McLaren swept the front row for the Formula 1 title decider in Brazil, with Lewis Hamilton denying Jenson Button pole position as championship rivals Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso ended up only fourth and eighth on the grid. Neither Vettel or Alonso looked like they had the pace to fight for pole as McLaren took charge of Q3.
Hamilton and Button were fastest after the first runs, with Alonso in fifth at that stage while a mistake at the Descida do Lago left Vettel only sixth. Both improved on their next runs, but Alonso's gains were only marginal. He held fourth, only to be demoted to eighth as others improved. Vettel was right down in 10th at that stage, but was at least able to salvage fourth.
Meanwhile his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber briefly deposed the McLarens at the head of the order, before Hamilton and Button's final laps thrust them back to the top, 0.055 seconds apart. Behind the McLarens and Red Bulls, Felipe Massa outqualified Alonso for the second time in a week as he claimed fifth.
Pastor Maldonado's Williams and Nico Hulkenberg's Force India also found themselves ahead of the championship contender as they took sixth and seventh. The final top-10 spots went to Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg.
Michael Schumacher's final F1 qualifying session did not bring much to celebrate. He was only 14th, half a second down on Mercedes team-mate Rosberg. Paul di Resta again struggled to match Force India team-mate Hulkenberg's qualifying form too, ending up missing the Q3 cut in 11th. Also out in Q2 were Williams's Bruno Senna, both Saubers and both Toro Rossos.
Romain Grosjean was knocked out in Q1 in dramatic fashion. The Lotus made contact with Pedro de la Rosa's HRT on the start/finish straight when he tried to squeeze past the slower car as they passed the pit entry.
Grosjean brushed the barriers and was left with a mangled front wing, and although he did make it back out and do a lap that brought him back inside the cut-off, he was pushed down to 18th by Daniel Ricciardo moments later. Vitaly Petrov narrowly beat Caterham team-mate Heikki Kovalainen to 19th, the duo lapping half a second clear of Timo Glock's Marussia.
Despite weather dominating conversation this weekend, the only rain of the afternoon came half an hour before the session. That meant early Q1 laps were on intermediates, but the track was fully dry before the opening segment was over.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m12.458s
2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m12.513s + 0.055
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m12.581s + 0.123
4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m12.760s + 0.302
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m12.987s + 0.529
6. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m13.174s + 0.716
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m13.206s + 0.748
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m13.253s + 0.795
9. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m13.298s + 0.840
10. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m13.489s + 1.031
Q2 cut-off time: 1m14.048s Gap **
11. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m14.121s + 0.912
12. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m14.219s + 1.010
13. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m14.234s + 1.025
14. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m14.334s + 1.125
15. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m14.380s + 1.171
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m14.574s + 1.365
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m14.619s + 1.410
Q1 cut-off time: 1m16.744s Gap *
18. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m16.967s + 1.892
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m17.073s + 1.998
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m17.086s + 2.011
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m17.508s + 2.433
22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m18.104s + 3.029
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m19.576s + 4.501
24. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m19.699s + 4.624
107% time: 1m20.330s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2