Nico Rosberg edged Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton to take pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Rosberg was fastest with a lap of 1 minute, 10.023 seconds, just 0.033 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Local favorite Felipe Massa was third and his Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas finished fourth.
Rosberg had already led Hamilton in all three practice sessions this weekend. He trails Hamilton by 24 points in the overall standings and needs to win in Brazil on Sunday to have a real shot at his first title. The championship can’t be decided at Interlagos because the race in Abu Dhabi later this month will be worth double points.
It was the 10th pole position for Rosberg in 18 races this season.
Hamilton apparently lost some time as he locked his right-front tire in his final qualifying lap, losing a chance to challenge his teammate.
Sebastian Vettel, who won the race at Interlagos last year, had mechanical problems early and just barely made it past the first qualifying session, but he was still able to guarantee sixth place on the grid, one spot ahead of Jenson Button of McLaren.
Fernando Alonso will start eight with Ferrari, two spots ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull finished ninth on the grid.
Sergio Perez of Force India and Adrian Sutil of Sauber lost seven grid positions because of penalties carried from the U.S. Grand Prix.
Hamilton can clinch the title with consecutive second-place finishes in the last two races, or by coming third in Brazil and second in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 23.
Mercedes has finished 1-2 in 10 of the 17 races this year, and clinched the constructors’ championship with three races to spare. It has 14 victories between the two drivers, one short of the season record shared by Ferrari and McLaren.
Hamilton is going for his sixth win in a row and 11th in the season. Rosberg has four victories, but none since the German GP in July. Neither driver has won in Brazil.
The times fell considerably compared to previous years because the track was completely resurfaced for this year’s race. The pole time was just short of the track record of 1:09.822 set by Rubens Barrichello with a Ferrari in 2004. Rosberg’s lap was the fastest for a pole position, though, ahead of Barrichello’s 1:10.646 that same year. The fastest lap in a race (1:11.473) was set by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2004 with a Williams.
Drivers struggled with slippery conditions in the practice sessions, but the track steadily gained more grip during the weekend. Qualifying was run under dry conditions despite the constant threat of rain in Sao Paulo.
There will be only 18 cars on the grid for the second race in a row. Marussia was shut down on Friday, while Caterham has a crowd-funding project underway to try to return to the grid in Abu Dhabi.