Williams rookie Hulkenberg beats Red Bull to shock Interlagos pole
Williams rookie Nico Hulkeberg took an astonishing maiden pole position in Brazil this afternoon, having taken full advantage of changeable conditions at Interlagos to lap over a second quicker than the rest of the field in the crucial Q3 session. The German, currently without a seat for 2011, set the two quickest laps in Q3, improving to a 1m14.470s right at the end of the session with pole position already secured.
Rain had fallen from late last night in Sao Paulo and continued until mid morning. Despite the rain easing, conditions remained sodden as the qualifying hour got underway at 2pm, although the track was in good enough condition to allow for the use of intermediate tyres throughout Q1 and Q2. With a dry line beginning to emerge at the tail end of Q2 however, it was inevitable that slicks would be in use by the end of Q3, with Hulkenberg using the extra grip to perfection to give Williams their 126th pole position and their first in over five years.
The slippery conditions in Q1 were too consistent to provide the new teams with a chance of trouble for a place in Q2, with their six drivers all dropping out as expected. For the first time in a number of races however, Virgin outqualified main rivals Lotus, with Timo Glock lapping in 1m22.130s, over a tenth clear of Lotus's Jarno Trulli (1m22.250s). Heikki Kovalainen (1m22.378s) and Lucas Di Grassi (1m22.810s) were further adrift in 21st and 22nd, while Bruno Senna was outqualified by his team-mate at his home race, with Christian Klien clocking a 1m23.083s to Senna's 1m23.796s.
Force India's Adrian Sutil was the major scalp to drop out of the running in Q1, having struggled to get his VJM03 up to speed in practice. The German set a time of 1m20.830s to miss out on the top ten by over two tenths. There was considerably more scramble throughout the field come Q2, as battle commenced to secure a place in top ten. Although Felipe Massa just about progressed in tenth place, with less than a tenth to spare, reigning champion and current title challenger Jenson Button had no such luck, dropping out in 11th place.
There were no other major surprises as Mark Webber topped the times at the front, with Kamui Kobayashi (1m19.385s), Nico Rosberg (1m19.486s), Jaime Alguersuari (1m19.581s), Sebastien Buemi (1m19.847s), Nick Heidfeld (1m19.899s) and Tonio Liuzzi (1m20.357s) all failing to progress any further.
Come Q3, the track remained slightly too wet for teams to gamble on slicks, with all drivers completing their first runs on Bridgestone's intermediate. At the half-way point however the entire field scrambled for the pitlane for a set of super-soft tyres, and it was Hulkenberg who timed his run to perfection to ensure he was the last driver to cross the line to begin his final flying lap.
As it turned out however, a mistake by Alonso on his final flying lap meant Hulkenberg already had pole position secured by the time he came around to completing his final lap, before pushing clear by almost 1.1 seconds on 1m14.470s, comfortably bettering Vettel's 1m15.519s and Webber's 1m15.637s. Alonso's mistake cost him dear as he will start just fifth (1m15.989s), behind championship rival Lewis Hamilton (1m15.747s).
Hulkenberg's team-mate Rubens Barrichello was unable to find the kind of grip in the sister Williams, but will still start an admirable sixth at his home Grand Prix tomorrow (1m16.203s). Robert Kubica starts seventh (1m16.552s) despite being one of the first to change to dry weather tyres, with Michael Schumacher (1m16.925s), Felipe Massa (1m17.101s) and Vitaly Petrov (1m17.656s) rounding out the top ten.