Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position at a wet Interlagos circuit where Q3 had to be delayed by 40 minutes due to standing water.
The four-time World Champion had no problem countering the wet conditions on Saturday as he crossed the line with a 1:26.479 to grab his ninth pole position of this season. Nico Rosberg was second, while Fernando Alonso brought his Ferrari home in third place.
Mark Webber qualified fourth for his final Formula One grand prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean.
It was damp at Interlagos with the predicted rain arriving on cue – the ambient temperature was at 19c and the track at 19C. The weather prediction at the start of the twenty minute session was that the rain was not too heavy but it might get worse.
So the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton was sitting at the end of the pitlane waiting for the green light. Lewis Hamilton was out first on track to get some clear running and duly put his car into P1 with a 1:25.342. Sebastian Vettel slotted into P2 and Nico Rosberg in P3.
With twelve minutes left and after more rain, cars weren’t improving over much, with the back end of the field looking like: 15.Kovalainen, 16.Maldonado, 17.Vergne, 18.Pic, 19.Gutierrez, 20.van der Garde, 21.Bianchi, 22.Chilton
Jean-Eric Vergne had been particularly quick in the wet free practice and was unhappy to be back in the garage looking at a swift Q1 exit. “Why did we wait?” he asked, as the Toro Rossos weren’t one of the first teams out.
With teams wary of using too many wet and intermediate tyres ahead of the race it was only the bottom eight cars which went back on track with the last-minute addition of Adrian Sutil.
The first sign that conditions were indeed improving was when Esteban Gutierrez moved forward to P17. And then Heikki Kovalainen set three personal best sector times to jump up into P5.
Much to his relief Jean-Eric Vergne improved to P15, Daniel Ricciardo nudged forward to P16 leaving Maldonado in the dropzone at P17. Pastor set a faster S1 time, but the rest of the lap was slower and he didn’t improve. So out went: 17.Maldonado, 18.Gutierrez, 19.Pic, 20.van der Garde, 21.Bianchi, 22.Chilton
Yet again it was a Mercedes W04 at the end of the pitlane as we were predicted “light to very light rain in Q2”. Nico Rosberg set P1 at 1:26.626, over a second slower than his previous best, Lewis Hamilton slotted into P2.
Vettel took the P1 time on his first quick lap with a 1:26.515.
Despite the increase in rain everyone was still on Inters and after the first runs, cars came back in to put on a new set to get the extra bite from the tyre. All 16 cars would come out again. Nobody felt safe.
Although the danger zone could have been from 1-16 if conditions suddenly improved dramatically, the most at risk were: 7.Vergne, 8.Kovalainen, 9.Massa, 10.Ricciardo, 11.Button, 12.Bottas, 13.Perez, 14.DiResta, 15.Sutil, 16.Hulkenberg.
Paul Di Resta jumped to P11, Massa took P6, Hulkenberg climbed to P9, while Alonso grabbed P2.
Romain Grosjean then showed what the E21 could do by taking over with the P1 time of 1:26.161.
The McLarens were struggling to switch the tyres on with a wetter circuit and Sergio Perez struggled round for P14, whereas Daniel Ricciardo jumped into P8. Button had dropped down the order and didn’t look like improving. With a minute left on the clock the rain seemed to be getting heavier just as Sergio Perez put his rear wheels onto the wide painted run-off at the exit of Lake Descent (Turn 4), spun the car round and across the track to hit the wall on the inside of the circuit.
It was a red flag and an end to the session. Out went: 11.Kovalainen, 12.DiResta, 13.Bottas, 14.Perez, 15.Button, 16.Sutil
Kovalainen was very unlucky to miss out on Q3 by a mere 0.015 – Nico Hulkenberg being the escapee. Both McLarens looked like they were suffering from the same problem, although Perez ended up outqualifying Button on the day and across the season 10-9.
The rain continued at the end of the session and Charlie Whiting, the Race Director, announced a ten-minute delay, then another, and then another. The medical car circulated to check on the levels of standing water and the streams crossing the circuit.
After a 47-minute delay we were back going again at 15:30 local time and this time it was the two Red Bulls and a single Toro Rosso waiting for almost two minutes at the end of the pitlane to make sure they were out on track first. This time, everyone had moved on to wets.
Mark Webber set provisional pole at a tentative and slippy 1:29.215, he was immediately beaten by Vettel with a 1:28.830. Nico Rosberg slotted into P2 and then Lewis Hamilton in P3.
Nine cars completed a lap on the wet tyres, but the late-starting Grsojean decided the times were quick enough for Inters and came straight into the pitlane.
On the strength of the first run the order was: Vettel, Rosberg, Hamilton, Webber, Alonso, Vergne, Ricciado, Hulkenberg, Massa and Grosjean (no time). This was all about to change.
Everyone came back in for inters to join Grosjean who immediately took provisional pole with a 1:27.773. This stayed on top until Mark Webber came across the line with a 1:27.623 which was dislodged by over a second when Vettel claimed a 1:26.479.
Rosberg made it into P2 but wasn’t anywhere close to Vettel’s time and Lewis Hamilton had a poor middle sector that put him P4. Fernando Alonso hadn’t shown much pace up until now and then put his Ferrari on the front row by edging in front of Rosberg. Nobody was getting close to Sebastian’s time, but drivers still had another flying lap to change that.
Romain Grosjean improved his time but not his place in P6 while Rosberg edged back in front of Alonso and Webber displaced Hamilton in P4. Massa improved his time but stayed P9 in his valedictory GP for Ferrari.
So, another Vettel pole and this one by half a second in front of Rosberg, Alonso, Webber and Hamilton. Ferrari look like they will need nothing short of a win to displace Mercedes in P2 in the Constructors’ Championship and similarly, Lotus , need a lot of work to take P3.
But with more rain predicted for the race tomorrow, teams might be tempted to gamble on a risky strategy in the race, and so the outcome is very decidedly in the lap of the gods.
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:26.4709
02 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:27.102 +0.623
03 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:27.539 +1.060
04 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:27.572 +1.093
05 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:27.677 +1.198
06 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:27.737 +1.258
07 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:28.052 +1.573
08 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:28.081 +1.602
09 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:28.109 +1.630
10 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:29.582 +3.103
11 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:27.456
12 Paul di Resta Force India 1:27.798
13 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:27.954
14 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:28.269
15 Jenson Button McLaren 1:28.308
16 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:28.586
17 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:27.367
18 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:27.445
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:27.843
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:28.320
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:28.366
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:28.950
Qualifying Day At Interlagos