The Williams Martini Racing team were once more the main challenges to the all-conquering Mercedes team in Brazil, with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas qualifying a strong third and fourth at Interlagos.
The Brazilian and the Finn were the only non Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS drivers able to finish within three-tenths of a second away from the pole position time of Nico Rosberg, with both more than six-tenths clear of fifth placed Jenson Button.
To the relief of his fans in his hometown, Massa qualified an excellent third, and was emotional after hearing the cheers from the grandstands whenever he set a good lap time. He feels the gap to the Mercedes team has closed down, and has the desire to finish on the podium on Sunday and to be able to celebrate the result with his fans.
“It was a great qualifying for me today and the reaction and energy from the fans was very special and emotional for me,” insisted Massa. “This track has a special place in my heart as I was born here in São Paulo and I always get a lot of support. The car has been feeling really good all weekend and although the Mercedes cars still had more raw pace than us, the gap seems to have closed.
“There will be a lot of variables tomorrow, especially with the weather which always changes quickly here, so we need to prepare well for that tonight. I’m going into the race in a very good position and with less pressure than the guys in front so my goal is to finish on the podium and celebrate with my home fans.”
Team-mate Bottas will join Massa on the second row of the grid, and the Finn felt the team were much closer to the Mercedes cars than he expected. He hopes to be able to challenge for a podium finish on Sunday, even if the expected rain should come.
“The car has been improving throughout the weekend as the track has rubbered in and we were looking very competitive today, and were quite close to the Mercedes cars,” said Bottas. “I had a few mistakes in Q3 so I probably left a tenth out there which can make a lot of difference because the lap is so short, but on the whole I’m starting in a good position and we need to be happy with another second row lockout. I’m also happy for Felipe to be starting third at his home race and he had a great reaction from the crowd.
“The weather is likely to be wet tomorrow so we need to make sure as a team that we get the strategy right and give ourselves the best possible chance to finish on the podium.”