SAO PAULO (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton enhanced his hopes of taking the title fight down to the wire on Saturday (Nov 12) when he outpaced Mercedes team-mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg to grab pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The defending three-time world champion clocked a best lap in one minute and 10.736 seconds to beat the 31-year-old German by 0.102 seconds as the pair duelled in the final seconds of a tense qualifying session.
It was the 31-year-old Briton’s 11th pole of the season and the 60th of his career, as well as a record 19th of the season for Mercedes.
Rosberg grabbed pole and won the race in 2014 and 2015 and will secure his first F1 title if he can win Sunday’s race at the Interlagos circuit.
Hamilton, fighting to retain his crown, is also aiming for a hat-trick of consecutive wins having won the United States and Mexican races last month to keep the title race just about alive.
“I couldn’t have asked for more than this and I am happy to be up at the front,” said Hamilton. “I felt confident and relaxed. Nico was faster and faster, but I felt I had him covered.”
Rosberg said: “It’s very close and Lewis just had a little bit more, very marginal again. But it’s ok.”
Behind the Mercedes men, Kimi Raikkonen produced an unexpected late lap to take third for Ferrari narrowly ahead of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen of Red Bull, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean was seventh for Haas ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and his Force India team-mate Sergio Perez, with two-time champion Fernando Alonso taking 10th for McLaren.
Heavy clouds had threatened rain as the Q1 session began with Hamilton heading the queue out of the pit lane ahead of Rosberg.
The Mercedes pair were soon setting the pace, Hamilton going top with a lap in 1:11.511, giving him an advantage of three-tenths on Rosberg’s first flying run behind him.
They stayed there while the rest slithered and scrapped for times, Jenson Button failing to make the cut for McLaren in a lowly 17th place.
Hamilton was out rapidly again for Q2 and clocked 1:11.238 to set the pace with Rosberg 0.145 slower on his first flying lap.
Valtteri Bottas gave Williams a boost by going third temporarily before Felipe Massa, in his last home race, radioed in to say he felt that his Williams had a puncture.
“The front tyres aren’t working,” he said.
The session ended in drama as the home hero failed to make the cut along with his Williams team-mate Bottas, qualifying in 13th and 11th respectively.
For retirement-bound Massa, in his 13th and final Brazil race, 13th will be the worst grid position of his career for his home event.
As a few raindrops fell on Sao Paulo, Hamilton was out first again in Q3 for the shootout and clocked a fast opener in 1:10.860, beating Rosberg by 0.162 seconds with a superior time notably in the technical middle sector of the lap.