Saturday 23 November 2013

Interlagos Qualifying: Come rain or shine

You begin to wonder if anything can keep Sebastian Vettel from the top of the order right now. We've scratched plenty from the list of potential possibilities of this in recent weeks; on today's evidence of Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying at Interlagos we can scratch rain too. Such precipitation came down during the session, as it has pretty ceaselessly since the cars first started to circulate the São Paulo track yesterday. But the outcome remained the same. Sebastian Vettel claimed pole and imperiously.

In spite of the rain, Sebastian Vettel
claimed another pole position
Photo: Octane Photography
Vettel as we know has entered one of those virtuous circles that we get in sport sometimes, that he's operating with supreme confidence, reinforcing joie de vivre and borderline contempt for any obstacles in his path, and today it all had its latest reward. Attacking the perfidious track in a way that no one else did; looking planted while all others twitched and felt their way tentatively. And once again his lap times were on another level: his best seven tenths of a second under the quickest of anyone else; more than a second under that of his team mate.

Perhaps only half a metre of snow would be sufficient to stop him...

As is often the way on such days the track conditions changed throughout and all pilots proceeded with eyes on stalks, not just on the track but on the timing screens. The track would dry, then a shower would arrive; tyres would get scrubbed in, then lose a little of their edge. Qualifying therefore become largely an exercise in being on the track at the right time as well as with sufficent freshness in your tyres. Conspicuously casualties were kept to a minimum though, albeit McLaren topped off a frustrating year with both cars missing out of the top ten, Sergio Perez qualifying P14 and Jenson Button P15. Perez underlined the disappointment by smashing up his McLaren on the inside of turn five after the Q2 clock had ticked down.

Nico Rosberg will line up alongside Vettel
Photo: Octane Photography
A cloudburst after the second session delayed the start of the final part by around 40 minutes, and as seems race control's way these days by the time it deigned to release the cars the track was just about good for intermediates - as pertinent evidence as you'll find that it was being rather too risk averse. The track dried throughout the ten minutes of Q3, and the subsequent order to a large extent became a case of who could get their lap in last. Well, it became that way over second place downwards, as Seb rapidly (in more than one sense) delivered a body blow to all of his rivals with a mark that was 1.1 seconds quicker than the previous best at that time, which even on the drying track was unlikely to be beaten. And it wasn't.

The next quickest in the end was Nico Rosberg, who has looked quick in the damp conditions all weekend, and he was followed by Fernando Alonso who'll start P3 which - astonishingly - equals his highest starting slot of the season was well as is his best grid slot since Bahrain for round four. Alonso nevertheless had cause for 'mixed feelings', reckoning P2 would have been 'not difficult' but for getting a swapper on and running wide at turn four on his final run. Tomorrow for the first time in a while though we'll see what Alonso can do starting from near the front. Perhaps even more amazingly this result makes 2013 the first year in which Alonso hadn't started on the front row in F1 since he had only a Minardi at his disposal.

Mark Webber - as mentioned far shy of his team mate - will start fourth followed by Lewis Hamilton who by his own lament isn't matching his team mate in the wet conditions right now. Romain Grosjean is next up in P6 - his team noting that his early switch to inters didn't serve him well.

Jean-Eric Vergne made it two Toro Rossos in the top ten
Photo: Octane Photography
The Toro Rossos - who always seem to go well in such scenarios - fill P7 and P8 with Daniel Ricciardo ahead, followed by Felipe Massa in P9 and only then Nico Hulkenberg, often a man to watch when on such a treacherous surface, particularly around Interlagos. One can only imagine that such challenges don't suit the Sauber C32.

Not that any of this bothered Sebastian Vettel - who kept keeping on; doing what he's been doing everywhere since the summer, and even with more rain expected tomorrow looks hard to stop from swiping a couple more records from this year with another, concluding, win. As also is his way Seb's joy at setting his mark seemed spontaneous - however routine it appears to the rest of us - and he declared that he was 'surprised by the margin' to the next guy. It's tempting to think that by now he's the only one so taken aback by it all.

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