German rookie Nico Hulkenberg shocked Formula One's title contenders by grabbing pole position for Williams by a huge margin at the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo Saturday.
AP - Nico Hulkenberg of Williams surprisingly took pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix, beating the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber on Saturday.
Lewis Hamilton of McLaren was fourth and championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari fifth.
Hulkenberg stunned the field with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 14.470 seconds at the 4.3-kilometer (2.6-mile) Interlagos track, more than a second ahead of the rest of the field. Vettel clocked 1:15.519 and Webber 1:15.637.
It was the first pole for Hulkenberg, who took advantage of a damp track in the session that set the grid for a race that could decide the Formula One championship.
“This first pole position is emotional,” he said. “I’m missing words. I’m still shaking.”
Williams said it was the team’s first pole in 100 races, since the European GP in 2005.
Five drivers are still in contention with two races to go, but only Alonso can clinch the championship in Brazil. Webber, Hamilton, Vettel and Jenson Button are trying to extend the title race into the season-finale on Nov. 14 in Abu Dhabi.
Alonso has 231 points, 11 more than Webber and 21 more than Hamilton.
Vettel is 25 points back and Button is 42 behind. The win is worth 25 points.
“We should be strong in the race, but we know that it’s hard to pass so we hope to start well and take advantage of our race strategy,” Alonso said.
It rained overnight and all morning in Sao Paulo and the final practice session took place under very wet conditions. It stopped raining before qualifying, however, and drivers were able to run on intermediate tires on the damp track. Everyone put on slicks in the final minutes and Hulkenberg was the one who made the most of his runs.
“It’s amazing, I still can’t believe it,” he said. “To go on slicks was obviously the right decision. I was squeezing everything out of my car.”
The 23-year-old German rookie had an average start of 11th place this season and his previous best grid position was fifth at the Malaysian GP in April. His best finish was sixth at the Hungarian GP in August, when he started 10th.
The Red Bulls set the pace in the first day of practices on Friday, with Vettel leading Webber in both sessions in dry conditions. Their rivals had been hoping for rain on Saturday to try to reduce the Red Bulls’ advantage going into qualifying and the race on Sunday.
“We were targeting for pole but Nico was better than all of us today,” Vettel said. “I’m still very happy with second.”
The Red Bulls were trying to win their 15th pole in 18 races this season. Vettel had won nine and Webber five, although the team has not been able to translate its dominance into nearly as many race wins, thanks mostly to driver mistakes and mechanical failures. Vettel has won only three times this season and Webber four.
“It’s easy to get things wrong in those conditions and not qualify,” Webber said. “I’m very happy to get that position near the front.”
Hamilton was expecting to have a chance to compete with the Red Bulls on Sunday.
“We are close, we can still fight with them,” he said.
Defending champion Button, who was virtually out of contention for the title, was only the 11th fastest with the other McLaren, while seven-time champion Michael Schumacher will start eighth in his Mercedes.
“It’s a big disappointment not to get in the top 10, but I’ve started in worst places here,” Button said, saying he was hoping to be closer to the front to help Hamilton in the title race. “It’s pretty difficult when I’m so behind.”
Rain caused havoc in last year’s qualifying session at Interlagos, sending top contenders to the back of the grid. Button had to start in 14th place, with Vettel in 15th and Hamilton in 17th.
To win his third F1 title in Brazil, Alonso needs to win Sunday’s race and hope Webber finishes fifth or worse. The Spaniard can also secure the title if he finishes second and Webber places eighth or worse, Hamilton is fourth or worse and Vettel second or worse.
The drivers’ championship has been decided at the Brazilian GP in the last five years. Button won it with Brawn GP in 2009, as did Hamilton with McLaren in 2008 and Kimi Raikkonen with Ferrari in 2007.
It was at Interlagos that Alonso won his first two titles, in 2005 and ‘06, with Renault. He is debuting with Ferrari after a disappointing year with McLaren in 2007 and two seasons with Renault before replacing Kimi Raikkonen in the Italian team.
Force India’s Adrian Sutil and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi automatically lost five grid position after being penalized for causing collisions at the Korean GP two weeks ago.