Rubens Barrichello will start his home grand prix from pole position after proving best able to cope with a rain-hit and much delayed qualifying day at Interlagos.
His rivals in the title hunt, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, are mired towards the back of the grid after the Red Bull driver failed to advance from the first qualifying session and the championship leader was slowest in the second.
For Barrichello it was his first pole position since 2004, and it keeps alive his hopes of challenging Button for the drivers’ championship. By contrast, Vettel can only stay in contention by driving through to second from his 15th-place starting position.
Button will be hoping he has better luck from 14th on the grid than David Coulthard did at the same race last year – the Scot was knocked out on the first corner in his final F1 race.
A combination of the wet weather and the accidents caused by it stretched the qualifying sessions to almost three hours from start to finish, with drivers openly criticising the conditions as unsafe.
Morning practice had been cut short after rain made the track undriveable, Romain Grosjean proving the point most spectacularly by hitting a bump in the wet grass beside the track and going airborne.
When qualifying began only seven cars set times before Giancarlo Fisichella lost control of his Ferrari and half-span it, ending up stranded on the racing line when his anti-stall failed and causing the session to be red-flagged.
Vettel was fastest at that point, but when the session re-started after a 12-minute break to allow the weather to improve he could not match the other cars for pace. Only the McLarens and Nick Heidfeld struggled as badly, the four joining Fisichella in failing to advance.
If some of the eliminated cars were set up in expectation of a dry race, at the front Williams had gone the other way with Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima who were comfortably fastest in the wet.
With the rain still falling there was a 20 minute delay before the second session started, but before anyone could complete a lap Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi had lost control on the pit straight and destroyed his car at the start of the Senna S.
It was almost 90 minutes before race officials allowed the cars back out on track, and when they did the crucial question drivers faced was whether or not to switch from full wet tyres to intermediates in order to take advantage of the drying track.
The Williams cars did so, and continued to dominate. Button failed to, and was eliminated ahead only of the unfortunate Liuzzi. Kamui Kobayashi, Jaime Alguersuari and Romain Grosjean also failed to make the cut, while Barrichello scraped though in 10th.
The final session saw lap times tumble, with only Fernando Alonso and the Williams drivers – suffering on a drier track – failing to challenge. Sebastien Buemi and Jarno Trulli both went fastest during the session but in the end it was a duel for pole between Mark Webber and Barrichello, which the Brazilian won at the end of the session.
Adrian Sutil was third for Force India, with Kimi Raikkonen taking a stealthy fourth from Buemi at the end. Trulli was sixth, Rosberg seventh, Robert Kubica eighth, Nakajima ninth and Alonso 10th.
Barrichello said: “I am so happy, it was a great drive and it may be that we have less fuel than them, but it’s better to start at the front and have my own race pace than be towards the middle of the pack.
“It is great to see that all the people stayed to see it because they went through a heavy period of rain. I was expecting them to leave but happy they stayed to see it.”
He revealed that it wasn’t only the crowd who suffered through the long sessions: “After so many years, after 17 in F1, I never got out of the car for a pee twice in the middle of qualifying.”
Button and team boss Ross Brawn were not in joking moods. Talking about Button’s tyre choice, Brawn said: “We thought the wets would hold up and they didn’t. It was a poor call in the end. We thought it was about not making a mistake, but perhaps we were too conservative.”
And his driver said: “I couldn’t do anything with the car and on lap three the rears started going away so that was it. We made a mistake not putting the inters on at the end of the session.”
Lewis Hamilton was another unhappy driver: “Today was one of the worst qualifying sessions I can remember. Our car didn’t feel good at all. For both Heikki and me, we couldn’t even go flat-out along the straights – that’s how little grip we had.
“We were running with a dry set-up, so it’s a lot stiffer than you’d probably want in the wet – and our shortfall in downforce, compared to some of the other cars, really shows in these conditions. I’m hoping the sun comes out for tomorrow so we’ll have a fighting chance of getting into the points.”
Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying positions
Time is the fastest set in the latest session in which a driver participated. Fuel weights will be added as soon as available.
- Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP: 1:19.576 (Q3)
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:19.668 (Q3)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:19.912 (Q3)
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 1:20.097 (Q3)
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:20.168 (Q3)
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:20.250 (Q3)
- Nico Rosberg: Williams: 1:20.326 (Q3)
- Robert Kubica: BMW Sauber: 1:20.631 (Q3)
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:20.674 (Q3)
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:21.422 (Q3)
- Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota: 1:21.960 (Q2)
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:22.231 (Q2)
- Romain Grosjean, Renault: 1:22.477 (Q2)
- Jenson Button, Brawn GP: 1:22.504 (Q2)
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:24.645 (Q2)*
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:25.009 (Q1)
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 1:25.052 (Q1)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:25.192 (Q1)
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:25.515 (Q1)
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari: 1:40.703 (Q1)
Will take grid penalty.