Lewis Hamilton heads a McLaren front row in the all-important championship decider at Interlagos, denying his team-mate Jenson Button to pole position.
As for the title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, the Red Bull driver will start the Brazilian Grand Prix in fourth position while his Ferrari-powered opponent could only manage eighth.
Neither Vettel nor Alonso looked like they had the speed to fight for pole as McLaren took charge of Q3.
Hamilton and Button were fastest after the first runs, with Alonso in fifth at that stage while a mistake at the Descida do Lago left Vettel only sixth.
Both improved on their next qualifying runs, but Alonso’s gains were only marginal. The Spaniard held fourth, only to be demoted to eighth as others improved. His German rival was right down in tenth position at that stage, but was at least able to salvage fourth.
Meanwhile his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber briefly deposed the McLarens at the head of the order, before Hamilton and Button’s final laps thrust them back to the top, 0.055 seconds apart.
Behind the McLarens and Red Bulls, Felipe Massa outqualified Alonso for the second time in the space of seven days as he claimed fifth.
Pastor Maldonado’s Williams and the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg also found themselves ahead of the championship contenders as they took sixth and seventh.
The final top ten spots went to the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.
Competing in his final qualifying session, Michael Schumacher recorded a disappointing result for himself and the team with only P14. Half a second down on his team-mate Rosberg. Not the ideal way to celebrate the end of his ‘second’ Formula One career.
Paul di Resta again struggled to match Force India team-mate Hulkenberg’s qualifying form too, ending up missing the Q3 cut in P11.
Also out in Q2 were Williams’s Bruno Senna, both Saubers and both Toro Rossos.
Romain Grosjean was knocked out in Q1 in dramatic fashion. The Lotus made contact with Pedro de la Rosa’s HRT on the start/finish straight when he tried to squeeze past the slower car as they passed the pit entry.
Grosjean brushed the barriers and was left with a mangled front wing, and although he did make it back out and do a lap that brought him back inside the cut-off, Daniel Ricciardo pushed him down to P18 moments later.
Vitaly Petrov narrowly beat Caterham team-mate Heikki Kovalainen to P19, the duo lapping half a second clear of Timo Glock’s Marussia.
Despite weather dominating conversation this weekend, the only rain of the afternoon came half an hour before the qualifying. That meant early Q1 laps were on intermediates, but the track was fully dry before the opening segment was over.
However rain is heading towards Sao Paulo on race day and it will be fascinating to see what kind of unexacting results will fall on Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso following their less than ideal qualifying positions.
Qualifying times for the Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos:
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m12.458s
2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m12.513s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m12.581s
4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m12.760s
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m12.987s
6. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m13.174s
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m13.206s
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m13.253s
9. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m13.298s
10. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m13.489s
11. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m14.121s
12. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m14.219s
13. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m14.234s
14. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m14.334s
15. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m14.380s
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m14.574s
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m14.619s
18. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m16.967s
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m17.073s
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m17.086s
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m17.508s
22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m18.104s
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m19.576s
24. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m19.699s
107 per cent time: 1m20.330s