Q1 saw Mercedes unusually opt for the option tyre in the first segment and it meant that their drivers dominated the session. Rosberg hit the top of the order after eight minutes with a time of 1:11.746 but that was quickly eclipsed by Hamilton who went 0.064s faster than his team-mate.
Elsewhere, there were problems for Fernando Alonso was told to immediately stop his car. The Spaniard complied, pulling over between Turns 10 and 11 and exiting the session.
At the top, the soft-tyre shod Mercedes were 1.2s clear of third-placed Valtteri Bottas of Williams, who was on the medium tyre. The move to the soft tyres for the rest of the field wasn’t long in coming and the order at the top soon solidified into Hamilton in P1 followed by Rosberg and the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
With less than two minutes on the clock the drop featured Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, the second McLaren of Jenson Button, Manor’s Alexander Rossi and the unfortunate Alonso.
Of the quintet it was Ericsson who made the move, the Swede’s final lap being good enough to put in into Q2 in 15th. His advance came at the expense of Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, who missed out by less than four hundredths of a second.
At the top Hamilton was fastest with a time of 1:11.682, 0.064 ahead of Rosberg with Raikkonen third ahead of Vettel. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was fifth. Ahead of the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, while Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen was eighth ahead of Bottas and Williams Felipe Massa.
The Mercedes drivers were again quickly into the action in Q2, with Rosberg first out on track. The German set a time of 1:12.213, but again it was quickly beaten by Hamilton – and by a margin, with the Briton going six tenths quicker than his team-mate with a time of 1:11.665. Bottas then slotted into third, though he was a second off the champion and he was then supplanted by a confident looking Hulkenberg who set a time of 1:12.503.
As the time ticked away a number of drivers had yet to complete a proper run and in danger of not making the cut were Verstappen, Raikkonen, Vettel, Ricciardo and Lotus’ Grosjean.
It was only Grosjean who was caught out. He spun through Turns 6 and 7 and with his lap ruined, his tyres in poor shape and with the Frenchman complaining that something had happened on his car, the best he could manage was P15. Also eliminated were Sauber’s Felipe Nasr in P11, the Brazilian qualifying ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, Force India’s Sergio Perez, Ericsson and Grosjean.
At the front, Hamilton was quickest with a time of 1:11.665. P2 this time went to Vettel, however, with the Ferrari driver posting a time of 1:11.928 to finish 0.263s ahead of Rosberg. Also through were fourth-placed Raikkonen, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Kvyat, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Massa, who beat compatriot Nasr to Q3 by just over a tenth of a second.
In the opening runs of Q3 it was Rosberg who held sway, with the German taking provisional pole with a time of 1:11.461 that put him just under a tenths of a second ahead of Hamilton.
Vettel was third, six tenths of a second behind Rosberg, with Bottas fourth ahead of Raikkonen. Ricciardo was sixth ahead of Massa, Hulkenberg, Kvyat and Verstappen.
And Rosberg continued to hold the upper hand. The German set a blistering pace right across his final run, lighting the screens purple as he made his way to a time of 1:11.282.
Hamilton attempted to respond and the finish was incredibly. The Briton also found time over his opener but it wasn’t enough and in the end he finished 0.078s behind his team-mate.
Vettel took third ahead of Bottas and Raikkonen, while Hulkenberg was sixth. Bottas though will drop three places tomorrow for overtaking under red flags in FP2 on Friday. Kvyat was seventh ahead of Massa, while Ricciardo was ninth ahead of Verstappen. Ricciardo though will also take a grid drop, of 10 places, due to a power unit change. Felipe Nasr was also later handed a grid drop of three place for impeding compatriot Felipe Massa during Q1.
2015 Brazilian Grand Prix – Qualifying
P. DRIVER TEAM TIME GAP 1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG 1:11.282 2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG 1:11.360 + 0.078 3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:11.804 + 0.522 4. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:12.085 + 0.803 5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:12.144 + 0.862 6. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:12.265 + 0.983 7. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1:12.322 + 1.040 8. Felipe Massa Williams 1:12.415 + 1.133 9. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:12.417 + 1.135 10. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:12.739 + 1.457 Q2 Fastest time: Lewis Hamilton 1:11.665 11. Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:12.989 + 1.324 12. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1:13.045 + 1.380 13. Sergio Perez Force India 1:13.147 + 1.482 14. Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:13.233 + 1.568 15. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:13.915 + 2.288 Q1 Fastest time: Lewis Hamilton 1:11.682 16. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:13.385 + 1.703 17. Jenson Button McLaren 1:13.425 + 1.743 18. Alexander Rossi Manor 1:16.151 + 4.469 19. Will Stevens Manor 1:16.386 + 4.601 20. Fernando Alonso McLaren NO TIME SET 107% time: 1:16.700