Sao Paulo: Sebastian Vettel emerged from plumes of spray on Saturday to deliver a typically accomplished lap in treacherous conditions and claim pole position for the season-closing Brazilian Grand Prix.
Smiling and relaxed, the four-time champion made light of the heavy rain, repeated postponements and obvious dangers to secure his ninth pole of the season, the 45th of his career and extend his Red Bull team’s run of poles to nine.
“That was a big surprise,” he beamed afterwards. “I was so happy after Q3. It was a long time for us to get out, a lot of rain after Q2 so we had to wait.
“If there’s too much water on the track, the risk of aquaplaning is too high. We got out and I was surprised how much of the water had gone.
“I went straight to the intermediates and got a good lap straight away. I tried again and was close. I’m happy with both my laps. It’s great in these conditions to get it all right. Yes, I am very happy.”
Vettel clocked a best lap of one minute and 26.479 seconds to finish seven-tenths of a second clear of nearest rival and fellow German Nico Rosberg of Mercedes.
Rosberg, who secured a well-deserved second, said: “It was a good day. Everything went to plan and the whole team did a good job. We had a perfect strategy in the end on inters. It’s a great place to start, at the front of the grid.”
He was more than a second clear of third-placed Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and his own team-mate. retirement-bound Australian Mark Webber.
Alonso was delighted with his best qualifying result since the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.
The Spaniard said: “Usually we are better in the wet, so we have been waiting for a wet race, but unfortunately it came in the last race of the season.
“It makes a change to be so far up the grid. Obviously it was not possible to beat Seb who is too far ahead.
“I lost seven or eight tenths in Turn Four and I think second could have been possible, but I’m not sad with third. We have an opportunity starting so far up the front.”
Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, was fifth in the second Mercedes ahead of Romain Grosjean of Lotus, Daniel Ricciardo and his Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne.
Hamilton said he needed to ‘work harder’ to adapt to his Mercedes’ wet-weather performance after being outpaced by teammate Rosberg.
He said: “That’s kind of where I thought I would be, considering...
“I did my best out there but I’m struggling. There’s not really much more I can say.”
“When I was at McLaren, I knew the car,” he added. “I was there for a long, long time and it suited me easier than the one I’m driving right now.
“I’ve just got to do some more work.”
Local hero Felipe Massa, who leaves Ferrari after this weekend’s contest, was ninth and Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber 10th on an afternoon of heavy rain, lengthy delays and only one major accident that saw Sergio Perez slide his McLaren into the barriers.
Perez suffered his accident in Q2 and wound up 14th on the grid, one place ahead of his team-mate Jenson Button as McLaren faced up to completing one of their worst-ever seasons without a podium position.
Indeed, if they fail to finish in the top four in Sunday’s race it will be the first time they have failed to do so in a single race since 1966.