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Qualifying - Barrichello rises to the challenge in Brazil 17 Oct 2009

Qualifying top three in parc ferme (L to R): Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1, second; Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Brawn Grand Prix, pole position; Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing, second.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009 Kazuki Nakajima (JPN) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF109.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009 Alan van der Merwe (RSA) FIA Medical Car Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Ferrari F60 spins in Q1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 17 October 2009

Thunderstorms had been predicted for Interlagos on Saturday, and the forecast proved devastatingly accurate as heavy rain turned qualifying into the longest session ever held in Formula One history. It began at 1400 and ended two hours and 41 minutes later!

Along the way it left luminaries such as Brawn GP’s Jenson Button down in 14th, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel in 16th and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton in 18th, as Rubens Barrichello did his title hopes a power of good by grabbing pole position for his home race.

For a while it seemed there might not even be a qualifying session, and that it might have to be postponed until Sunday morning.

The weather had relented slightly at the start of Q1, and Vettel initially set the fastest time and Ferrari’s Giancarlo Fisichella went second. But the luckless Italian half spun in Turn One and blocked the track. Out came the red flag. When things were restarted there was a moment when the track was marginally better, and that was when the quick times were set, but Vettel was not able to take advantage of that moment, and his eventual 1m 25.009s made him the first man who failed to make the cut. Starting in 16th place, his championship chances seemed all but over barring a miracle.

Neither of the McLarens made it, either. Heikki Kovalainen was 17th on 1m 25.052s, while Lewis Hamilton spun away his chances on fresh Bridgestone full wets and will line up 18th on 1m 25.192s. BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld never got it together either, and was 19th on 1m 25.515s, with Fisichella last on 1m 40.703s.

The moment Q2 began there was another red flag after Vitantonio Liuzzi, following close behind Raikkonen, aquaplaned on a huge puddle on the pit straight, hit the pit wall, then clobbered the outer wall in Turn One backwards. Exit one Force India with seriously deranged suspension.

Then we went into a hurry up and wait situation. Out went Alan van der Merwe in the medical car to do a track inspection at 1530. Too wet. Out he went again at 1545. Too wet. At 1600. Same answer. No, wait. It was light outside. The horizon was visible again. A restart at 1610!

It proved to be the undoing of Button, who had earlier in the week ventured the opinion that qualifying matters less here than normal. He stayed out too long on his full wet tyres and wore them out, and admitted later that he should have switched to intermediates.

Toyota’s Kamui Kobayashi continued his impressive progress on his debut, only a long slide stopping him getting through to the top 10, but a 1m 21.960s lap, and 11th place for his first Grand Prix, was impressive. Behind him Jaime Alguersuari lapped his Toro Rosso in 1m 22.231s for 12th ahead of Romain Grosjean on 1m 22.477s for Renault and Button on 1m 22.504s.

That left Q3, which was the only session to run to its intended 10-minute schedule. This proved a gripping one, with the fastest time changing hands between Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi, Barrichello, BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica, Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, Williams’ Nico Rosberg, Barrichello again, Red Bull’s Mark Webber, Webber again, then finally Barrichello. And further down the timesheet, the order was changing lap by lap too.

In the end Barrichello’s 1m 19.576s beat Webber’s 1m 19.668s, with Adrian Sutil sprinting up to third for Force India right at the end on 1m 19.912s.

Trulli’s 1m 20.097s left him fourth, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari on 1m 20.168s, Buemi on 1m 20.250, Rosberg on 1m 20.326s, Kubica on 1m 20.631s and Kazuki Nakajima in the other Williams on 1m 20.674s. Fernando Alonso was 10th overall for Renault, with 1m 21.422s.

So that was a remarkable, prolonged qualifying session. The forecast is for better weather on Sunday, with the possibility of showers rather than thunderstorms. Vettel, for one, will be praying for more rain to increase the likelihood of a race of attrition. Button, 14th with his team mate on pole, will just be praying.