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Qualifying analysis - unsettled conditions ruin Button's plans 17 Oct 2009

Jenson Button (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix BGP 001.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009 Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams and Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) Toyota TF109.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009 Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Force India F1 VJM02 crashed in Q2.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F60.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009

The thunderstorms that struck Interlagos on Saturday morning and then again just before qualifying in the afternoon wrought havoc on the best laid plans. The track was so slippery in Q1 and Q2 that there were incidents and then delays as race officials waited for conditions to improve.

That meant that the session which started at 1400 hours finally finished at 1641, making it the longest in Formula One history. It was also one of the most traumatic for the drivers, especially as the improvement in Q2 made it very tricky to decide the exact point at which to switch from Bridgestone’s full wet tyres to intermediates.

For the record, these were the top 10 fuel weights: Brawn GP’s Rubens Barrichello 650.5 kg, Red Bull’s Mark Webber 656, Force India’s Adrian Sutil 656.5, Toyota’s Jarno Trulli 658.5, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen 651.5, Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi 659, Williams’ Nico Rosberg 657, BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica 656, Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima 664, Renault’s Fernando Alonso 652.

Brawn GP
Rubens Barrichello, 1m 19.576s, P1
Jenson Button, 1m 22.504s, P14

Barrichello got things perfectly right, Button never did. The Brazilian just scraped through Q2, but did an excellent job in Q3 to snatch pole from Webber for the second time at his home race, which he really needs to win to keep his title aspirations on course. Button stayed out too long on his full wet tyres in Q2, wore them out, and had no chance to make the switch to intermediates that might have seen him through to Q3. On a weekend in which he could clinch the world title, it was not a propitious moment.

Red Bull
Mark Webber, 1m 19.668s, P3
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 25.009s, P16, will start P15

Webber was one of many to provide graphic illustration of how tricky the conditions were, especially in Q1, but was very happy that his Red Bull became more and more competitive as the conditions improved. He was on pole for a while in Q3, but admitted that a minor mistake cost him the final shot at it. Vettel was fit to be tied when he failed to get through Q1. He’d set the first fast time, but lost out after Fisichella’s spin and did not get his laps in during the best - or 'least worst' - part of the session.

Force India
Adrian Sutil, 1m 19.912s, P3
Vitantonio Liuzzi, no time, P15, will start P20

Sutil was probably the only driver who was really praying for rain, and even he admitted that he got too much. He reported that by Q2 the full wets were really only good for a lap, and said that he just got into his really quick Q3 lap by the skin of is teeth before the chequered flag. But he made it, and third was an excellent result. Liuzzi, who’d had engine and brake problems the previous day, said he was very surprised when his VJM02 simply aquaplaned out of his control at the start of Q2 when he was following Raikkonen and just checking out the conditions. He was, effectively, the guy who had to crash before somebody decided to stop the session on safety grounds. It transpired that his gearbox needs replacing after the accident, so he drops to the back of the grid.

Toyota
Jarno Trulli, 1m 20.097s, P4
Kamui Kobayashi, 21.960s, P11

Trulli said his TF109 was really good in Q2 and Q3 and that he was really able to push as he was in the fight for pole right until the closing moments. Kobayashi has really impressed all weekend, and only a minor but prolonged slide in the closing moments of Q2 prevented him making it into Q3. Eleventh place on his Formula One debut was a great performance.

Ferrari
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 20.168s, P5
Giancarlo Fisichella, 1m 40.703s, P20, will start P19

Raikkonen said his F60 felt better on the full wets than it did subsequently on the intermediates, and that had it stayed really wet he would have been higher up the grid, but in the least developed car in the field fifth was a pretty good result. Fisichella half spun exiting Turn One on his second lap of Q1, and inadvertently caught the palm of his right hand on the engine kill switch, so that was that.

Toro Rosso
Sebastien Buemi, 1m 20.250s, P6
Jaime Alguersuari, 1m 22.231s, P12

Buemi has been in great form all weekend, as he had been in Japan, and sixth on the grid was his best-ever qualifying performance. Small wonder he was very pleased after a session in which mistakes would have been easy. Alguersuari was also satisfied, given the foregoing and what happened to him in Japan.

Williams
Nico Rosberg, 1m 20.326s, P7
Kazuki Nakajima, 1m 20.674s, P9

When it was very wet it seemed that nothing could touch the Williams FW31s, and even when it began to dry in Q3 Rosberg was a candidate for the pole. Unfortunately, however, the car just wasn’t quick enough on intermediates as he had trouble getting enough heat into the fronts, and he and Nakajima dropped down to seventh and ninth respectively.

BMW Sauber
Robert Kubica, 1m 20.631s, P8
Nick Heidfeld, 1m 25.515s, P19, will start P18

Kubica was at one stage a contender for the pole, as he made the most of the poor conditions, and even he admitted that he was surprised to be so competitive even if his F1.09 was understeering too much and was set up for the dry. Heidfeld looked strong early in Q1, but though his crew raised his car’s ride height they didn’t do it enough and he was aquaplaning everywhere.

Renault
Fernando Alonso, 1m 21.422s, P10
Romain Grosjean, 1m 22.477s, P13

Alonso admitted that Renault simply didn’t have the pace to qualify any higher than tenth, but did a solid, unobtrusive job in getting through to Q3 in the first place. Grosjean made it through to Q2, which was good after his heavy shunt in morning practice, but did not have the time to fit the intermediates which might have got him through to Q3.

McLaren
Heikki Kovalainen, 1m 25.052s, P17, will start P16
Lewis Hamilton, 1m 25.192s, P18, will start P17

What a disastrous session Q1 was for McLaren, as neither Kovalainen nor Hamilton made it through. Anticipating better weather for the race McLaren set their cars more for the dry and the drivers paid the price with minimal grip. Hamilton, who spun on his final effort on new tyres, said he couldn’t even go flat out on the straights. If it’s sunny on Sunday, however, it could be a different story.

David Tremayne