Lewis Hamilton heads a McLaren lock-out of the front row on the grid for the Brazilian Grand Prix as he prepares to start his final race for the team.
The championship contenders start outside of the top three places with Sebastian Vettel fourth and Fernando Alonso eighth at the end of Q3.
A rain shower fell at the track ahead of qualifying but stopped before Q1 started. Caterham, Marussia and HRT sent their drivers out immediately and Timo Glock caught Heikki Kovalainen during his first flying lap, leading to a bit of position-swapping between the two.
The front-runners hedged their bets, waiting until the track had dried more before leaving the pits. When they did Hamilton quickly moved to the top of the times and stayed there, but Bruno Senna’s Williams separated the two McLarens at the top of the times.
Vettel cut it fine and was still in 21st place with four minutes to go before getting into the top ten.
Romain Grosjean’s session was ruined when he tried to overtake Pedro de la Rosa on the inside heading towards the start/finish line. The HRT driver appeared not to have seen the Lotus appearing on the left and the pair made contact.
Grosjean suffered damage to his front wing and after crawling back to the pits had one lap left to move up from 19th and gain a place in Q2. He failed to do so, and was eliminated along with the six drivers who had started the session immediately.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
|24||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||1’19.699|
Conditions remained stable as Q2 began. All the drivers took to the track straight away except for the McLaren and Red Bull pairs, who sat tight until there was five minutes remaining.
Fernando Alonso led the times initially but Hamilton, using medium compound tyres, beat it comfortably with a 1’13.398.
Vettel found almost two-tenths of a second to beat Hamilton with a 1’13.209 but he was aided, ironically enough, by Felipe Massa, whose Ferrari inadvertently gave him a tow heading towards the start/finish line.
The two Ferrari drivers only just made it into Q3, ending the session in ninth and tenth. But Michael Schumacher couldn’t make it into the top ten with his last effort, saying he made a small mistake at turn one, and qualified 14th for his final Grand Prix.
Pastor Maldonado made it into the top ten but was observed to have driven past a red light indicating he should pull into the weigh bridge during the session.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
|11||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1’14.121|
|16||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’14.574|
|17||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’14.619|
Nico Rosberg was the first driver out on track during Q3. He kicked off the final ten minutes with a steady lap, and although he later improved he ended up in tenth.
The battle for pole position was contested by McLaren and Red Bull but it was Mark Webber, not Sebastian Vettel, who got closest to the silver cars. He took provisional pole position with his final run, producing a lap of 1’12.581.
Both the McLaren drivers beat that with their last efforts, though there wasn’t much in it. Hamilton’s last run was a tenth of a second faster than Webber’s, and Button split the pair of them.
Vettel locked a wheel at turn four on his first lap, which left him behind Alonso initially. But his second run was better, and lifted him to fourth place.
Behind him came one of the Ferraris, but for the second race in a row it was Massa, not Alonso, who produced the quickest time. Alonso could only manage eighth, Maldonado and Hulkenberg separating him from his team mate, with Raikkonen ninth.
With Massa provisionally ahead of Alonso on the grid questions inevitably followed whether Ferrari would choose to incur a gearbox penalty on his car. Team principal Stefano Domenicali told Sky immediately after qualifying they would not.
Top ten in Q3
|3||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||1’12.581|
|4||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1’12.760|
|7||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1’13.206|
2012 Brazilian Grand Prix
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