Lewis Hamilton will not be sweeping majestically to the world championship from pole at the Brazilian Grand Prix tomorrow – but second place on the grid leaves him well positioned when the dogfight begins.
He said: “A fantastic last run for me which could have seen me possibly on pole. I am quite confident and relaxed for tomorrow, and I know what I have to do to win the championship. My focus is not on winning the race but the title.
“Overall I am happy with today’s qualifying. The car is working well, and I feel really comfortable. Obviously it was a very close and tense session, but the team did a good job in making sure that we both got that final fuel burning lap.”
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa qualified fastest in his home race, and it would be foolishly brave of the FIA to anger the Brazilian fans by taking pole away from him as part of an investigation into a yellow flag incident during practice.
Massa is thought to be fuelled light in an attempt by the Scuderia to control the start of the race and boost Kimi Raikkonen’s shaky hopes of the title.
The Finn qualified third, and Ferrari promptly looked into a protest against Hamilton – the Brit emerged from the pits during his rival’s hot lap and Raikkonen appeared to misjudge a corner while wondering if Hamilton would obstruct him.
There was no formal protest, however, as race director Charlie Whiting ruled there was no case for Hamilton to answer. Raikkonen did not agree, but McLaren boss Ron Dennis said the Finn had posted his fastest sector time during the lap.
Hamilton said he’d got out of the way as soon as he was sure what line Raikkonen taking, but apologised if he’d inadvertently blocked him. Later he clashed with a French journalist who accused him of thinking he could do what he liked so long as he apologised afterwards.
Anne Giuntini of L’Equipe said: “You never showed him clearly that you would give him the track free.”
“What do you want me to do,” enquired Hamilton in reply. “Put the indicator on?”
Hamilton’s McLaren team-mate – and closest championship rival – Fernando Alonso could only qualify fourth and was glum afterwards: “Obviously I would have liked to be on the front row, but it was not to be.
“We made some changes to the car for qualifying but unfortunately they didn’t work as well as we thought they would and as a result I was not totally confident with the car.
“However as we have seen in China a lot of things can take place during a long race, so we will have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.”
Team boss Ron Dennis said: “Both Fernando and Lewis did a great job in qualifying. We obviously cut it fine to ensure that both drivers got an additional fuel burning lap, but it all worked as planned. Fernando and Lewis had the same advantage, and its now really in their hands.”
And Mercedes Motorsport’s Norbert Haug concluded: “A good basis to start this championship deciding race from. Lewis starts from the first row for the 12th time this season and Fernando is just 30 thousandths of a second behind Kimi on the second row.
“It will be a tough challenge, and the entire team is working hard to achieve the last and decisive step in the World Championship.”