Vettel storms to pole in rain-disrupted qualifying

Red Bull Racing driver takes ninth pole position of year as heavy rain affects qualifying at Interlagos.

Sebastian Vettel once again demonstrated his current dominance of Formula One with a superb final qualifying lap that put him on pole more than six tenths of a second ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg at rain-hit Interlagos.

The final Q3 segment of qualifying at the Sao Paulo circuit was delayed for 40 minutes due to the amount of standing water on the track after a heavy rainfall at the end of Q2 but when the final ten-minute shootout eventually began Vettel was quick to lay claim to provisional pole.

Team-Mate Mark Webber, on full wet tyres, was the first to cross the line with a lap of 1:29.215. That time was immediately beaten by Vettel who logged a lap of 1:28.830 on the same tyre type.

Behind them Lotus’ Romain Grosjean was abandoning his run and heading for pit lane to shed his wet tyres for intermediate rubber. Others were of the same mind and the field soon made the switch too.

Grosjean was quickly up to P1, eclipsing Vettel by more than a second. Vettel though was having none of it and within moments the Red Bull Racing driver was across the line in 1:26.479, a stunning lap that put him more than a 1.2 seconds clear of the Lotus driver.

In the end, Rosberg got closest to Vettel’s time, taking P2 with a lap of 1:27.102. Fernando Alonso was third for Ferrari just over four tenths adrift of the Mercedes driver.

Afterwards, Vettel admitted he was surprised by the gap to Rosberg.

“A big surprise,” he said. “I was so happy after the quali, especially Q3, when it took a long time for us to get out. There was a lot of rain after Q2, so it took a long time. I was surprised by how much of the water had gone. I went on intermediates and was able to get a very good lap in straight away. Tried again in the second to beat that. It was very close, so with both my laps I was very happy.”

Rosberg, who had topped the timesheet in the similarly wet first two free practice sessions at Interlagos, also admitted to surprise at the advantage his compatriot had.

“I’m surprised about the gap to Sebastian, that’s very big,” he said. “It definitely would have been difficult, even getting everything perfect, to come close to him. That’s fine. Optimum, we’re second place, and we got that, so it’s OK. It’s a great place to start tomorrow – the front row of the grid.”

Alonso, meanwhile, said stealing second from the Mercedes driver might have been possible had it not been for time lost at Turn Four.

“I have mixed feelings to be honest,” he said. “I’m happy to be so high up on the grid, finally, because we start between seventh and tenths in the last five or six grand prix, which is not ideal. But I’m not totally happy with my lap. I lost a lot of time. I lost something like seven or eighth or tenths in Turn Four, off the circuit in the paint area, losing a lot of time there. I think second could be possible but obviously I’m not sad with third and all the opportunities in front of us in tomorrow’s race starting up at the front.”

Webber was fourth for Red Bull Racing, ahead of the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and sixth-placed Grosjean.

It was a good day for Toro Rosso, with Daniel Ricciardo seventh and team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne eighth. It was almost a disaster for the team in Q1, however, as changing conditions caught them out. With the minutes counting down, Vergne in P17 was in danger of being eliminated. He found a late burst of pace on an improving track at the death however, to scrape through the Q2 in 15th position ahead of Ricciardo in 16th.

The final two top-10 starting places were taken by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and tenth-placed Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber.

The major casualties of the second segment were McLaren’s Jenson Button and Sergio Perez. The Mexican qualified in 14th position, crashing out at the end of the session when he ran wide on the exit of Turn Five and spun into the wall. Button, meanwhile, could do no better than 15th in the session.

2013 Brazilian Grand Prix Qualifying times
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:26.479
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:27.102
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:27.539
4 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:27.572
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:27.677
6 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:27.737
7 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:28.052
8 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:28.081
9 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:28.109
10 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 1:29.582

11 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:27.456
12 Paul di Resta Force India 1:27.798
13 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:27.954
14 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:28.269
15 Jenson Button McLaren 1:28.308
16 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:28.586

17 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:27.367
18 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:27.445
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:27.843
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:28.320
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:28.366
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:28.950