Lewis Hamilton will start the Brazilian GP on pole position after narrowly edging out Mercedes team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg by a tenth of a second in qualifying.
“That was a very important lap in this championship,” declared Sky F1’s Martin Brundle after Hamilton secured his eleventh pole of the year in a tense finale.
“Nico’s been getting quicker and quicker, but I generally had it covered throughout the weekend,” said Hamilton.
“This is the best I could have hoped for coming to Brazil. It’s only my second pole here, it’s always a track I’ve struggled at, so I’m really really happy to be up at the front.”
19 points clear in the standings, Rosberg will secure the title if he wins Sunday’s race, live on Sportsclubsociety F1 from 4pm. “As we’ve seen this year, pole isn’t always the guy that wins the race,” noted the German. But Sunday’s race may prove far from plain sailing with rain forecast.
While the margins have been tight around one of the shortest circuits on the calendar, an on-form Hamilton has held a consistent advantage over his team-mate throughout the weekend. Mercedes, though, have been in a class of their own with the two Silver Arrows over half a second clear of the rest.
Fastest in two of the practice sessions, Hamilton finished qualifying with top spot for every segment, but Rosberg ran him particularly close in the final exchanges as he bettered Hamilton’s time through the first sector of their last laps before Hamilton edged ahead again.
“I don’t remember every single qualifying session we’ve had, but I felt quite comfortable in qualifying, as I have done all weekend to be honest,” said Hamilton.
Kimi Raikkonen, maintaining his recent revival, was third for Ferrari ahead of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. Raikkonen has now drawn level with Sebastian Vettel in the pair’s head-to-head qualifying contest for the year.
Toto Wolff rang Jos Verstappen over Max
Romain Grosjean also impressed, reaching seventh for Haas ahead of the two Force Indias, while the ever-defiant Fernando Alonso rounded off the top ten.
But it was a particularly poor afternoon for the two Brazilians in the field. While Felipe Nasr was relegated to the last spot on the grid in his Sauber, Felipe Massa, making his final appearance at Interlagos, was just 13th as neither Williams driver reached the top ten.
In what could be the penultimate qualifying session of his Formula 1 career, Jenson Button fell at the first hurdle in his mishandling McLaren but there was further encouragement for the improving Jolyon Palmer in the week when it was announced he would be staying at Renault for 2017 as he out-qualified Haas-bound team-mate Kevin Magnussen for the sixth time in the last eleven events.
Brazilian GP Qualifying Timesheet
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:10.736
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, + 0.102
3. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari + 0.668
4. Max Verstappen, Red Bull + 0.749
5. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, + 0.759
6.Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, + 0.804
7. Romain Grosjean, Haas, + 1.201
8. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, + 1.368
9. Sergio Perez, Force India, + 1.429
10. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, + 1.530
11. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:12.430
12. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, 1:12.431
13. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:12.521
14. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:12.726
15. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:12.920
16. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1:13.258
17. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:13.276
18. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, 1:13.410
19. Pascal Wehrlein, Manor, 1:13.427
20. Esteban Ocon, Manor, 1:13.432
21. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:13.623
22. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 1:13.681