Spanish GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Hamilton takes Barcelona pole
BY TONY DODGINS
Lewis Hamilton (1:21.707) took McLaren's 150th pole position in Barcelona and will share the Spanish GP front row with Pastor Maldonado (1:22.285).
The Venezuelan was the surprise of a fascinating qualifying session that saw regular top 10 runners like Jenson Button and Mark Webber outside the top 10.
Hamilton headed Q1, was bested by Maldonado in Q2 but then re-emerged to take the pole by more than half a second.
"It was a fantastic session for me, one of the best I've ever had," Hamilton enthused. "It was an amazing job by the guys in the garage and at the factory bringing the upgrades, which worked well. We've looked after the prime tyres, which are generally the longer lasting race tyres, and the options are all in good condition, but I'm aware it's going to be a very tough race."
Maldonado, whose previous best qualifying performance was seventh at Silverstone last year, is hopeful that the consistent race pace that has been a characteristic of the Williams FW34, will allow him to challenge on race day too.
"We came here thinking about qualifying in the top 10," he said, "but this morning the car was very quick (slower only than Sebastian Vettel in FP3) and we started to hope for more. We've been working hard to understand the tyres and today we got our car strong on them for one lap pace."
Maldonado's speed will have heightened Bruno Senna's disappointment at spinning out in Turn 12 when trying to escape from Q1.
Another team with a great disparity between its cars is Ferrari, for who Fernando Alonso (1:22.302) lines up third and Felipe Massa starts 17th. There was consistently six tenths between them but so competitive is current F1 that the margin spelled the difference between sixth and 17th in Q2.
Alonso reckoned he couldn't have gone any quicker in Q3 if he'd bolted another hundred sets of tyres onto the Ferrari and was satisfied to qualify third.
"It was impossible to dream about P3 at the first four races (where his best starting position was eighth)," Alonso said. "We have made a step and if you improve three tenths it makes a huge difference. Maybe P3 is over-performing a little, but I was very happy with the lap."
The race really is hugely open given the top three on the grid and then the Lotuses fourth and fifth with Romain Grosjean (1:22.424) just six hundredths quicker than Kimi Raikkonen (1:22.487). Such was their Friday long run pace that both have to be considered strong threats for the race.
Sauber has looked highly impressive all weekend too, with Sergio Perez (1:22.533) sixth on the grid, ahead of Nico Rosberg's Mercedes (1:23.005).
Behind the China winner, Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher and Kamui Kobayashi complete the top 10, without recording a Q3 time.
Vettel went straight out on option tyres but there was perhaps some kidology going on as he tried to cause others to follow. All three are now able to choose their race rubber and could well elect to start on the harder tyre.
The same choice will also be available to Jenson Button and Mark Webber, who line up 11th and 12th, after being caught out in Q2. Webber, in particular, was strong, setting a lap early in the session which he and the team felt would comfortably take him through into the top 10 shoot-out. It was not to be though, as the track improved more than expected and caught them out.
"It was all going beautifully to plan until everybody went too bloody quick," Webber smiled wryly.
With three and four stops anticipated, widely varying strategies and the promise of cooler weather on Sunday, predicting a Sunday winner is as difficult as it has been so far this year. Hamilton is hoping he can keep the variety going and become the fifth different winner in as many grands prix.