After nearly three hours of persistent rain delaying the qualifying proceedings, Brawn GP’s Rubens Barrichello ultimately secured a crucial pole position at home while his title rivals suffered major problems in the tricky wet conditions.
World championship leader Jenson Button will start the Brazilian Grand Prix down in P14, having opted not to fit the Bridgestone intermediates tyres that could have vaulted him up the grid order. By staying out on track with full wets, Jenson lost the opportunity in setting a competitive laptime. Position fourteenth is not ideal but at least it is no worse than Sebastian Vettel. The Red Bull Racing driver will start in P16 and will need at least second place on Sunday to remain in the title hunt.
Mark Webber joins Barrichello on the front row in the second Red Bull, ahead of another impressive qualifying effort from Force India’s Adrian Sutil in third.
The first qualifying session was red flagged after just four minutes following a spin by Giancarlo Fisichella in his Ferrari. The Italian lost control at the bottom of the Senna S and stalled on the racing line. He will start the race at the tail end of the grid.
With the conditions near impossible due to the heavy rain, race control decided to halt the session until the weather relented at least slightly.
As the skies became a little lighter, Q1 was restarted following a 12-minute pause, and although the spray and standing water remained a major issue for the drivers, the lap times were immediately 12 seconds faster than the pre-red flag laps.
Outside championship contender Vettel had been fastest by a full second among the seven cars that set times prior to the stoppage, but he was quickly shuffle down the order to P16 and could not improve. A trip off the circuit at Turn 5 did not help, and with the rain coming down harder again Sebastian abandoned his final lap. P16 is his worst-case scenario and the German faces a near-impossible task in Sunday’s Grand Prix as he strives to stay in title contention.
Also going out in Q1 were the McLarens, with Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton in P17 and P18 respectively. The latter having a spin after exiting Turn 5.
The start of Q2 was delayed further as the rain continued to fall. Despite no obvious let-up in the conditions, the green light appeared and the remaining 15 cars headed onto the track.
But in no time at all Vitantonio Liuzzi had a huge crash on the pit straight, bringing out the red flags once again.
With the rain continuing to fall it took an hour to get the session restarted. But when it finally did it brought a dramatic development – championship leader Button was eliminated.
The track began to dry quite quickly and halfway through several drivers switched to intermediate tyres – led by Nico Rosberg’s Williams, who once again looked instantly at ease with the wet conditions.
Neither of the Brawn GP drivers opted to try the intermediates and that proved a big mistake in Button’s case. But while Barrichello managed to scrape through to Q3, team-mate Button was 0.9 seconds slower and thus failed. He will start behind rookies Kamui Kobayashi – making a fine debut for Toyota – Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) and Romain Grosjean (Renault).
And so into the final ten minutes of Q3. With the track conditions improving all the time and the rain finally easing off, the top ten drivers all opted for the intermediates to set the quickest laps.
The pole position holder was changing at least once every minute with Sebastien Buemi, Robert Kubica and Jarno Trulli all having turns.
Twice Barrichello took the top spot but immediately was pushed back down the order. He eventually took the honour when the chequered flag was waved on the main pit straight, recorded his first pole position at the Interlagos track after five years of trying. His time of one minute, 19.576 seconds was just under a tenth of a second faster than rival Mark Webber.
Adrian Sutil grabbed third from Toyota’s Jarno Trulli right at the end, with Kimi Raikkonen fifth for Ferrari.
Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi was rapid throughout and took an excellent sixth, but there was disappointment for Nico Rosberg, who had been quickest in both Q1 and Q2 but could not maintain that pace as the track dried. He fell to seventh, with his team-mate Kazuki Nakajima ninth between Robert Kubica (BMW) and Fernando Alonso (Renault).
Before the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, Formula One’s ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has said he wanted to see the championship decided at the final round in Abu Dhabi. Well, following this lengthy qualifying session and with a grid line-up for Sunday, it seems that we could be heading that way.
Qualifying times from Interlagos:
1. Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes 1:19.576
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:19.668
3. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:19.912
4. Trulli Toyota 1:20.097
5. Raikkonen Ferrari 1:20.168
6. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:20.250
7. Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1:20.326
8. Kubica BMW-Sauber 1:20.631
9. Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1:20.674
10. Alonso Renault 1:21.422
11. Kobayashi Toyota 1:21.960
12. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:22.231
13. Grosjean Renault 1:22.477
14. Button Brawn-Mercedes 1:22.504
15. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:24.645
16. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:25.009
17. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 1:25.052
18. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:25.192
19. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber 1:25.515
20. Fisichella Ferrari 1:40.703