In a season that has seen him clinch a number of records, Sebastian Vettel grabbed his record-breaking 15th pole at the Interlagos circuit....
The reiging World Champ posted a blistering 1:11.918 to take his 15th pole position of the season and break Nigel Mansell's 1992 record.
Mark Webber had to settle for second place in what was Red Bull's seventh lock-out of the front row for 2011. Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are on the second row of the grid ahead of Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg.
It was clouding over at Interlagos with the ambient temperarure at 27C and the track up at 43C. However through the course of the qualifying hour the humidify would increase and threaten rain. There was even a chance of it early on.
Sebastien Buemi set the first meaningful P1 time with a 1:15.639 for Toro Rosso. This was soon beaten by an early-emerging Lewis Hamilton with a 1:13.876 and Jenson Button slotted into P2 behind Lewis. With teams anxious not to be caught out by a sudden rain shower all cars - with the exception of Massa - were on track after three and a half minutes.
Cars had been fuelled for multiple lap on the harder Prime tyre with the intention that they find gaps in the traffic for themselves. Sebastian Vettel eased past Hamilton with a 1:13.687, Button retook P2 and then Hamilton took P2 off him.
Information from the teams' radar indicated that rain was in the vicinity and maybe 10 minutes away. With twelve minutes of the session left, 19 of 24 cars were still out on the track. Mark Webber took P1 with a 1:13.467 on his fourth timed lap, while Jenson took it down to 1:13.281 on his fifth.
Then it was time for teams to use the Soft Option tyre. In the last four minutes the new teams occupied the back of the grid with the drop-zone looking like: 15.Perez, 16.Buemi, 17.Trulli, 18.Barrichello, 19.Maldonado + the rest.
Senna and Alguersuari both made themselves safe in the top 10, but Maldonado could only manage P14. However his team-mate was in inspired form. Rubens Barrichello set a purple Sector 3 time on his way to P9. At this stage Felipe Massa in P12 and Michael Schumacher in P13 had no option but to burn another set of Options to make sure they got through to Q2.
Luckily for them drivers were struggling to go any quicker. The drop zone had narrowed to: 16.Kobayashi, 17.Maldonado, 18.Buemi. Kobayashi could go no quicker and stayed in P16, but then Buemi jumped to P16 and Maldonado could only stay p18.
At the very last moment the two Lotus drivers were locked in their own qualifying battle, with Jarno Trulli, having headed Heikki Kovalainen for most of the session losing out to the Finn at the very last moment.
Out went: 18.Maldonado, 19.Kovalainen, 20.Trulli, 21.Liuzzi, 22.Ricciardo, 23.D'Ambrosio, 24.Glock
Liuzzi made his experience around Interlagos count, while Glock lost out to D'Ambrosio by a fraction.
At the beginning of the session there was the firm belief that rain was on the way, but almost as soon as the session had started a message flashed onto the pitwall that no rain was expected for the next 30 minutes. Indeed after that the grey clouds lifted and hazy sunshine broke through
Adrian Sutil set the first P1 position (having finished fourth fastest in Q1) at 1:13.276. This was beaten early on by Sebastian Vettel with a 1:12.446. Lewis slotted into P2, Button took P2 off him and then Nico Rosberg went P2 with a stellar lap of 1:12.569.
With rain given a 90% prediction for Sunday many of the teams were thought to be hedging their bets with the set up of their cars, but Mercedes were going for sheer speed and an out-and-out dry set-up.
Going into the last five minutes the danger positions were: 7.Sutil, 8.Massa, 9.Senna, 10.DiResta, 11.Schumacher, 12.Alguersuari, 13.Buemi, 14.Kobayashi, 15.Petrov, 16.Barrichello, 17.Perez
Despite his team-mate excelling Paul DiResta could only stay 10th, Massa had a major twitch going through Turn 3 and had to abandon his first timed run (but would end up safe), Schumacher improved to P10 demoting Paul DiResta, who then came round again and could only stay P11.
Bruno Senna's earlier lap had been fantastic at a circuit he's never raced at before -depsite the surname - and he held on to P9 while team-mate Petrov could only stay in P15. Rubens Barrichello had already excelled to get to P12, but his final lap had a green PB time of 18.5 in the first sector. A mistake in the second sector meant he had to abandon the lap but it was still a great effort.
So out went: 11.DiResta, 12.Barrichello, 13.Alguersuari, 14.Buemi, 15.Petrov, 16.Kobayashi, 17.Perez.
The most remarkable element of Q2 was that Rosberg was over a second quicker than Michael Schumacher. It was also a case of Barrichello and Senna being inspired at their home race and really outpacing their team-mates.
Rosberg and Hamilton were out early on and had decided to try one slow lap to get the tyres up to heat. It didn't look too successful a strategy. Rosberg's time was a 1:13.159 over half a second slower than his Q2 time.
Vettel took provisional pole with a 1:12.268, Button took P2, Webber then took P2 off him and Lewis could only manage P4 - which then became P5 after Alonso beat his time.
With the other four cars having used up soft tyres on their way to Q3 and staying in the garage the order after the first run was: Vettel, Webber, Button, Alonso, Hamilton and Rosberg.Adrian Sutil came out as the first of the rest and set a decent P7 time, not that far short of Nico Rosberg. Senna and Massa followed him out, but Michael Schumacher stayed in the garage. The top six all came out again, with Vettel unusually early in the order.
Even though he was slower than before in the final sector Vettel managed to break the 1:12 barrier with a stunning 1:11.918 lap. Alonso moved up to P3, Felipe Massa overtook Rosberg to take P6, Bruno Senna managed P9 again. Button put his McLaren on the front row claiming P2 but then Mark Webber shot past him and only just came up shy of Vettel's time to make it a Red Bull front row. Hamilton managed to put himself in front of Alonso, while Rosberg defied the odds to break free of his usual starting spot (P7) and claim P6 in front of Massa.
It was a record 15 poles in the season for Vettel, beating Mansell's record of 14 in 1992 when there had been just 16 races. With rain predicted for the race tomorrow the result will be a lot harder to predict than qualifying. Rubens Barrichello's first race win came in a rain-interrupted race and there will be many that hope that for his 326th GP there are similar conditions. Sauber, Toro Rosso and the new teams could all get a result if the conditions turn slippery and for them it will be just like the 2008 Hamilton vs Massa showdown.
01. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m11.918
02. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m12.099 + 0.181
03. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m12.283 + 0.365
04. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m12.480 + 0.562
05. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m12.591 + 0.673
06. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m13.050 + 1.132
07. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m13.068 + 1.150
08. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m13.298 + 1.380
09. Bruno Senna Renault 1m13.761 + 1.843
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes
11. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m13.584 + 1.138
12. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m13.801 + 1.355
13. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m13.804 + 1.358
14. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m13.919 + 1.473
15. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m14.053 + 1.607
16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m14.129 + 1.683
17. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m14.182 + 1.736
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m14.625 + 1.344
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m15.068 + 1.787
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m15.358 + 2.077
21. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m16.631 + 3.350
22. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m16.890 + 3.609
23. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m17.019 + 3.738
24. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m17.060 + 3.779