Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg took pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix in a frantic last-lap scramble on dry-weather tyres on a damp track.
The German drove superbly to stun the title contenders and throw a wildcard into the championship battle. Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso — the four main championship hopefuls — will line up right behind rookie Hulkenberg. Jenson Button’s hopes dimmed further after he qualified 11th.
Hulkenberg, whose future at Williams is in doubt, stole a march by being the first of the drivers in the top-10 shoot-out to fit dry-weather tyres. Hulkenberg hinted in the news conference after qualifying that he had chosen to set his car up more for the wet than the dry, saying that wet weather on race day would suit him more than dry. But the forecast is for a dry race.
«I am still shaking from the thrill and I just want to enjoy it and get on with the job tomorrow.
«It was a pretty good lap with no mistakes, it was still tricky out there, there were wet parts,particular the last corner. But that lap was spot on.» Hamilton, fourth in his McLaren, was 0.228secs behind Vettel, with Alonso 0.242secs adrift of the Englishman. Hulkenberg’s team-mate Rubens Barrichello was sixth, ahead of Renault’s Robert Kubica, Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher — unusually ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg — Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and the second Renault of Vitaly Petrov.
Vettel is 25 points — one win — behind Alonso with only 50 remaining in the final two races here and in Abu Dhabi next weekend. Button is fifth, 42 points behind. Asked about being ahead of all the title contenders, Hulkenberg said: «The best thing would be to drive off into the distance, but obviously that is not going to happen.» Alonso was calm about being fourth out of the top four championship hopefuls.
Alonso heads into the race as championship leader, 11 points ahead of Webber, with Hamilton a further 10 points adrift. «In qualifying like this you can never make any predictions or expectations,» the Spaniard said. «We were struggling with intermediates and with dry tyres it was a difficult circuit to play.
«Fifth is not pole but we saved a tricky session. The championship is not really in my mind.
«You can get some strange results but we are concentrating on increasing the gap and if we give away points, making sure it is not too many.» Heavy overnight rain had left the track wet in the morning, and it continued to rain intermittently until it abated shortly before the start of practice at 1100 local time (1300 GMT).
Alonso set the pace in the first session, his lap of 1:18.987 just edging out Webber and Vettel, but the Red Bulls were at the front in the second session, Webber again ahead of Vettel.
Kubica was third in Q2, ahead of Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Alonso.
It was raining at the start of first qualifying but it soon abated, and the track dried through the session to the point that the drivers were able to put on slick tyres for the all-important last runs in the third part of qualifying.