So here we go, this afternoon’s qualifying — 4pm on the Beeb and Sky, though both on air well before — is the first real act in this weekend’s big showdown drama. We witnessed an exciting, if predictable, prelude yesterday; Lewis Hamilton topped both free practice sessions but…. a) it was close, the top nine in FP2 all inside one second and b) there were some good wild cards in there. Like we said last week, it’s not all over yet. Nothing like. So here, in no particular order and giving away no particular prejudices other than a desire to be blown off the Sunday Afternoon sofa tomorrow, are ten things we’d like to see in qualifying:
1) Michael Schumacher on pole. Just one last time, and with no penalties come red light time. Mercedes even surprised themselves yesterday with their form in the retro-modified F1 W03, with MSC sixth and ROS seventh, just 0.6secs behind Hamilton. Maybe the slight threat of rain will materialise and work for Michael as it did for Nico Hulkenberg two years ago.
2) If we can’t have Michael, then Lewis Hamilton on pole. Is there anyone out there not getting choked about Lewis leaving ‘home’ on Sunday? Lewis was this close to tears on the BBC yesterday, and Martin Whitmarsh is already trying to convince himself it’s just a gap year. He’s been spotted in the back of pits already making up Lewis’s first care package and struggling with what to write on that special good luck card.
3) Alonso ahead of Vettel. *ducks while Seb’s fans throw TV remotes at the comments section below* Look, we just want a good race, okay? Seb has the faster car it seems, although on long runs, ie something closer to race trim, Massa was quickest yesterday and Alonso close behind despite running on the harder tyres.
4) Massa ahead of Vettel as well.
5) Bruno Senna in the top ten. Bruno’s only made it once this year, although he only just missed out in Austin. There’s been little wrong with his racing this year, nothing a little extra caution wouldn’t eliminate anyhow, but his qualifying has let him down. Let him down so badly, indeed, it seems this will be his last race for Williams. But there are rumours of what looks like an upgrade to us: a move to Force India. A full hour today must surely make that more likely.
6) Jenson Button somewhere near Lewis Hamilton. Ideally right alongside him. On the front row. JB, F1’s loveliest bloke, has the weight of the world on his shoulders from the moment the flag falls. McLaren is now his team and whether you believe that’s exactly what he’s always wanted or not, you have to wish him well. F1 would be a lousy place without that boy.
7) One last, absolutely banzai-bonkers-balls-out lap from Kamui Kobayashi. He’s out of F1 next year, replaced at Sauber by the latest Speedy Gonzales from Mexico, Esten Gutierrez. Sadly, Kamui arrived in F1 at just the wrong moment; a bloke who can overtake just isn’t as valuable in the age of DRS. It’s arrival seemed to knock the faith out of the The Bash. We will miss you, Drifto Kingo.
8) Heikki Kovalianen is fighting for his drive at Caterham. How can this be? Caterham announced yesterday Charles Pic would switch from Marussia for 2013, but did not confirm its other driver. It depends, it would seem, on Caterham grabbing 10th place back from Marussia in the constructor’s championship. That means extra dough, enough it seems not to need to hire another pay driver. That means Heikki is driving for his career this weekend. Go on HK, stick in it Q2.
9) Please, let both HRTs make it through the 107 per cent barrier. The factory back home is closed, the only team members being paid are those in Brazil. This is the end of the road, at least let them have one last Grand Prix.
10) Sebastian Vettel anywhere but pole. C’mon, even you hard-core Sebboys don’t really want him to win it flag-to-flag, do you?