Qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix has been a complete wash-out as rain storms have saturated the Interlagos track in Sao Paulo. The circuit suffered a huge storm earlier in the day and the rain continued to fall for most of the afternoon. Claps of thunder and bolts of lightning were felt around the city and circuit, and after several delays, Rubens Barrichello finally took pole position on home soil in front of his adoring fans.
The conditions improved a little shortly before Q1 was due to begin and the green light was given for the cars to go out and set times. However, while the Williams duo were showing everybody how to drive in the wet, Giancarlo Fisichella brought out the red flag after just four minutes. The Italian lost the rear of his Ferrari while off-throttle and stopped broad-side on the racing line. Fisichella’s anti-stall device apparently did not kick in and the F60 was stranded with others having dodge him as they rounded the corner.
At the same time, drivers were speaking to engineers via their radios explaining that the conditions have worsened and they are aquaplaning on the straights. Race control decided to stop the session with 15m53s left on the clock and everybody cruised back to the pitlane. As the Ferrari was recovered Race Control sent the Medical Car out several times to assess the track conditions, and after a short while the drivers were sent out again.
The Interlagos circuit had obviously improved by the time the second start occurred as lap times tumbled from around the 1m40s region down to the 1m25s region. However, while Q1 was able to be completed it was clear that conditions had once again worsened towards the end. Lewis Hamilton ran off the track and aborted his final run and Sebastian Vettel struggled throughout with a car setup for the dry.
Both McLarens, also on a dry setup, failed to get out of Q1 and Nick Heidfeld also struggled and failed to get through. Both Williams ran superbly with a wet setup and while they may have compromised their Sunday pace, Nico Rosberg went fastest and was tailed by his team mate for much of the session until Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica finally pipped Kazuki Nakajima which opened the floodgates for others to push through.
Q2 started after a delay but even before any driver was able to get a lap time in, Vitantonio Liuzzi had a sizable off, dropping the Force India has he released the throttle into the first corner, running down the pitwall before spinning around the backing the car heavily into the barrier on the other side. The accident was quite large but Liuzzi was fine and extricated himself from the car unaided. However, conditions were clearly not acceptable and the red flag was shown once again. The session was left with 12m24s on the clock.
Qualifying then went through a phase of waiting for track inspections which occurred just about every fifteen minutes. The level of standing water on the track was too severe and during the broadcast, the weather seemed to worsen which only made the call to continue even harder.
However, after what seemed like an eternity, the rain stopped and the session was able to restart. As the cars streamed out on to the track, Interlagos looked much better and before Q2 was over, Nico Rosberg switched to intermediate tyres which prompted the others to do the same. Although Rosberg struggled initially, by the time the German started his final set of laps, the tyre was keyed in and Williams went fastest in the middle 15 minute session.
The shock of Q2 was seeing Jenson Button fail to get through and although many had felt that the Briton was lucky after Sebastian Vettel left qualifying early, the luck quickly dried up and after simply not being fast enough and failing to change to the intermediate tyre, Button will start tomorrow’s race just a couple of positions ahead of his rival.
Q3 started as scheduled – five minutes after the completion of Q2 – and all drivers went out on intermediate tyres. The track was improving with each passing lap and it seemed that the final driver to complete a time would have the best opportunity. However, Rubens Barrichello was simply on fire and managed to control his tyres and time pefectly. A stonking final run from the Brazilian laid down the gauntlet and only Jarno Trulli, Adrian Sutil and Mark Webber really had the pace to challenge. Unfortunately for both, Barrichello was just too fast for them and the grid was completed.
Adrian Sutil once again proved he is very handy in wet and changable conditions and the German driver lines up in P3, behind Webber and ahead of Trulli. Kimi Raikkonen, who looked good in Q2, could only muster a P5 lap and Sebastien Buemi gave Scuderia Toro Rosso cause to celebrate with a fine P6.
Williams appeared to struggle though in the final run, but fuel weights are currently unknown and therefore it may not be true pace we saw from the blue cars. Nico Rosberg managed to get into P7 and team mate Kazuki Nakajima hauled the sister car into P9. However, if the Grove-based squad have gone heavy for the race, it would perhaps be an unwise decision based on the fact that they are both on a high-downforce wet setup and the race could be ran in dry conditions. We await the fuel weights to be published though.
And so Rubens Barrichello has claimed his first pole position since his days spent at Ferrari many years ago. Furthermore, the Brazilian has kept his title chances alive by out-qualifying his team mate by considerable margin, and a victory at home in front of his fans and family would edge Barrichello to within 4 points of Jenson Button if the Briton fails to score tomorrow.
The 2009 championship, it would appear, is far from over…