Nico Hülkenberg has taken a shock pole position in a dramatic and thrilling qualifying session for the Brazilian Grand Prix. It was the German rookie’s maiden F1 pole position, the Williams team’s first since the 2005 German Grand Prix, and the first for Cosworth since the 1999 French Grand Prix.
The knockout qualifying session occurred on a progressively drying track, and the 23-year-old German made the best of the changing conditions to post a series of fastest laps on dry-weather tyres in the closing stages of the top-ten shoot-out.
Hülkenberg qualified ahead of his compatriot Sebastian Vettel, whose Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber starts from third on the grid after a rather scruffy session where he took several trips off the slippery track surface. Crucially for the championship, the other major contenders in Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso start from fourth and fifth respectively.
Such was the improving nature of the circuit that both Red Bulls were mired at the wrong end of the top-ten until their final lap. Webber’s last timed lap moved him to second overall, but team-mate Vettel immediately bumped him down to third with his effort.
Having briefly led the running with his best lap, Hamilton was also bumped down the order, and starts from the inside of the second row.
Having also enjoyed a few seconds at the top of the timesheets, Alonso was shuffled down to fifth overall, and he shares the third row with Rubens Barrichello.
The fourth row is occupied by Robert Kubica – who gambled on a too-early switch to dry tyres, and promptly went off the circuit – and Michael Schumacher, who might perhaps have been hoping for a better result in conditions that typically suit the Mercedes GP car.
Felipe Massa only just scraped through into the top-ten shoot-out, and he starts alongside the Renault of Vitaly Petrov.
The Brazilian’s last-ditch effort to make the Q3 cut was enough to bump the off-the-pace Jenson Button into eleventh spot on the grid, effectively ending what slim hopes the Briton had of keeping his championship dream alive.
Button starts alongside Kamui Kobayashi, with Nico Rosberg another surprise knock-out from Q3 (the first time this has happened since the Belgian GP), while the Toro Rosso pairing of Jaime Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi assume positions 14 and 15 on the timing screens, although the Swiss driver takes a 5-place grid penalty for his antics at Korea last fortnight.
This will move a frustrated Nick Heidfeld and Vitantonio Liuzzi up a place, while Liuzzi copped the ire of Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil when he wandered into the German’s path as he attempted to rejoin the circuit after a spin.
This left Sutil to join the three rookie teams’ drivers in the Q1 knockout, and matters won’t improve for him when he also takes a five-place grid penalty for his rough-house driving at the Korean event.
Despite having been the quickest of the bottom-six runners all weekend, Jarno Trulli was pipped by Timo Glock for top honours in qualifying by just one-tenth of a second, although the Italian still lines up quicker than the sister Lotus and Virgin of Heikki Kovalainen and Lucas di Grassi, respectively.
Christian Klien out-qualified HRT team-mate Bruno Senna again, with the Brazilian suffering a spin at the end of the session when he tried to improve his lap time.
But at the front of the grid, all eyes will be on the championship scrap and how it will be affected by Hülkenberg, who could very much prove to be the spoiler of the weekend. The German – well-known for making his car rather wide this season – will have nothing to lose in defending his track position, and the championship quartet will need to tread carefully when dealing with a very ambitious and hungry man who is determined to prove himself this weekend.
2010 Brazilian GP Qualifying Times:
[Original images via GP Update]