Their teammates may be flying higher in the championship, but it's Brawn's Rubens Barrichello and Red Bull's Mark Webber who will share the front row for tomorrow's Brazilian F1 Grand Prix after the longest F1 qualifying session ever.
“Rubinho! Rubinho! Rubinho!” The crowd chanted the name of Sao Paulo’s current favorite son as Brawn’s Rubens Barrichello, pole position man for the Brazilian Grand Prix, bowed before them. The light was failing and it was an hour and a half after the scheduled finish to qualifying, but no one seemed in a hurry to go home.
With Sebastian Vettel falling at the first hurdle and Jenson Button at the second, Barrichello’s championship chances haven’t looked quite so rosy for many months. But Interlagos has never been kind to Rubens, and alongside him on the front row Mark Webber looks hungry.
Vettel was the first out at 2:00pm with the debate over set up still humming in the pit lane. Qualifying was wet, but the race is likely to be dry. Every team was faced with a compromise: set up for weather now or weather later – but you can’t stick and then twist under the current regulations. Full wets were certainly in order as the session began, with massive peals of thunder echoing off the grandstands and standing water pooling around the circuit.
Romain Grosjean had his latest in a long series of spins, as did the considerably more experienced Giancarlo Fisichella, beaching his Ferrari at the bottom of the Senna Esses and bringing out the first – but certainly not the last – red flag of the session. With 15 minutes and 53 seconds remaining, only seven drivers had set times.
Stewards decided to delay the restart until the weather improved. When the restart finally came, Lewis Hamilton lined up at the end of the pitlane, eager to get an unobstructed lap. Following in his wake, often quite literally, was Nico Rosberg. Just how bad the early conditions had been became apparent when Hamilton knocked 12 seconds off Vettel’s earlier effort to lift the pole position bar into a different time zone. It wasn’t a quick time though, and was soon eclipsed by Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima, to put Williams first and second.
'In 17 years of F1 qualifying, I’ve never before had to jump out of the car to pee twice!'
– Rubens Barrichello
When everyone had completed a flying lap, and with five minutes remaining on the clock, the men in trouble were Heikki Kovalainen, Vettel, Hamilton and Nick Heidfeld. Fisichella hadn’t restarted. None of them managed to improve and all went out – though given their pace in dry practice, and their obvious strategic choice of setup, the race may still come to them.
There was another delay before the second session began. Eventually it got going at 2:57pm and stopped again almost immediately as Tonio Liuzzi dragged his Force India down the pitwall then flew backwards across Turn One into the wall on the other side. When the spray settled he only had one wheel left on the wagon and the red flag was back.
The delay got longer and longer. There were inspections at 3:30, 3:45 and 4:00. Eventually the restart took place at 4:10. Rosberg led the charge and set the quickest time of the day; Kimi Räikkönen went quicker and Webber quicker still. At the other end of the scale Jaime Alguersuari, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Grosjean were struggling.
Without much danger of elimination, Rosberg and Kubica changed to the Inter tire. Initially they weren’t quick, but with no rain for a half-hour and a dry line forming, Rosberg was soon back at the top. Alonso managed to pull himself clear of danger, at the expense of debutant Kamui Kobayashi who will nevertheless start his first grand prix a creditable 11th.
Sébastien Buemi set the early pace in Q3 for Toro Rosso, comfortably beating the early times of Webber and Räikkönen, but what followed was the sort of ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ P1 ping-pong that often happens with a track improving with every passing minute. Barrichello went top, then Trulli, then Rosberg, the Trulli again, then Barrichello again, then Webber… others probably held the position as well, but the timing screens couldn’t keep up. In the last few seconds Webber looked to have secured it, but Barrichello swung through one more time and to a massive roar, took the prize.
It was a bizarre session, summed up neatly by the pole man in the aftermath. “In 17 years of F1 qualifying, I’ve never before had to jump out of the car to pee twice!” Overall his mood was more serious, more so than you would expect from the happiest man in F1 on pole for his home race – but there’s a bigger prize at stake for the Brazilian veteran over this and, potentially, the next race. For his part Webber seemed very pleased with second. “Congratulations to Rubens for taking pole at home – but we’ll give him a good race tomorrow.”