Lewis Hamilton will attempt to keep the 2016 world championship alive with a pole-position start for this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Briton, who has never won in Brazil despite claiming the 2008 title here, needs to prevent teammate Nico Rosberg, who starts on the front row, from outscoring him by seven points or more if he is to take the championship battle to the final round of the season.
Hamilton had Rosberg’s measure for the entirety of qualifying, but the margin shrunk from three-tenths of a second in Q1 to just 0.15 seconds after the first runs of Q3.
Tension was high for the final flying laps, but Rosberg could close the gap by only half a second by the time both Mercedes cars had crossed the line.
“I felt quite comfortable in qualifying, as I have done though the whole weekend, to be honest,” Hamilton said. “Nico’s been getting quicker and quicker, but I’ve generally had it covered.”
This is the best that I could’ve hoped for really … it’s always a track I’ve always struggled at.”
Rosberg can win the championship this weekend if he wins the race, and the German said he was focussing on the battle off the line to boost his chances of wrapping up his maiden title one round early.
“It was exciting qualifying out there for sure,” he said. “As we’ve seen this year pole isn’t the guy that always wins the race — of course I want to try and win the race tomorrow.”
Kimi Räikkönen was the surprising best of the rest, but the margin between his Ferrari and the leading Mercedes car was an epic 0.668 seconds, likely putting the battle for victory beyond the rest of the field bar any extraordinary circumstances or poor weather.
“The Mercedes seems to be a bit too far,” the Finn admitted. “To be honest the last lap was pretty average, in my view, but it was enough to be in third place.”
Max Verstappen barred Räikkönen’s Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel from the second row, leaving the German to start on the third row alongside sixth-placed Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull Racing car.
Romain Grosjean suggested Haas’s brake supplier switch, from Brembo brakes to Carbone Industrie, was working for the Frenchman, who put his car in seventh, albeit 0.4 seconds behind the third row.
Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Perez qualified ninth and tenth for Force India, 0.1 seconds ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
The second middle segment of qualifying was a nailbiter, with both Williams drivers attempting to turn feisty practice pace into Q3 berths, especially for Felipe Massa at his final home grand prix.
The first runs suggested the session might fall in favour of the Brazilian’s team, but neither driver could improve enough to keep the midfield at bay during the final flying laps.
Esteban Gutierrez’s Haas pushed Massa out of the top 10 first, and the Mexican’s teammate, Romain Grosjean, nudged ahead of Valtteri Bottas and threatened to do the same.
Sergio Perez and Nico Hülkenberg finished the job to qualifying in the top 10, ensuring Force India stays a step ahead of Williams in the fight for fourth in the constructors championship.
Bottas, Gutierrez, and Massa qualified ahead of Toro Rosso pair Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz, while Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was Q2’s slowest qualifier.
The start of qualifying began under threat of rain after misty conditions afflicted much of the final free practice session two hours earlier.
Most of the grid set a precautionary ‘banker’ lap to guard against the weather slowing down the circuit with rain, but the pressure was on Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari mechanics, who were frantically repairing a brake problem.
The German’s car was fired up five precious minutes into the session, but the rain never eventuated, allowing Vettel to easily move through to the next session.
Jenson Button, however, wasn’t so lucky in what will likely prove to be his final Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying session.
The McLaren driver had been struggling to balance the car all day, and his problems persisted into Q1, where his best time was good enough for just P17, a painful 0.017 away from progress into Q2.
Kevin Magnussen put his Renault just behind the McLaren in P18, while Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon had little trouble outqualifying Sauber duo Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr in the two teams’ critical battle for tenth in the constructors championship.
2016 BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX: QUALIFYING RESULTS
|4||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer||1:11.485||+0.749|
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer||1:11.540||+0.804|
|7||Romain Grosjean||Haas- Ferrari||1:11.937||+1.201|
|8||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India- Mercedes||1:12.104||+1.368|
|9||Sergio Perez||Force India- Mercedes||1:12.165||+1.429|
|11||Valtteri Bottas||Williams- Mercedes||1:12.420||—|
|12||Esteban Gutierrez||Haas- Ferrari||1:12.431||—|
|13||Felipe Massa||Williams- Mercedes||1:12.521||—|
|14||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso- Ferrari||1:12.726||—|
|15||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso- Ferrari||1:12.920||—|
|19||Pascal Wehrlein||Manor- Mercedes||1:13.427||—|
|20||Esteban Ocon*||Manor- Mercedes||1:13.432||—|
|21||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber- Ferrari||1:13.623||—|
|22||Felipe Nasr||Sauber- Ferrari||1:13.681||—|
*Esteban Ocon will start from the back of the grid after receiving a three-place grid penalty for impeding Jolyon Palmer in Q1.