Nico Rosberg has claimed his fifth consecutive pole position after edging out Lewis Hamilton in qualifying for today’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
Rosberg, victorious at this race last year, finished the session just 0.078 seconds clear of Hamilton at a sun-laden Interlagos.
Sebastian Vettel will start third for Ferrari, with Williams driver Valtteri Bottas fourth. Bottas however, will serve a three-place grid penalty for overtaking under red flag conditions during Friday’s practice session.
Hamilton, whose preparations for the penultimate race of his championship-winning campaign were marred when he lost control of his £1.5 million limited edition Pagani Zonda supercar and crashed into a stationary vehicle in the early hours of Tuesday morning, is yet to be victorious in Brazil.
And he faces an uphill task of ending his voodoo in the homeland of his great hero Ayrton Senna after qualifying behind Rosberg.
The Briton, who is one pole shy of his half century, will now not have started from the front of the pack since September’s Italian Grand Prix – a streak which stretches to six races.
Hamilton’s former team-mate Jenson Button claimed earlier this week that he expects his McLaren team to be back fighting at the sharp end of the grid next season.
But there has been little to back up Button’s bold claim in Interlagos. Button was knocked out of the first phase of qualifying after posting only the 17th best time, while his team-mate Fernando Alonso stopped on track for the second successive day.
Alonso’s McLaren mechanics frantically worked on his car to get the Spaniard ready for yetserday’s qualifying session, but they needn’t have bothered.
Only minutes after leaving his garage, Alonso was told to stop the car. He parked his McLaren at Turn 11, and instead of rushing back to the paddock, he sat on a deck chair and basked in the 30 degree sun.
Later, Alonso and Button appeared on the podium to wave to the Brazilian crowd with broad smiles on the faces. At least they can see the funny side of McLaren’s demise, but the same is unlikely to be said of the team’s proud chairman Ron Dennis who is presiding over this awful run.
Elsewhere, Kimi Raikkonen qualified fifth for Ferrari with Nico Hulkenberg sixth in his Force India. The Red Bull of Daniil Kvyat, home favourite Felipe Massa, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, of Toro Rosso, completed the top ten.
Meanwhile, Jean Todt, the FIA president, has attracted criticism for drawing parallels with Friday night’s terror attacks in Paris in which 127 people were murdered with road traffic accidents.
Romain Grosjean, the only French driver on the grid, is sporting an armband of the country’s national colours.