Fresh off his maiden win in Canada last weekend, Lewis Hamilton kept his stellar form and took pole position in qualifying for the US Grand Prix. His pole lap of Indianapolis was 1:12.331 and it was another McLaren front row domination, with ...
Fresh off his maiden win in Canada last weekend, Lewis Hamilton kept his stellar form and took pole position in qualifying for the US Grand Prix. His pole lap of Indianapolis was 1:12.331 and it was another McLaren front row domination, with Fernando Alonso in second, less than two tenths down. Ferrari was close behind, Felipe Massa the quicker of the scarlet cars in third and Kimi Raikkonen fourth.
It was a hot afternoon, with the track temperature at 56 degrees for the start of the first 15 minute session and the air temperature in the mid thirties. There was no hurry to get out on the circuit and after a few minutes Red Bull's David Coulthard was the first to appear. Spyker's Christijan Albers and Adrian Sutil followed, then the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato.
A few more did likewise, the Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed, the Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, the Renaults of Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella and the second Red Bull of Mark Webber. Anthony Davidson's Super Aguri was also out and Coulthard clocked 1:13.837 to start the proceedings.
Davidson was second and Albers third, then Liuzzi took the second slot but lost it immediately to Webber, who in turn fell to Schumacher. Kovalainen was next to the top, 1:12.998, and Fisichella slotted into second. The Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were on track, as were the Williams of Alex Wurz and Nico Rosberg, while Hamilton was the first McLaren out.
Rosberg took second then Hamilton took over at the top on his first flyer, 1:12.563. The remainder of the field, the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Massa, the BMW Saubers of Nick Hiedfeld and Sebastian Vettel and Alonso, finally went out and Raikkonen took second. Alonso posted 1:12.416 for the top and Massa slotted into third.
Heidfeld and Vettel took fifth and sixth and with five minutes to go there was enough time for those in the drop zone to try and escape it. Heidfeld improved to second and Vettel to fourth, BMW looking strong in the early stages. Davidson shot up to ninth from near the back while Coulthard, who was 12th, spun onto the grass but recovered. Barrichello moved up to 11th and out of danger.
Time ran out and the Red Bulls just scraped through to the second session. Wurz in 17th led those to drop out, then came Sato, Liuzzi, Speed, Sutil and Albers. Alonso remained fastest from Heidfeld and Hamilton and there was about half a second separating the top seven, Schumacher in the seventh place.
There was no rush again at the start of the second session and after a few minutes Davidson and the Toyotas made their way out. Coulthard and Webber joined them and Davidson set the first time, 1:13.378, but was quickly replaced by Trulli a couple of tenths quicker. Coulthard was next to the top then Webber with a 1:12.788.
Hamilton's 1:12.065 took over and Raikkonen put his Ferrari second. Teammate Massa took the place off him, a tenth off Hamilton, while Rosberg posted second. Alonso set purple fastest sectors in one and two to clock 1:11.926 and Heidfeld nabbed the fourth spot. Raikkonen had been shuffled down to fifth and was seven tenths off Alonso's pace.
In the last few minutes there was the final rush to make the top 10, although the top four -- Alonso, Hamilton, Massa and Heidfeld -- did not feel it was necessary to go for another run. Kovalainen and Fisichella lapped in formation to clock fifth and sixth respectively, just a hundredth or so between them, but there were more to come.
Raikkonen moved up to third and Vettel edged forward to eighth. Webber and Trulli just made it in ninth and 10th but Coulthard just missed out and led the six to be dropped. Schumacher was next, followed by Button, Rosberg, Barrichello and Davidson. There was no change at the top; Alonso was the only driver in the 1:11 bracket but the first five were separated by just a couple of tenths.
The track temperature had cooled a little, down to 50 degrees, as Hamilton led the queue of cars out for the final 15 minute shoot out and the fuel burning got under way. The McLaren man was an early leader on the time sheet, followed by Heidfeld and the Ferraris but there was the usual delay before anyone went for a hot lap.
The pit stops started with around eight minutes remaining, Vettel and Trulli the first in for fresh tyres. The rest duly peeled in and Massa clocked 1:12.703. Heidfeld took second then lost it to Raikkonen, and Alonso did a 1:12.500. But Hamilton was quicker still, 1:12.385. First strike to McLaren but there was time for anther run.
Massa couldn't improve on third and Raikkonen and Heidfeld likewise didn't move up from fourth and fifth. So it was down to Alonso and Hamilton but Alonso also couldn't make up time from his previous lap. Hamilton therefore didn't need to improve but he did anyway, 1:12.331 to secure pole position.
Another great performance from Hamilton and another McLaren front row lock-out with Alonso in second. The Spaniard had the edge on his teammate throughout the practice sessions but couldn't quite carry it through to qualifying, although the gap between them was less than two tenths. It promises to be an interesting fight between them on Sunday.
"To be on pole once again within a week is fantastic -- I like North America!" Hamilton exclaimed. "The fans here have been so enthusiastic and supportive for the team, and I hope they enjoyed today. I screamed into my helmet when I got the confirmation from the team of the pole position. It's a challenge to come to a track for the first time, and I have learnt new things every single corner and every single lap."
Alonso is optimistic for Sunday. "I have had a really quick car all weekend and have been fastest in all practice sessions and the first two parts of qualifying," he said. "As a result I'm extremely confident for the race tomorrow and am pleased that the team occupy the front row. I was pushing hard on my last qualifying lap and whilst I was slightly up in the first sector it was not quite enough as I lost some time in the second sector."
Ferrari moved back ahead of BMW this afternoon, Massa third and Raikkonen fourth. Massa was two tenths down on Alonso and Raikkonen a further tenth behind the Brazilian. Ferrari still doesn't look quite on the same pace as McLaren but closer than they were in Canada, so it might not be plain sailing for McLaren in the race.
"I am pretty satisfied and think we can have a strong race tomorrow," Massa commented. "We cannot be completely happy about this result but we must not be hard on ourselves either. It would have been difficult to get pole and third place means I will start from a good grid position. We know we can count on a very consistent car in terms of race pace. The start will also play an important part, as will strategy.
Heidfeld ended up in a familiar place: best of the rest behind the silver and red cars. However, he was only fractionally behind Raikkonen and BMW has shown good pace all weekend so far. Vettel impressed in his first qualifying session to take seventh, with Kovalainen separating the two Swiss-German cars in sixth. Fisichella ended 10th.
Trulli and Webber will start from eighth and ninth respectively, a fairly good effort from both drivers. After the strange events of Canada it's perhaps not wise to speculate how things might go at Indy on Sunday afternoon. Final top ten classification: Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Vettel, Trulli, Webber, Fisichella.