Weather was set to be the primary story in today’s qualifying today in Brazil, as all three sessions were run in the wet. But the real story was Nico Hulkenberg’s capturing pole position for Sunday’s race. For the most part, there were no surprises today, with the usual suspects coming to the fore with predicable pace.
The ringer in the bunch was Hulkenberg, who looked strong in all three sessions. His position at Williams is currently uncertain, according to paddock gossip, largely due to that team’s financial situation. It’s been rumored that Venezuelan GP2 driver Pastor Maldonado, who might bring $15 million in sponsorship funding, might replace the German rookie.
It would be a shame to see Hulkenberg’s progress in F1 derailed due to financial considerations, but such are the current economic realities of the sport. Hulkenberg got off to a slow start in his maiden season, generally being shown the way by his vastly more experienced team mate, Rubens Barrichello, but during the latter half of the season he’s been holding his own. And today, he proved that in changing conditions on a wet track he has the ability to nail it.
Today’s achievement wasn’t a fluke. Hulkenberg said after qualifying that his quick laps weren’t down to a wet set-up. And according to his race engineer, Tom McCllough, “What [Nico] was able to do was get his tyres in the right temperature window better than anybody else and that was partly Nico’s driving, toughness and determination, and partly the fact that he was able to do a hard out-lap and three consecutive hard laps.”
Nor did he squeak ahead of his rivals by a hair’s breadth, either. He was more than a second quicker than Red Bull’s pole favorite Sebatian Vettel, who took second spot on the grid. Red Bull’s Mark Webber rounded out the qualifying podium in third. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso were fourth and fifth, respectively, which is no particular surprise. They were separated by only a couple of tenths.
Less than half a second covered second through fifth, so the opening laps could see some competitive dicing, especially if Hulkenberg manages to hold onto his lead. He’d likely be slower than the cars behind him, which could cause a bottleneck, keeping the cars bunched together, and within lunging distance of one another.
There were two surprises today: neither Jenson Button nor Nico Rosberg made it past Q3. They claimed that they were unable to come to grips with the handling of their cars in the changing conditions. While Button doesn’t seem to have the wet weather touch of his team mate Lewis Hamilton, Rosberg seems to have performed well under these conditions in the past.
Rosberg’s Mercedes team mate, Michael Schumacher, the old rainmeister himself, made several appearances at the top of the time sheets today, and almost looked as though he might score a slot in the second or third row. But as the track dried during Q3, his relative pace slacked off, and he was able to manage eighth.