Buckle up: Hamilton on pole, Rosberg alongside in title race
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, of Germany, steers his car past track official during the third free practice for the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at at the Interlagos race track in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
SAO PAULO (AP) Lewis Hamilton has the pole for the Brazilian Grand Prix, and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg is alongside with the season drivers' title on the line.
Buckle up. The stage is set for Sunday's critical showdown, and Rosberg expects a frantic start on the short, hilly – and possibly wet – course.
''I'm going to try to get Lewis in turn one,'' Rosberg said after qualifying on Saturday. ''That's my plan, but it's not going to be easy. The run to turn one is very short, so that doesn't help of course. But I'll try everything I can.''
If three-time world champion Hamilton wins the race on Sunday, the Formula One title will be decided in the final race of the season in two weeks in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton has taken the last two poles in Mexico and the United States, and went on to win each race.
''This is the best that I could have hoped for,'' said Hamilton, who has never won in Brazil. ''This is only my second pole here. It's on a track that I've struggled at so I'm really happy to be up on top.''
Rosberg, who has won the last two races in Brazil, has more avenues to take his first drivers' title and match the one his father Keke Rosberg won 34 years ago.
Rosberg leads Hamilton by 19 points – 349 vs. 330 – and will claim the season championship if he wins, or if he scores at least seven more points than Hamilton. Rosberg can also finish second in Brazil, and third in Abu Dhabi and still be the champion.
''It was an exciting qualifier, for sure – very close – but Lewis was just marginally quicker in the end,'' Rosberg said. ''Anyway, as we've seen this year, the pole isn't always the guy who wins the race. So I'm still optimistic for tomorrow.''
Mercedes has 19 of the 20 poles this season, and 17 of the 19 races.
Hamilton was 0.102 seconds faster than Rosberg in qualifying, but was nearly overtaken on the final lap by the charging German.
The track was dry for qualifying, though rain always threatened. The final practice earlier Saturday was run in a light mist, with rain in the forecast for Sunday.
The hilly Sao Paulo circuit has a history of shocking results, particularly when it's wet.
Hamilton is considered the better wet-weather driver, but Rosberg dismissed that edge.
''Whatever comes, comes,'' he said. ''And we have a great car in any condition – in dry and wet.''
The race will be the last at home for Felipe Massa, the Brazilian who is leaving F1 after 15 seasons. There are also rumors swirling that the Brazilian race itself could be on the ropes.
TV viewership is down, Brazil is without a top driver, and the country is mired in a deep recession with unemployment at over 10 percent.
''I'm aware of the battle people are having here with the economy,'' said Hamilton, calling the Brazil race ''part of F1's heritage.''
''I hope it does stay. But I also understand that it takes a lot of money.''
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/stephen-wade