The home hero took pole position in a wet session that took a mammoth two hours and 45 minutes to complete. Button was eliminated in Q2 and starts 14th, two places ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
After most of final practice had been missed due to rain a fresh downpour greeted the drivers as qualifying got started.
With the rain settling in all the drivers apart from Barrichello and Mark Webber went out to begin with. But only seven of them had a chance to set times before one of them – Giancarlo Fisichella – spun at the first corner, bringing out the red flags.
The restart was delayed as the Ferrari was recovered while race control waited for conditions to improve. They did, and when Lewis Hamilton led the first of the cars out when qualifying resumed they were instantly 12 seconds quicker than they had been before.
Whether they expected that choice to leave them struggling to reach Q2 is a different matter. Although Webber scraped through by a tenth of a second, championship contender Sebastian Vettel couldn’t escape the bottom five. Nor could Hamilton, who went off at the start of his last lap as the rain got heavier again.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
16. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault – 1’25.009
17. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren-Mercedes – 1’25.052
18. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes – 1’25.192
19. Nick Heidfeld, BMW – 1’25.515
20. Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari – 1’40.703
The start of Q2 was delayed further as the rain continued to fall. Despite no obvious let-up in the conditions, the green light surprisingly appeared and 15 cars headed onto the track.
But in no time at all Vitantonio Liuzzi had a huge crash on the pit straight, bringing out the red flags once again.
With the rain continuing to fall it took an hour to get the session re-started. But when it finally did it brought a dramatic development – championship leader Button was eliminated, and left in 14th on the grid.
The track began to dry quite quickly and halfway through several drivers switched to intermediate tyres – led by Rosberg, who once again looked instantly at ease with the wet conditions.
Neither of the Brawn drivers opted to try the intermediates and that proved Button’s undoing. But while Barrichello scraped into the last place in the top ten Button, 0.9s slower than his team mate, failed.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
11. Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota – 1’21.960
12. Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1’22.231
13. Romain Grosjean, Renault – 1’22.477
14. Jenson Button, Brawn-Mercedes – 1’22.504
15. Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India-Mercedes – no time
The top ten drivers strapped on intermediate tyres and spent the final ten minutes trading fastest lap times – the pole position holder changing at least once every minute. Sebastien Buemi, Robert Kubica and Jarno Trulli all had turns at the top.
Barrichello should have been at a disadvantage as he was one of the first drivers to start his final lap. He took pole position back with it – a 1’19.576 – but his chasing rivals should have had the benefit of a slightly drier track to improve their times on.
It didn’t work out that way, with some failing to improve and others backing off. Webber took second, a scant tenth of a second off Barrichello, and Adrian Sutil made a late move up into third.
But Barrichello was safe and ended his five-year pole position drought – his last coming at the same circuit five years ago.
Before the race weekend Bernie Ecclestone said he wanted to see the championship decided at the final round in Abu Dhabi. It looks like there is a very good chance of that happening now.
The fuel weights have been published: Early pit stop could compromise Barrichello (Brazilian Grand Prix fuel strategies)
Top ten drivers in Q3
1. Rubens Barrichello, Brawn-Mercedes – 1’19.576
2. Mark Webber, Red Bull-Renault – 1’19.668
3. Adrian Sutil, Force India-Mercedes – 1’19.912
4. Jarno Trulli, Toyota – 1’20.097
5. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1’20.168
6. Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1’20.250
7. Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota – 1’20.326
8. Robert Kubica, BMW – 1’20.631
9. Kazuki Nakajima, Williams-Toyota – 1’20.674
10. Fernando Alonso, Renault – 1’21.422
Read more: Brazilian Grand Prix grid