, and although he was beaten by the Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg was pleased with 7th. (Maldonado later recieved a ten-place grid penalty after missing a weigh-in during qualifying.) Alonso seemed to struggle all weekend, and his 8th place was a severe blow to his championship aspirations. After qualifying it became clear that the Spaniard was perhaps running a very high-downforce setup in a bid to vault up the order should it the race be wet as expected, so he is not a spent force just yet.
Kimi Raikkonen overcame an engine failure in Saturday morning practice to qualify 9th, ahead of the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.
Mclaren want 3rd place back in the constructors title fight, Felipe Massa wants to impress his home crowd, and Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso both have a world championship to win.
What could a huge rainstorm do to those hopes?