Hamilton on pole, Vettel strikes crucial blow
Date published : 24 Nov 2012 - 21:17:04
Lewis Hamilton oozed with pride on Saturday after making sure he will start his 110th and final race for McLaren from pole position in Sunday's season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.
On a tense afternoon, in changing weather conditions, Hamilton and team-mate Jenson Button upstaged title fighters Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso by locking out the front row of the grid.
Hamilton produced a dramatic and supremely fast final qualifying lap to outstrip all his rivals and maintain his end-of-season domination as McLaren delivered their fourth lockout of the year.
The dazzling performance from the two McLaren men left championship contenders, defending champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull down in fourth, and his title rival, two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, eighth.
However, Alonso was later promoted to seventh on the grid when Williams driver Pastor Maldonado was penalised 10 places.
Vettel, who has a 13-point lead over the Spaniard going into the final race of the season, can become the sport's youngest triple champion on Sunday.
In his final session for the team before leaving to join Mercedes next year, 27-year-old Hamilton clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 12.458 seconds to outpace fellow-Briton Button by one-tenth of a second.
"I am grateful to be able to put the car on the front row and to have a one-two for McLaren in my last qualifying is just great. The team did a fantastic job," said Hamilton.
"What a great feeling it is. What a great weekend so far and I hope we can push tomorrow. It is great to be one-two with Jenson Button. I am expecting a difficult race. I have always started from fourth or, once, 18th."
Both Vettel and Alonso were out-qualified by their team-mates, Mark Webber, who was third for Red Bull, and Felipe Massa, who was fifth-fastest on his home track for Ferrari.
"It was not quick enough and I know I could have done a little better," admitted Vettel.
"But let's wait and see what happens tomorrow. Q3 was not perfect. It was not enough. I am keen to go back and look at the data and see where I was as I was not quick enough.
"All in all we are in good shape and we have been competitive and we will see what we can do tomorrow."
A cagey Alonso, who may have run in a set-up that may suit Sunday's forecast wet weather better than the dry, said: "It is more or less what I expected... We didn't gamble and only made minimal changes."
Vettel will secure the title and become the youngest triple champion in F1 history if he finishes in the top four, no matter where Alonso finishes.
By contrast, Alonso must win with Vettel outside the top four to take his own third title, if both drivers finish.
Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali gave nothing away.
"We will see. For sure it is not the perfect position to start the race, but a lot of concentration and working hard and we will see what the outcome is in the race. Anything is possible then, it will be an interesting Sunday."
Button said: "I'm happy to be on the front row. The last couple of races have been tricky in qualifying. As Lewis said, it's nice to both be on the front row for his last race for the team."
Looking ahead to a possible wet race at Interlagos, he added: "It is tough to drive here in the wet, you get a lot of rivers on the hill. Lewis and I will have some fun because there are two people with more pressure than us."
Maldonado had finished sixth for Williams but was dropped to 16th by the stewards after missing the weighbridge during qualifying.
Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, heading into retirement after his final race on Sunday, qualified in 14th place, but hinted that he too may also have run in a 'wet' set up.
Hamilton's pole was his first in Brazil, his seventh this year and the 26th of his career and helped the team to a record 67th front row lockout in Formula One.