Brazil Quali Recap: McLaren lock out front row, Vettel starts 4th, Alonso 8th

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Lewis Hamilton (1:12.458) won pole for the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix in dramatic wet-dry conditions, as teammate Jenson Button qualified for the first time on the front row at Interlagos. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel made it two-by-two for the second row, while Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado complete the third row of starters. Fernando Alonso nearly missed out on Q3, as did teammate Massa, and qualified only eighth. Rain fell before qualifying, leading to continually dropping times as conditions improved in Q1 and Q2. Early in Q1, drivers diced through qualifying laps looking for clearer track. Romain Grosjean dropped out in Q1, attempting to get through on Pedro de la Rosa and clipping his own front wing. The stewards would investigate the incident after qualifying. They would also look into Pastor Maldonado’s weighbridge miss during Q2.

Just one week after the inaugural race at the Circuit of the Americas, the F1 circus moved on to Brazil. Hamilton made a bid for the win in his final race weekend at McLaren by topping both Friday practices, though the weather forecast looks to turn the season topsy-turvy with rain for the race. The Briton (1:14.131) barely led Vettel (1:14.140) in the morning practice as teams used tyres for the 2013 season, with Weber, Button, and Alonso topping the charts at the end of the ninety minute session. Little drama occurred under the sunny Brazilian sky at Interlagos, other than engine issues for Raikkonen and HRT keeping both drivers in the garage for two thirds of the session.

Hamilton (1:14.026) took charge on soft tyres in the afternoon session, beating Vettel to the practice fast lap. Webber, Alonso, and Massa completed the fastest five as Ferrari still looked hopeful for Alonso’s title bid. Massa led early on, only to succumb to Vettel’s pace before Alonso posted the fastest time of the session on the harder tyre. Many drivers took a turn at the top on the softer rubber in the hot conditions, but Hamilton soon posted the fastest time and allowed the field to come to him.

Button (1:13.188) continued the McLaren leading trend, leading Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, and Grosjean as the fastest five at the end of the final practice session. Button and his teammate traded the top spot early in the session until the order settled in the ten minutes of qualifying simulation at the end. Alonso managed only eighth fastest with traffic disrupting his quick run. Lotus gave the fans the most drama, as Raikkonen’s Renault engine blew up before he had even set a time.

Q1:
Even as rain fell a half hour before qualifying began, there was no precipitation as the twenty minutes of Q1 went green. Drivers lined up at the light just before the session began, with some teams expecting rain before the end of the session. Kovalainen and Glock immediately charged off, working on getting laps in as the track dried out, diving around and passing each other. Those teams and drivers usually at the sharp end of things remained in the garage as the damp track continued to dry out a bit. Few truly competitive times came in the first half of the session as some drivers incorrectly used inters and others attempted to wiggle around on slicks.

Webber made his way onto the track with eleven minutes to go, as did Alonso, then Hamilton a bit later. All used the harder tyre, as did Vettel who joined the fray at halfway. Maldonado (1:17.894) led at that point, over Senna, Vergne, Kobayashi, Di Resta, Kovalainen, Ricciardo, Petrov, Perez, Glock, and Karthikeyan as the eleven with times then set. A minute later, only Schumacher had yet to leave the garage on the session. Those who had already set times had mainly all returned to the garage at that point. Alonso managed only third fastest on his first hot lap, with Webber on fifth. Hamilton (1:17.772) went straight to the top while Vettel managed only thirteenth. Alonso jumped up to the top as the track continued to dry, only to have Hamilton beat him back.

With six minutes remaining, Hamilton (1:17.346) led Alonso, Massa, Hulkenberg, and Senna, with nearly every driver out on the track. Drivers continued to improve as the conditions did. Schumacher gained quite a bit of time, slotting into second fastest, only to to have Perez, then Rosberg take over the lead. Kobayashi then Di Resta took provisional pole on the softer tyre as the track kept getting better and better. The drivers just stayed out, with each lap getting quicker and quicker. Grosjean struggled, running into the back of an HRT in the final turn, only to lose his front wing later on the lap. The Frenchman sat in seventeenth, grabbing a wing change just as the final two minutes began.

Senna led, only to be supplanted by Hamilton at the top with a minutes to go. At that point, Petrov, Kovalainen, Maldonado, Glock, Pic, Karthikeyan, and de la Rosa sat in the knockout zone with a minute remaining. Perez pitted from sixth as the flag flew. Maldonado soon moved up to eleventh on his final lap. Ricciardo dropped Grosjean out as the final man across the line. In the end, Hamilton (1:15.075) led Senna, Button, Hulkenberg, Vettel, Di Resta, Rosberg, Perez, Schumacher, and Alonso as the top ten. Webber sat eleventh, Massa twelfth.

Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Grosjean
19. Petrov
20. Kovalainen
21. Glock
22. Pic
23. Karthikeyan
24. de la Rosa

Q2:
Vergne led the way out for the fifteen minutes of Q2, with Hulkenberg then a train of drivers following. Both Ferrari drivers joined with much of the mid-field teams, using the harder tyre, while Red Bull, McLaren, and Maldonado remained in the garage minutes into the session. Alonso (1:14.631) soon led Hulkenberg, Schumacher, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Vergne, and Rosberg three minutes into the session. More times came in quickly, with Massa slotting into third fastest. The sun began to shine on the front straight, aiding in drying the track. Alonso (1:14.288) led Hulkenberg, Perez, Massa, Schumacher, Di Resta, Senna, Rosberg, Kobayashi, Ricciardo, Vergne, and Raikkonen all had times, in that order, with ten minutes remaining in the session.

Red Bull and McLaren were still in the garage at halfway as many of the others returned to the garage. Hamilton blinked first nearly a minute later, with Webber soon following. They were the only drivers on track with six minutes left, only to have Vettel join in. Raikkonen also rejoined, as Button finally began lapping with just under five minutes to go. Quickly thereafter, all drivers were circulating. Hamilton went fastest on his first fast lap, leading Alonso’s lap time by nine tenths. Meanwhile, Maldonado had missed the weighbridge and had not immediately been pushed back, something the stewards would look into after the session.

Vettel soon beat Hamilton’s time but nearly two tenths, with Raikkonen and Webber also slotting in ahead of Alonso. The Spaniard soon dropped to eighth. Vettel (1:13.209) led Hamilton, Button, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Rosberg, Webber, Alonso, Hulkenberg, and Di Resta were the top ten with two minutes to go. That left Senna, Massa, Schumacher, Perez, Ricciardo, Kobayashi, and Vergne in the knockout zone. They all continued to push hard, looking to take advantage to the dry track that was still improving. Vettel pitted with thirty seconds to go. Alonso missed the flag with a lap in eighth. Rosberg pipped him, then pitted, while Massa managed to get to tenth. Schumacher could not improve beyond fourteenth, while Senna stayed twelfth. Vettel led Hamilton, Button, Webber, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Alonso, and Massa as the men moving on to Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Di Resta
12. Senna
13. Perez
14. Schumacher
15. Kobayashi
16. Ricciardo
17. Vernge

Q3:
Rosberg began the ten minutes of Q3 as the track was pretty much entirely dry. He had the track to himself for a minute, until Hamilton and Alonso joined him. Massa soon followed, as did Webber and Button. Only Raikkonen and Hulkenberg remained stationary three minutes into the session. Hamilton (1:12.850) set the first competitive time, the fastest of the weekend, with Alonso six tenths slower. Webber and Massa were faster than Alonso, then Button made it a provisional McLaren 1-2. Hamilton pitted with just under five minutes to go, while Vettel managed only sixth fastest, a second slower than Hamilton, with a bit of an off-track excursion. Only Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, and Vettel were on track with three minutes to go, as the latter also pitted seconds later.

Webber was the first to rejoin, just as Hulkenberg took fourth fastest from Massa. Alonso rejoined just before the two minutes mark, as Massa and Vettel followed. Button pipped the latter out of the pit lane, dirtying the air in front of the championship leader. Vettel pushed past. Webber set the first final time, moving from third fastest to provisional pole, up by nearly three tenths on Hamilton. Raikkonen gave up, sitting sixth, pitting on his lap. Massa remained fourth, as Alonso stayed fifth. Maldonado pipped him for fifth, as Hamilton improved to the top. Vettel could manage only third, as Button jumped up to second fastest, guaranteeing a McLaren front row lock out. In the end, Webber out-qualified Vettel, but more importantly, the German sat two whole rows ahead of Alonso.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix:

 DriverTeamTimeLaps
1. Lewis HamiltonMcLaren1:12.45821
2. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:12.51320
3. Mark WebberRed Bull1:12.58122
4. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:12.76019
5. Felipe MassaFerrari1:12.98725
6. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:13.17424
7. Nico HulkenbergForce India1:13.20623
8. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:13.25325
9. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:13.29822
10. Nico RosbergMercedes1:13.48926
11. Paul Di RestaForce India1:14.12118
12. Bruno SennaWilliams1:14.21921
13. Sergio PerezSauber1:14.23421
14. Michael SchumacherMercedes1:14.33417
15. Kamui KobayashiSauber1:14.38024
16. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:14.57422
17. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:14.61923
18. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:16.9678
19. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1:17.07314
20. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1:17.08614
21. Timo GlockMarussia1:17.50813
22. Charles PicMarussia1:18.10414
23. Narain KarthikeyanHRT1:19.57613
24. Pedro de la RosaHRT1:19.69912
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