Nico Rosberg has seen Lewis Hamilton clinch the title but he continues to prevent his Mercedes team-mate from earning all the plaudits. Rosberg’s pole position for Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix is his fifth in a row – Hamilton’s last pole was won in Italy in the first week in September, many party moons ago.
Yet Rosberg still finds it difficult to silence his doubters. His run of qualifying successes started in Japan at the end of the September, by which time Hamilton, realistically, was already champion.
When Rosberg won pole at the race in Mexico two weeks ago Hamilton had confirmed his third title in Austin seven days earlier. Some are suggesting that Rosberg is flourishing because the pressure is off, but this is still a commendable run by the German against the fastest driver in Formula One.
Hamilton, who had been seeking his 50th pole, had dominated most of the weekend in Interlagos, winning two of the three practice sessions and topping Q1 and Q2. In Q3, however, Rosberg put together an excellent opening lap and beat the first run by Hamilton, who had a lock-up at turn 10, by 0.088sec. Rosberg managed to improve on his time and the Hamilton was ultimately vanquished by 0.078.
Still it was not too shabby an offering from the Briton, who had come to Brazil with a fever and after a car crash near his home in Monaco. Besides, it is race day that matters more to him. Hamilton has not won here in eight attempts and would dearly love to do so as an act of homage to his idol, Ayrton Senna, who won the Brazilian Grand Prix on two occasions.
Last year, Rosberg won pole and the race in São Paulo but Hamilton will be encouraged that in the last six years the winner has come from second on the grid on four occasions; this was Mercedes’ 14th front row lock-out of the year.
Hamilton said: “That’s motor racing. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. It felt good. Q1 and Q2 were good laps. In Q3 I lost a bit of time with a lock-up on my first lap. I was trying to claw it back after that. I got a good balance with the car. I just wasn’t able to find that small bit of edge.
“The best chance [to overtake] is at the start or in the pit stops. Otherwise, it’s difficult to pass.” Come the race it should once again be an interesting first corner.
Rosberg said: “Pole is the best place to be. It worked well. I was playing catch up a little bit, but then in the final session I really got going and got some good laps in. It is always nice to end on a high rather than on a low.”
The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, said: “It was an immense lap from Nico, he is on fire. It is important for him to finish second in the championship and maybe there is some of the pressure gone for Lewis, which might not be a good thing. It was a very intelligent session from Nico – the way that he saved his tyres in Q2.”
Behind the Silver Arrows came Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) and then Valtteri Bottas (Williams) and Nico Hülkenberg (Force India). At the start of qualifying Fernando Alonso came to a standstill with the driver complaining about having no power. To complete yet another difficult day for McLaren, Jenson Button failed to make it into Q2. He was quicker than only the two cars from Manor. It was the eighth time this season that both McLarens had failed to go beyond Q1.
Felipe Nasr was handed a three-place grid penalty for impeding Felipe Massa. Stewards ruled the Brazilian, who had been due to start in 10th place for Sauber, had held up the Williams driver in the first phase of qualifying. He drops to 13th while Massa will line up in eighth place.
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