Williams In Play As Rosberg Takes Pole Crown
It is official – Nico Rosberg’s name will be the first to be etched onto the newly established pole position trophy, as the German edged out Lewis Hamilton by a mere 0.033. However, with Rosberg having only converted two of his previous nine poles this season, Hamilton’s hopes of a 33rd career victory are as alive as ever. Meanwhile, Williams could be well placed to spring a surprise tomorrow, as both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were remarkably strong today, locking out the second row on a circuit where they should theoretically struggle.
The fans in Brazil certainly are a passionate group of supporters and Felipe Massa is evidently winning the popularity contests this weekend. The home-town hero met a standing ovation upon greeting the fans following his qualifying performance which saw him clinch P3, yet looked as though his second pole of the season was on the cards during Q3.
Williams suddenly became a threat to the Mercedes duo during Q2, where Bottas and Massa displaced Hamilton. It came as somewhat of a surprise that the team were so fast on a circuit where the second sector demands a significant quantity of mechanical grip – something that the FW36 has been lacking this season, (a trait evident in wet weather conditions.) While they dropped time in the heart of the lap, both cars were hauling around 0.3 seconds back on the steep incline uphill, which forms the vast majority of the final sector.
Ultimately, the Mercedes had just enough in reserve to keep the Williams pairing at bay in the final stages. Hamilton’s hopes of pole were lost at the ever challenging Turn 10, where he suffered a lock-up followed by a snap of oversteer which sent him, albeit marginally, wide. In typical style, it was a mistake which seemed to be a result of Hamilton exuberance on the brakes. It is a natural part of his technique and while it often works, it occasionally bites back. Today was a case of the latter.
Damon Hill struck the proverbial nail on the head in Sky Sports F1‘s post-qualifying analysis, suggesting that Rosberg builds up from 9 to 10 during a weekend, while Hamilton “starts at 12 and works down.” So far in Brazil, the latter has been the winning technique, but Lewis has the confidence that comes from beating his teammate in similar circumstances just six days ago and will take this into tomorrow’s race.
Missing A Mercedes-Benz
Behind the Mercedes powered top five, it was remarkably close. Sebastian Vettel qualified in P6 and outperforming teammate Daniel Ricciardo. While the Aussie may be in P9, the tight nature of the chasing pack means that the margin between the Red Bull duo was only a mere 0.15 seconds – not as thin as the cigarette paper between the title contenders, but still a gap which promises to provide an exciting battle tomorrow. Vettel could be on for a good Sunday, on the basis that his pace today followed a challenging FP3 session. However, a good Sunday may only amount to P5, considering the race pace demonstrated by the front four, (assuming that the race is dry.)
Meanwhile, Ferrari will start behind both McLaren drivers tomorrow, as their attention has seemingly switched from focussing on returning to P3 in the constructors, to defending a vulnerable P4 from a McLaren outfit enjoying somewhat of a renaissance. The Woking team have once again used their vast resources to good effect and developed well over the course of the campaign. Despite the MP4-29 being a sensitive machine, sizable progress has undoubtedly been made, to the extent that McLaren are now able to challenge Red Bull and Ferrari – often beating them.
After discovering that he has been replaced at Sauber for 2015, Esteban Gutierrez bagged a well-deserved P11 in qualifying today – his best result of the season. While it could be suggested that this breakthrough result has come too late in the season, it is still an excellent advert as Gutierrez begins a campaign to claim another drive. Early speculation suggests that a seat as a reserve driver at a top outfit is a possibility, yet the next few weeks will be critical. An equally impressive performance tomorrow will certainly help his cause.
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:10.446
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:10.560
3 Felipe Massa Williams 1:10.875
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:11.054
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:11.188
6 Jenson Button McLaren 1:11.210
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:11.316
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:11.399
9 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:11.499
10 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:11.834
11 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:11.967
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:12.069
13 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:12.184
14 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:12.235
15 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:12.235
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:12.286
17 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:12.324
18 Sergio Perez Force India 1:12.942
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3 Felipe Massa Williams
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams
5 Jenson Button McLaren
6 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
7 Kevin Magnussen McLaren
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
11 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India
13 Adrian Sutil Sauber
14 Romain Grosjean Lotus
15 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
16 Pastor Maldonado Lotus
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso*
18 Sergio Perez Force India**
*Daniil Kvyat carries a grid penalty across from an internal combustion engine change in Austin
**Sergio Perez received a seven place grid drop, after his contact with Adrian Sutil in Austin