Two days of rain meant that the circumstances were in place for an upset in Q3, but in the end the grid has a familiar look to it, with Sebastian Vettel on pole once more. The bottom line is that the RB9 is so good and the driver so perfectly attuned to it that the World Champion was always going to be the man to beat, whatever the conditions.
The man who came closest to beating him was Nico Rosberg, who was fastest in both sessions yesterday and was clearly thriving at a wet Interlagos. In the end he had to settle for a distant second, but it was nevertheless a good effort by the Mercedes driver – and indeed by Fernando Alonso in third.
A wet morning practice session saw many of the top drivers do few laps as they saved wet and intermediate tyres for qualifying and the race. The rain eased off by the start of Q1, and in the opening minutes it looked like slicks might soon be a possibility – only for the rain to return just as teams were thinking of making the switch. Towards the end the rain eased a little once more, which allowed Jean-Éric Vergne to break into the top 16, and bump Pastor Maldonado.
Lewis Hamilton topped the session, ahead of Vettel and Rosberg. Those who failed to progress were Maldonado, Esteban Gutiérrez, Charles Pic, Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.
The rain became heavier once again in the course of Q2, so the quick times were set in the first part. Romain Grosjean was fastest, ahead of Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Heikki Kovalainen was the fastest driver not to make Q3, the Lotus driver a disappointed 11th after an impressive fifth spot in Q1. “No excuses, I couldn’t go any faster,” said the ever honest Finn.
Paul di Resta will start 12th, ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez, Jenson Button and Adrian Sutil. Pérez outqualified a hugely frustrated Button for the 10th time in 19 starts only to have a huge crash right at the end of the session, the Mexican hitting the wall with the front and rear of the car after losing control on a kerb. “I pushed over the limit, the car was not responding at all,” he said.
While the wreck was cleared up the FIA also took the opportunity to delay the start of Q3 as a wave of heavy rain passed by, the total interval between sessions eventually stretching to 47 minutes. Inevitably there was some criticism of the delay from armchair fans and some sections of the media, but not from teams and drivers.
“I don’t blame [Charlie Whiting] at all,” said Webber. “It’s a tricky venue. We’ve seen some big old ones around here over the years. I’m not bothered about people at home. We’ve got to make the right decisions for us here. It’s up to the drivers and Charlie to work it out, that’s the most important thing. History shows here a lot of big shunts on the rivers.”
The drivers all headed out initially on full wet tyres, but before completing a timed lap Romain Grosjean began what quickly became a stampede into the pits for intermediate tyres. The Frenchman soon shot to the top of the times, before first Webber and then Vettel went faster, the last named by a big margin. That 1m 26.479s lap proved to be good enough for pole, by more than 0.6s. It was an impressive effort.
“Big surprise,” he said. “I was so happy after the quali, obviously, especially Q3, it took a long time for us to get out. There was a lot of rain after Q2, already at the end of Q2. Yeah, we need to wait. If there’s too much water it’s a shame for the people who wait for us to come out, but there’s too much water and the risk of aquaplaning is too high. So it took a long time and then got out.
“I was surprised by how much of the water had gone. I went straight on intermediates and was able to get a very, very good lap in straight away. Tried again in the second to beat that. It was very close, so with both my laps I was very happy.”
Right at the end Nico Rosberg secured second, while Alonso took his best grid slot in some time with third, bumping Webber down to fourth for his final Grand Prix start.
“I never felt comfortable on the last set,” said the Aussie. “It was better on the extremes, inters I was in the shit the first lap, tried to get them in the second lap, third lap… I thought we’d be worse off, to be honest. That was that.” He added: “I’m not going to talk about, it’s a non-event for me, tyres and the conditions and Charlie’s decisions…”
Hamilton has been unhappy all weekend in the wet – despite his good pace in Q1 – and had to settle for fifth, while Grosjean could not back up his earlier effort, and fell to sixth.
The Toro Rosso pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Vergne took seventh and eighth, while Felipe Massa and Nico Hülkenberg completed the top 10.
There’s potential for a lot to happen tomorrow, and among the big stories will be the final F1 start for Mark Webber, a man who probably has few if any enemies in the paddock. On Thursday he said this was starting out like a normal weekend, but there have been some signs of its significance.
“The drivers’ briefing was interesting,” he said when asked by Motor Sport if it was now hitting home. “Just because the guys gave me a very good reception, and I had a little chat with them. Obviously your colleagues, they’re the ones that you work so hard to compete against over 17 years, and that means a lot to you, so that was quite touching.
“So, good to get a good reception off those guys, a lot that have obviously raced for all of my races, that was good. That was a bit of wake-up call, and tomorrow, but other than that, completely normal to be honest, mate.
“I’ll come in, I’ll do my normal prep, I’m not going to change much now. We’ll do what we can tomorrow, and if it’s like this it’s sensational for the neutrals at home, but obviously on the pitwall and in the car it’s a super-testing venue, as we saw today. Sergio dropped it obviously, so it’s easy to have some problems with this track.”
A spot on the podium would be welcome, but these things don’t always work to plan. Webber’s former RBR team mate David Coulthard’s last race finished on the first lap at this very venue.
“Of course, it will be nice to finish well. DC was very unfortunate. Most of the time statistically a Grand Prix driver in his last race it’s his last race for a reason, it’s not because he’s at the top! Or he didn’t it was his last race and got sacked over the winter. In my case I do know it’s my last race, I’ll go out there and do my best. Obviously there might be some things creeping into my mind here and there, but I’ll keep those out as much as I can, and just focus on the job at hand.”
Don’t expect to see too much ‘touchy feely’ stuff from Webber tomorrow.
“Maybe tomorrow when I get into the car for the last time and step out of the car for the last time, that will be the most extreme case of emotions. If the Kleenex is out, I’ve made the wrong decision…”