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Hamilton Stays Hot, Wins F1 Pole In Brazil

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 25 2012

Lewis Hamilton, who was the winner of the inaugural USGP in Texas, was the pole winner in Brazil on Saturday. (File photo courtesy of the Circuit of the Americas)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday’s 2012 season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix on-pole, determined to close-out his mercurial McLaren/Mercedes career on a two-race winning streak while also playing spoiler in the World Driving Championship.

Hamilton toured the 2.677-mile Interlagos Circuit in Sao Paulo Saturday in 1-minute, 12.458-seconds during the 10-minute Q3 session to bag his seventh pole of the season. Winner of the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, last weekend, Hamilton will be joined in the front row by teammate Jenson Button (1:12.513-seconds).

Mark Webber of Red Bull Racing/Renault rounded out the podium after lapping in 1:12.581-seconds. Webber will be joined in Row 2 by teammate Sebastian Vettel, who is poised to win a third consecutive World Driving Championship.

Vettel, of Germany, leads Fernando Alonso of Scuderia Ferrari by 13 points heading into Round 20 of the FIA Formula One World Championship. Alonso qualified eighth, but the two-time World Champion from Spain will start seventh after sixth-place qualifier Pastor Maldonado of Williams/Renault was penalized 10 grid-spots by the sanctioning FIA for failing to stop for a weight-check after qualifying. Maldonado drew the 10-spot penalty for his third reprimand of the season.

Hamilton, who is headed to Mercedes AMG next season as the replacement for seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, topped the speed chart in both of Friday’s practice sessions before claiming pole. The 1-2 with Button marked McLaren’s record 62nd front row sweep.

“Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a good weekend so far,” said Hamilton, 27, who signed a contract with McLaren at age 13, made his F1 debut for the team in 2007 and was crowned World Champion in 2008. “Grateful to be able to put the car on the front row and to have the last 1-2 in qualifying with Jenson in the same team. Just a fantastic job by the team _ so grateful for all the opportunities they’ve given me. I hope that we can turn it into something really positive (Sunday).”

Button noted that as solid as his lap was, Hamilton’s was half-a-tenth quicker. “Very happy to be on the front row as the last couple of races have been a bit tricky in qualifying,” the Brit said. “So yeah, as Lewis said, it’s great to both be on the front row for his last grand prix for the team. The team’s in great shape at the moment and it’s a pity things have got to change, but things do change.”

Webber, meanwhile, indicated he will not be concerned with Vettel’s bid to become only the third F1 driver, and youngest in the sport’s 62-year history, to win three consecutive championships. Vettel, 25, can join Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina (1954-56) and Germany’s Schumacher (2000-02) as the only drivers to win back-to-back-to-back F1 titles.

“Well, I think we focus on ourselves, do the cleanest race I can,” said Webber, who won this event last year in 1 hour, 32-minutes, 17.464-seconds. “We know there may be some tricky weather. It’s a long grand prix and I’ll be focused 100 percent on my efforts in my cockpit and get to the finish line as quick as possible.”

The race is scheduled for 71 laps/190.067-miles on a track that is the second-shortest on the schedule to the Streets of Monaco. Saturday’s qualifying started on a circuit made slick by showers but quickly dried-out. A 60-percent chance of rain is in Sunday’s forecast.

“Well, I think the weather is going to be tricky, so it’s definitely going to make it more of a lottery,” Hamilton said. “But I think, as Jenson said, we’ve put ourselves in a really good position. We are just going to do the best job we can from there and work together as a team – the best we have been for quite some time – so we will make sure we will do absolutely everything to get the top result.”

Interestingly, Schumacher qualified for the final race of his second F1 stint in 14th, opting to run the session in his silver Mercedes with a full wet-weather setup. Hamilton suggested that strategy presented too much of a gamble.

“Generally nowadays you don’t even really have much of a wet setup,” Hamilton said. “It’s not like in karting when you soften everything off. The setup in the dry and the wet is very, very similar – apart from ride heights maybe. We’ve just set the car to attack the qualifying and we don’t know what the hell…what’s going to happen. We just have to wait-and-see, make sure we get our (Pirelli) tire pressures right, make sure we get the tire temperatures right and the brake temperatures and try to steer clear of any big puddles.”

While Schumacher earned the reputation of F1’s “Reinmeister” during his championship-winning heyday, Hamilton said he was OK with the prospect of racing in the wet.

“I don’t mind. I love driving in the rain,” Hamilton said. “Here in Brazil it’s quite a special race for the rain…(it’s special) even in the dry. But I’m massively happy to be… every year I’ve generally qualified fourth since 2007 – I think one year I was 18th – so I’m really happy not to be on that fourth spot. Who’s there? I don’t know, I guess Sebastian will be there, so he’ll experience what I’ve experienced in the past.”

Button, whose front-row start will be his best in 12 races at Interlagos, indicated he intends to make teammate/countryman Hamilton work for every position once the green lights flash.

“We’re there to win the grand prix as I think every driver it, unless it’s teammates fighting for the World Championship,” said Hamilton, who is sixth in the point standings – two slots behind Hamilton. “So, we both want to win the race, that’s the aim for both of us. So we’ll see what we can do.

“The car seems to be working very well in the dry, our long-run pace is pretty good, but there’s a massive chance of rain and that just throws it up in the air for us. It’s quite exciting for two people (Vettel and Alonso), their stress levels are going to be through the roof. But for us starting near the front it’s hopefully going to be a very exciting race. We just have to hope that the rain level is OK for us to actually race. That’s always the worry here in Interlagos.”

Webber said tire selection and work in the pits could very well determine the outcome, given the likelihood of rain and ever-changing conditions.

“We know Interlagos can be very hit-and-miss,” the Australian said, “the little showers can just generate from anywhere and surprise you pretty quickly, the guys on the pit wall. We could have a little bit of both. We could even run all three sets of tires, in terms of wets, inters and slicks at some stage. So, obviously I think it will be pretty humid tomorrow as well. I think the ambient is going to be quite cool but the humidity will help dry the circuit out in some cases.

“We need to keep our eyes open and be ready for everything because that’s what can happen around here. So looking forward to whatever it is. It’s going to be a good final grand prix of the year, looking forward to getting a really good result.”

SPEED’s final live coverage of F1 in the USA is set for at 10:30 a.m. (EST).

FIA Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying results with car number in parentheses, driver, country, chassis/engine, time and differential:

1. (4) Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 1 minute, 12.458-seconds

2. (3) Jenson Button, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 1:12.513, plus-0.055-seconds

3. (2) Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1:12.581, plus-0.123-seconds

4. (1) Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1:12.760, plus-0.302-seconds

5. (6) Felipe Massa, Brazil, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, 1:12.987, plus-0.529-seconds

6. (18) Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Williams/Renault, 1:13.174, plus-0.716-seconds*

7. (12) Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Force India/Mercedes, 1:13.206, plus-0.748-seconds

8. (5) Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, 1:13.253, plus-0.795-seconds

9. (9) Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus/Renault, 1:13.298, plus-0.840-seconds

10. (8) Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG, 1:13.489, plus-1.031-seconds

11. (11) Paul di Resta, Great Britain, Force India/Mercedes, 1:14.121, plus-0.912-seconds

12. (19) Bruno Senna, Brazil, Williams/Renault, 1:14.219, plus-1.010-seconds

13. (15) Sergio Perez, Mexico, Sauber/Ferrari, 1:14.234, plus-1.025-seconds

14. (7) Michael Schumacher, Germany, Mercedes AMG, 1:14.334, plus-1.125-seconds

15. (14) Kamui Kobayashi, Japan, Sauber/Ferrari, 1:14.380, plus-1.171-seconds

16. (16) Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:14.574, plus-1.365-seconds

17. (17) Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:14.619, plus-1.410-seconds

18. (10) Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus/Renault, 1:16.967, plus-1.892-seconds

19. (21) Vitaly Petrov, Russia, Caterham/Renault, 1:17.073, plus-1.998-seconds

20. (20) Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, Caterham/Renault, 1:17.086, plus-2.011-seconds

21. (24) Timo Glock, Germany, Marussia/Cosworth, 1:17.508, plus-2.433-seconds

22. (25) Charles Pic, France, Marussia/Cosworth, 1:18.104, plus-3.029-seconds

23. (23) Narain Karthikeyan, India, HRT/Cosworth, 1:19.576, plus-4.501-seconds

24. (22) Pedro de la Rosa, Spain, HRT/Cosworth, 1:19.699, plus-4.624-seconds

Note _*Pastor Maldonado qualified sixth but will start 16th after receiving a 10 grid-spot penalty for missing an FIA weight check.

Driver standings (after 19 of 20 races) _ 1. Sebastian Vettel, 273 points; 2. Fernando Alonso, 260; 3. Kimi Raikkonen, 206; 4. Lewis Hamilton, 190; 5. Mark Webber, 167; 6. Jenson Button, 163; 7. Felipe Massa, 107; 8. Romain Grosjean, 96; 9. Nico Rosberg, 93; 10. Sergio Perez, 66; 11. Kamui Kobayashi, 58; 12. Nico Hulkenberg, 53; 13. Paul di Resta, 46; 14. Pastor Maldonado, 45; 15. Michael Schumacher, 43; 16. Bruno Senna, 31; 17. Jean-Eric Vergne, 12; 18. Daniel Ricciardo, 10.

Constructors standings _ 1. Red Bull, 440 points;* 2. Scuderia Ferrari, 367; 3. McLaren, 353; 4. Lotus, 302; 5. Mercedes, 136; 6. Sauber, 124; 7. Force India, 99; 8. Williams, 76; 9. Toro Rosso, 22.

Note _ *Clinched championship

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 25 2012
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