Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton Heads McLaren 1-2 Leading Title Combatants

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Lewis Hamilton will start his final race for McLaren from pole position, after setting the fastest time today. It is his seventh pole position of the year.

Jenson Button confirmed his final free practice pace and will join him on the front row to complete a front row lock out for the British team. The Red Bull duo of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel start from third and fourth, with the German in prime position to win a third straight championship.

It was another difficult qualifying hour for Ferrari, with Massa due to start fifth and Fernando Alonso, Vettel’s only championship rival, starting from eighth. Alonso needs to finish on the podium to have any chance of winning the title.

It was the usual suspects dropping out in Q1 as qualifying started in damp conditions. A rain shower before Q1 meant the track was greasy, but still dry enough for slicks. Romain Grosjean was the first big name casualty to drop out as he collided with HRT’s Pedro de la Rosa on the pit straight, losing his front wing. A change for a new wing meant he failed to warm his tyres up again and therefore will from eighteenth place. It is not clear if the stewards will take any action on either driver.

Caterham managed to out qualify the Marussia, with Vitaly Petrov ahead of Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock and Charles Pic. The two HRT, quite possibly in their last race, will line up once more from the last row of the grid.

The track was still slippery when Q2 started, but drying up quickly. It was a tense session that saw Ferrari coming close to being knocked out with both cars, with Alonso and Massa both struggling once more. They survived by a narrow margin.

Paul di Resta, Bruno Senna, Sergio Perez, Michael Schumacher, Kamui Kobayashi and the two Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne where therefore the drivers who failed to make it into Q3. Schumacher, in his final grand prix before retirement, will therefore start tomorrow’s Brazilian Grand Prix from fourteenth on the grid.

As expected, Q3 was a battle between the McLarens and Red Bulls. A McLaren driver had topped the timesheets in all three of the practice sessions, but it was incredibly close. Lewis Hamilton beat Jenson Button by 0.055 of a second to claim the honour of most pole positions of anyone for this season. Webber, who had for a time set the pace in Q3 and has won this race twice had to settle for third, with Vettel fourth.

Felipe Massa was the best Ferrari for the second race in succession in fifth place, with Pastor Maldonado sixth and Nico Hulkenberg once again impressing with seventh. Alonso has it all to do from eighth; with Raikkonen starting ninth after an engine failure in practice limited his running, with Nico Rosberg completing the top ten.

Tomorrow’s race looks to be incredibly intriguing. Not only has the championship yet to be decided, but there are several drivers who will be keen to show strongly to sign off their relationship with their current team.

Rain continues to be expected by many for tomorrow, with latest forecasts predicting an 80% chance of showers. It is not unlikely Ferrari may have set Alonso’s car up for wet conditions, which could pay dividends for tomorrow.

Are we in for one final surprise from this incredible 2012 season? The final race of the year starts at 4pm UK time tomorrow.

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F1 correspondent for The Checkered Flag. Follow him on Twitter @JHSingo
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