Interlagos Quali Recap: Vettel wins pole in rainy Brazil, Rosberg, Alonso top three

Sebastian Vettel (1:26.479) won pole for the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix, after driving rain delayed Q3 by multiple ten minute delays. He was entirely unbeatable, setting a pole time six tenths faster than second fastest Nico Rosberg. Though all drivers began Q3 on full wet tyres, all dropped back into the garage for intermediates as the track conditions improved. Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber qualified to start Sunday’s race on the second row, with Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean behind. Though Grosjean looked especially quick due to an early change to inters, he could only qualify fourth. Both Toro Rosso drivers made it to Q3, sitting seventh and eighth fastest, with Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg rounding out the top ten qualifiers. Despite the changing conditions, only Sergio Perez crashed in the three qualifying sessions at Interlagos.

Q1 saw mostly early times set the pace as the intermittent rain increased partway through the session. Though it looked as though Toro Rosso made the wrong call on holding Jean-Eric Vergne momentarily, the track improved late in the session, and he moved on to Q2. Kovalainen had also looked set to be dropped, but he moved up to fifth fastest with a solid lap from his Lotus. He would fare less well in Q2, managing only to qualify eleventh fastest as the rain increased. Perez ended that session with a heavy crash into the wall, pushing his McLaren onto the kerb while hustling in an attempt to move on to Q3. Neither he nor teammate Jenson Button would do so, qualifying their McLarens fourteenth and fifteenth. Between the driving rain and debris from Perez’s crash, race control delayed the start of Q3 by a total of 40 minutes.

Rosberg (1:24.781 in FP1 and 1:27.306 in FP2) looked solidly quicker than the rest in the rain-dampened Friday running at Interlagos, as Mercedes teammate Hamilton followed him up in the morning and sat fifth quickest at the end of the running Friday afternoon. Vettel, Button, and Alonso joined them in the first ninety minute practice, while Vettel, Webber, and Kovalainen separated the teammates in the afternoon. Despite the oftentimes heavy rain, there were no major incidents.

Pirelli brought a sample of the 2014 slicks to Brazil for Friday testing, but no one was able to provide feedback in the treacherous conditions. Vettel did manage to go out for a short time on standard 2013 hard tyres in a lull between the raindrops in the morning but set no fast times on them. Webber (1:27.891) led Grosjean, Kovalainen, Bottas, and Hulkenberg in the final, still wet, practice on Saturday morning. Though the rain was at time hard enough to stop running altogether, Webber and the other drivers were on intermediates for their final fast runs. Rosberg, Button, and the Ferraris set no times.

Though the rain had stopped between FP3 and Q1, it started up again twenty minutes before Q1 began. The sky continued to slowly spit droplets down, with all drivers in their cars and lining up at the end of pit lane to get the twenty minutes of Q1 started. Hamilton was first in line, with Pic just behind him and others jamming themselves into the line to head out onto the track. Within the first two minutes, all cars had joined the track on intermediate tyres.

The track had a dry line forming in places, with the conditions still damp in others. Hamilton’s first time (1:25.342) was enough to keep the top position through everyone else’s first times, with the rain falling a bit more heavily as the seconds ticked away. Alonso took a moment to pass Webber on the start of both their hot laps, with the drivers crossing the line side-by-side. ettel, Hulkenberg, di Resta, and Button completed the top five behind Hamilton. Rosberg’s first time was outside the 107%, but he knocked Hulkenberg out of third fastest on his second timed lap.

McLaren inquired of Perez if it was yet time to switch to the slicks, but Perez replied that it was too early. It might also have been too late, with the rain intensifying slightly. Six minutes into the session, Webber, Pic, Gutierrez, van der Garde, Bianchi, and Chilton were in the knockout zone. Though it appeared that times would not improve with rain falling more heavily in the paddock and on pit lane, Hamilton improved his time in the first sector. Meanwhile, Webber hauled himself up to ninth, barely slower than Alonso in eighth. That improvement dropped Vergne to the knockout zone as drivers returned to the garages in the slowing conditions. Vergne exasperatedly asked Toro Rosso why they waited to send him out, learning that he would have another go soon.

At halfway, Hamilton still led Vettel, with Rosberg, Hulkenberg, di Resta, Button, Grosjean, Alonso, Webber, and Perez the top ten. Vergne, Pic, Gutierrez, van der Garde, Bianchi, and Chilton were then in the knockout zone, with Maldonado on the bubble. Only Gutierrez remained on the track with eight minutes to go, while Bianchi joined him with fresh tyres. Both were nowhere near safe in the relegation zone. Chilton soon joined them. While lapping on his fading tyres Gutierrez had a near moment, sliding across the kerbing as he pushed to get out of the knockout zone. Vergne rejoined the fray with just under six minutes remaining.

Ricciardo, in fifteenth, went out with five to go, presumably covering the possibility of an improving track. Maldonado did so as well, as did Kovalainen. Seven drivers lapped with four minutes remaining, none of them then placed better than fourteenth. Neither Caterham driver rejoined. Times did not seem set to improve, though Kovalainen’s first sector was as competitive as drivers placed further up the order. As times did slightly improve, Sutil also left the snug comforts of his garage.

Kovalainen leapt to fifth fastest with a fastest of all third sector. As the final seconds ticked away from Q1, Vergne moved up to fifteenth and safety. Maldonado could not better his time, nor could Gutierrez, and both would remain knocked out in Q3. In the end, Hamilton’s earlier time (1:25.342) held as fastest. Vettel, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Kovalainen, di Resta, Button, Grosjean, Alonso, and Webber rounded out the top ten, covered by just over 1.3s.

Knocked Out in Q1:
17. Pastor Maldonado
18. Esteban Gutierrez
19. Charles Pic
20. Giedo van der Garde
21. Jules Bianchi
22. Max Chilton

The conditions remained generally similar as those in Q1 as Rosberg headed the queue to begin the fifteen minutes of Q2. Everyone left the garage just over a minute into the session. Rosberg and Hamilton traded fastest sectors through their first laps, with Rosberg leading his teammate. After each driver posted his first time, Vettel (1:26.515) led Rosberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Vergne, Bottas, and Kovalainen. Webber could manage only fifteenth. Sutil, di Resta, Button, Perez, and Hulkenberg joined the Australian in the knockout zone with ten minutes remaining. Soon, Kovalainen moved up to sixth fastest, with Webber jumping to third fastest on his second fast lap. Though Button posted his own best lap of the session, it was enough only for twelfth. Meanwhile, Hamilton moved up to third, less than a tenth slower than his teammate.

Further down the order, Bottas, Button, di Resta, Sutil, Hulkenberg, and Perez were set to be knocked out with eight minutes remaining. Kovalainen had a moment through T6, but kept his Lotus on the track, out of the grass, and continued on. He pitted with the wave of drivers returning for fresh tyres before their final runs.

Pit lane was as busy as a race as teams hustled to shoe the cars with fresh inters. Vettel slightly improved his time in provisional pole, though Massa had a fastest of all first sector on his new tyres. The Brazilian moved from ninth to sixth fastest, six tenths slower than Vettel’s time. Further down the order, Hulkenberg moved from sixteenth to ninth, dropping Ricciardo into the knockout zone. Grosjean went from sixth to fastest of all, just after Alonso jumped up to second fastest. That dropped Alonso to third fastest, with Ricciardo, di Resta, Bottas, Perez, Button, and Sutil in the knockout zone with two minutes remaining.

Ricciardo next moved up to eighth, dropping Kovalainen. McLaren looked impossibly slow, with both drivers still in the relegation zone as the rain seemed to have increased in intensity. The top four pitted in the final seconds, as did Massa in seventh and Ricciardo. All chose the safety of their fast times to the slowing conditions on the track. Button could not improve, nor could Kovalainen, just as Perez crashed at T5. He barely put his right rear tyre onto the kerb, which spun his McLaren into the grass and wall, ripping off the front wing and damaging the rear suspension. Perez was unhurt and still outqualified his teammate. In the end, Grosjean (1:26.161) led Vettel, Alonso, Rosberg, Hamilton, Webber, Massa, Ricciardo, Vergne, and Hulkenberg off to fight for pole in Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Heikki Kovalainen
12. Paul di Resta
13. Valtteri Bottas
14. Sergio Perez
15. Jenson Button
16. Adrian Sutil

The light rain from Q2 increased dramatically in the break before Q3. Subsequently, race direction delayed the start of Q3 by ten minutes. Ten minutes later, they announced another ten minute delay, then did so again. Overall, Q3 was delayed by 40 minutes due to the standing water on the track. Webber and Vettel led the queue, sitting at the red light at the end of pit lane for a full minute before the light went green for the ten minutes of Q3. Ricciardo sat behind them, with the other drivers waiting in their garages. All drivers began their out lap within the first minute, and all were shod with full wet tyres.

The Red Bull teammates nearly matched their first sectors, but Grosjean set the fastest first sector of all the drivers. Vettel (1:28.830) beat Webber on their first laps, with Webber noting on the radio that he had very little rear grip. Grosjean, who set quick sectors, did not complete his lap but instead pitted for intermediates. Rosberg, Hamilton, Webber, Alsono, Vergne, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, and Massa completed the top nine behind Vettel after their first runs, all popping back in for inters around the halfway point of the session. Most teams stacked their drivers, leaving the second man waiting for the different compound.

Grosjean’s final sector on his second out lap was the fastest of all the final sectors to that point in Q3. He would improve Vettel’s provisional time by more than a second, with teams telling drivers that rain might threaten. All other drivers rejoined the track before the final two minutes began. Webber was the next to go fastest, holding provisional pole for a few seconds before Vettel (1:26.479) took it, beating his teammate by more than a second.

No one else looked set to make up the time to Vettel, though Rosberg did split the Bulls, still a second off Vettel. Hamilton slotted into fourth, while Alonso pushed his Ferrari to second fastest, and managed to start his final lap before the checkered flag. Teammate Massa started his final lap seventh fastest as the checkered flag waved.

Grosjean remained sixth on his final lap, with Rosberg jumping back up to second fastest. Vettel looked to improve his provisional pole, while teammate Webber remained fourth with his final lap, barely slower than Alonso who had a moment on his own fast lap. Massa, the only man left on the track, could do no better than ninth. In the end, Vettel was unbeatable, setting a pole time just over six tenths faster than Rosberg with an impossibly quick middle sector. Third fastest would be Alonso’s best qualifying since Abu Dhabi.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix:

1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:26.47923
2. Nico RosbergMercedes1:27.10222
3. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:27.53921
4. Mark WebberRed Bull1:27.57223
5. Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:27.67723
6. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:27.73722
7. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:28.05224
8. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:28.08125
9. Felipe MassaFerrari1:28.10920
10. Nico HulkenbergSauber1:29.58221
11. Heikki KovalainenLotus1:27.45621
12. Paul di RestaForce India1:27.79816
13. Valtteri BottasWilliams1:27.95415
14. Sergio PerezMcLaren1:28.26915
15. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:28.30819
16. Adrian SutilForce India1:28.58612
17. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:27.36712
18. Esteban GutierrezSauber1:27.44514
19. Charles PicCaterham1:27.8436
20. Giedo van der GardeCaterham1:28.3206
21. Jules BianchiMarussia1:28.36611
22. Max ChiltonMarussia1:28.95011
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