Lewis Hamilton has equalled Mika Hakkinen's record of 26 pole positions in his final Grand Prix for McLaren

Lewis Hamilton and McLaren have ended the 2012 Formula 1 season as they began it: with a front-row lockout after a dominant qualifying performance.

Surprisingly, both Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso were outqualified by their team-mates, and they will start fourth and seventh on the grid, respectively, as they bring their championship battle to a close on Sunday.

At the Englishman’s last outing for the Woking squad, he led his compatriot Jenson Button to the top of the qualifying standings and ensured that he would remain as the only driver to have appeared in the final phase of qualifying at every Grand Prix in 2012.

While many had feared that rain would play a deciding factor in this session, the Interlagos Circuit was only hit by a handful of sprinkles in the opening phase of qualifying, before the track dried out completely for the remainder of the session.

The dry conditions played right into McLaren’s hands, and having won top honours at all three of the preceding practice sessions, it was little surprise to see one of the silver cars on top spot at the end.

Hamilton saved his best flying lap until the very end, and in the process he managed to equal the qualifying record of 26 pole positions set by fellow McLaren stalwart, Mika Häkkinen.

Behind the leading duo came he Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, with the latter costing himself a potentially better grid slot with a mistake on his penultimate flying lap.

Felipe Massa qualified fifth-fastest to outqualify team-mate Alonso for the second time in as many race weekends. The Ferrari driver will doubt be tasked with attacking Vettel early on in tomorrow’s race, while Alonso will have it all to do from the fourth row of the grid.

The Spaniard had qualified eighth-fastest, but a ten-place grid penalty for Pastor Maldonado promoted him one spot further up the grid.

Alonso ran with significantly more downforce on his Ferrari, no doubt gambling on Sunday’s race being rain-affected. Alonso will need to finish on the podium on Sunday to have any realistic hope of claiming the 2012 crown for himself.

Maldonado’s penalty came after an excellent qualifying performance that netted him sixth place on the grid for Williams. But the Venezuelan missed the weighbridge call-up during the second phase of qualifying – an offence for which the customary penalty is a warning from the FIA Stewards.

However, Maldonado had incurred two previous warnings over the course of 2012 – one for blocking Heikki Kovalainen during qualifying at the Chinese Grand Prix, and the second for an at-fault collision with Sergio Perez at the British Grand Prix – meaning that the Stewards had no choice but to issue him with the grid penalty, his fourth of the 2012 season.

The second phase of qualifying saw no major surprises in terms of who failed to make the top-ten shootout for pole, but it was a sad final end to Michael Schumacher’s time in qualifying after the German could only manage the 14th-fastest time on a wet-weather set-up.

Grosjean hits de la RosaThe first phase of qualifying turned up the biggest surprise, with Romain Grosjean suffering his first Q1 elimination of the season.

That being said, it was the manner in which this occurred that was less surprising: the Frenchman once again tangled with another driver.

This time the hapless victim happened to be Pedro de la Rosa, who failed to see Grosjean attempting a rather foolish passing move on the Spaniard as the pair headed towards the start/finish straight neat the pit entry. Grosjean suffered a broke front wing, while de la Rosa had a puncture and broken DRS on his HRT.

2012 Brazilian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Qualifying Session Times:

Driver Team Time Gap
1. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:12.458  
2. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:12.513 + 0.055
3. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:12.581 + 0.123
4. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:12.760 + 0.302
5. Felipe Massa BRA Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:12.987 + 0529
6. Pastor Maldonado* VEN Williams Renault FW34 1:13.174 + 0.716
7. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:13.206 + 0.748
8. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:13.253 + 0.795
9. Kimi Räikkönen FIN Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:13.298 + 0.840
10. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:13.489 + 1.031
Q3 Cut-Off – 1:14.048   Time Gap
11. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:14.121 + 0.073
12. Bruno Senna BRA Williams Renault FW34 1:14.219 + 0.171
13. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C31 1:14.234 + 0.186
14. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:14.334 + 0.286
15. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C31 1:14.380 + 0.332
16. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:14.574 + 0.526
17. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:14.619 + 0.571
Q2 Cut-Off – 1:16.744   Time Gap
18. Romain Grosjean FRA Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:16.967 + 0.223
19. Vitaly Petrov RUS Caterham Renault CT01 1:17.073 + 0.329
20. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Caterham Renault CT01 1:17.086 + 0.342
21. Timo Glock DEU Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:17.508 + 0.764
22. Charles Pic FRA Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:18.104 + 1.360
23. Pedro de la Rosa ESP HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:19.576 + 2.832
24. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:19.699 + 2.955

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.