Motor Racing: Prost leaves his pursuers pondering: Williams colleagues prove to be the quickest in qualifying

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ALAIN PROST, in the Williams-Renault, opened an ominous gap between himself and the rest yesterday, suggesting only mechanical failure or an intervention of nature can deny him a second successive victory in tomorrow's Brazilian Grand Prix.

The Frenchman took provisional pole position with a time of 1min 16.09sec, driving with consummate ease. You sense he could yet go quicker, in the final qualifying session, yet it seems unlikely he will be subjected to serious threat.

Damon Hill, his team-mate, was second fastest, comfortably ahead of Ayrton Senna, in the McLaren-Ford. Following his indifferent showing in South Africa, Hill will be content to pursue Prost all the way through to the chequered flag.

The gradients of this splendid Interlagos circuit have played into the hands of Williams-Renault, the additional power of the V10 engine enabling Prost and Hill to draw clear of a frustrated Senna.

Racing conditions and pressures may, of course, make life more complicated for the Williams pair and Senna will seize any weakness or hesitation. So, too, will Michael Schumacher, the young German, who had a strangely subdued day in the Benetton-Ford.

Senna was eight-tenths of a second slower than Hill, Schumacher a further four-tenths of a second adrift. Next came the Austrian, Karl Wendlinger, providing further proof of Sauber's impressive arrival in Formula One. He edged ahead of the Frenchman, Jean Alesi, who had to cram his assault into 25 minutes of the one-hour qualifying session to permit his Ferrari partner, Gerhard Berger, a run in his car.

Berger had crashed in the unofficial morning session, putting his car out of commission. The Austrian was badly shaken and said he 'felt sick' but decided to post a qualifying time and, in the circumstances, performed admirably to finish seventh. The contest for the minor positions could be close tomorrow, but Williams remain the force of Formula One and, even at this early stage of proceedings, it seems a fourth world championship must be beckoning for Prost.

Despite an obvious car and power advantage, Hill can be deeply satisfied with his performance, coming as it does in the wake of his spin and demise at Kyalami. He has maintained his composure and good humour here, and that showed in his driving.

He said: 'You'd waste away if you let your nerves get to you. I wasn't happy with what happened in South Africa and that's probably all people know about me. But I know what I did before then and know what I'm capable of from now on.

'I'll be happy to qualify in the top three. I felt comfortable doing that time. There is no question the Renault gives us an advantage here. It makes a great sound coming up that hill.'

Hill is wary that Senna is always capable of conjuring a little magic and has no illusions about unseating Prost. He said: 'We have one or two tweaks to make and I think I can go quicker, but Alain's a canny driver and I am sure he's got some in hand.'

Senna may be less optimistic of splitting the Williams pair. His input is perhaps reflected by the display of his team-mate, Michael Andretti. The American, still coming to terms with Formula One, was in 11th place.

Johnny Herbert led the rest of the British drivers with eighth place, though his session was cut short by a fire when an oil cooler failed. Herbert feels his team, Lotus-Ford, are getting their act together.

Mark Blundell, an excellent third in South Africa, was 12th yesterday, two places ahead of his Ligier-Renault team-mate, Martin Brundle. Derek Warwick, in the Footwork, was 19th.

BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX (Sao Paulo) First qualifying times: 1 A Prost (Fr) Williams-Renault 1:16.809 (ave spd 202.711kph, 125.96mph); 2 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1:17.856; 3 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Ford 1:18.639; 4 M Schumacher (GB) Benetton-Ford 1:19.061; 5 K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber 1:19.230; 6 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:19.260; 7 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:19.561; 8 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford 1:19.830; 9 P Alliot (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini 1:20.057; 10 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini 1:20.061; 11 M Andretti (US) McLaren-Ford 1:20.093; 12 M Blundell (GB) Ligier-Renault 1:20.281; 13 R Patrese (It) Benetton-Ford 1:20.388; 14 M Brundle (GB) Ligier-Renault 1:20.390; 15 J J Lehto (Fin) Sauber 1:20.571; 16 A Zanardi (It) Lotus-Ford 1:20.891; 17 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart 1:20.999; 18 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:21.224; 19 D Warwick (GB) Footwork Mugen-Honda 1:21.532; 20 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Minardi-Ford 1:21.547; 21 M Alboreto (It) Lola BMS- Ferrari 1:21.752; 22 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:21.923; 23 F Barbazza (It) Minardi-Ford 1:22.112; 24 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork Mugen-Honda 1:22.297; 25 L Badoeor (It) Lola BMS-Ferrari 1:22.938; 26 I Capelli (It) Jordan-Hart 1:23.674.

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