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Tire strategy holds the key to qualifying and racing in Brazil

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Tire strategy holds the key to qualifying and racing in Brazil

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel has moved a step closer to clinching a third consecutive world title -- which would make him the youngest triple world champion in the history of the sport -- by qualifying fourth for the Brazilian Grand Prix, four places ahead of his title rival Fernando Alonso (Ferrari). McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton sealed the pole.

All the drivers used Pirelli’s P Zero White medium tire to qualify, which has been nominated along with the P Zero Silver hard for the final race of the 2012 season.

The weather was a major talking point during qualifying, with a rain shower just before the start of qualifying and ambient temperatures of 23 degrees Celsius along with 25 degrees of track temperature. More rain is expected for the race today, with a 60% chance of precipitation currently forecast, which will put the same accent on tire strategy that played a major part inqualifying yesterday.

The Caterham, HRT and Marussia drivers as well as Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) and Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) all started the first qualifying session using the P Zero White medium, on a track that was damp but with no rain falling. ForceIndia’s Nico Hulkenberg instead started on intermediate tires while many of the other drivers went out on the hard tire, some completing long runs to go all the way to the end of the session.

Several drivers also used the medium tire, while Hamilton was quickest on the hard tire. Just the McLarens, Ferraris, and Red Bulls -- as well as the Lotus of Romain Grosjean -- used the hard tires only in the first session.

No more rain fell during the second session and track temperature climbed to 34 C in bright sunshine, with both Ferraris heading out on the hard tire and Alonso going quickest in the early stages, before switching to the medium tire. Vettel then set the fastest time of the session using a set of new mediums.

The final top 10 shoot out was run just on the medium tires in warm and dry conditions. Hamilton set a 1m12.850s lap on his very first run. He was beaten by Red Bull’s Mark Webber on the second run, but then claimed pole back in the final seconds with a time of 1m12.458s: his 26th career pole position, ahead of his teammate Jenson Button.

Button also set fastest time in the final free practice session Saturday morning, with a benchmark of 1m13.188s on the P Zero White tire, just 0.057s ahead of Vettel.

Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery commented: “With the weather conditions looking so uncertain, tire strategy becomes all the more important. This impacts not only on the choice of tires -- which compounds to use and when -- but also an accurate assessment of the crossover points: in other words when it becomes quicker to change over from a wet to a dry tire and vice versa.

"With all the free practice sessions up to now having been held in the dry, the teams will have to analyze whatever information they gain extremely quickly in order to succeed. We expect around a second per lap difference between the hard and the medium compound here, but for now nobody knows how much of a chance theteams will have to use them during the race

"As well as ensuring the best possible start to the race, qualifying was also a valuable chance for the teams to gather information about tire behavior in variable conditions. This is data that could be crucial not only for the outcome of the race, but the whole championship."

Tires used by the Top 10 qualifiers:

Hamilton

1:12.458s

Medium

Button

1:12.513s

Medium

Webber

1:12.581s

Medium

Vettel

1:12.760s

Medium

Massa

1:12.987s

Medium

Maldonado

1:13.174s

Medium

Hulkenberg

1:13.206s

Medium

Alonso

1:13.253s

Medium

Raikkonen

1:13.298s

Medium

Rosberg

1:13.489s

Medium

The race is being held in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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