Lewis Hamilton on Saturday elbowed past the usual suspects, Ferrari runners Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa as well as teammate Heikki Kovalainen, to take pole position for Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix of China. Hamilton can win the FIA World...
Lewis Hamilton on Saturday elbowed past the usual suspects, Ferrari runners Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa as well as teammate Heikki Kovalainen, to take pole position for Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix of China. Hamilton can win the FIA World Drivers' Championship at this stop, among 18 of the F1 circus. He holds a five-point lead over Massa and is 12 points up on BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica.
Kovalainen had provisional pole at the 3.387-mile Shanghai International Circuit before Raikkonen bumped his countryman. Then Hamilton, whose team had told him he was slow in the middle and final sectors, came through on final flying laps with a time of 1 minute, 36.303 seconds, three-tenths ahead of the Finn. Hamilton's pole is his seventh this season.
Hamilton and Raikkonen start on the front row for a second-consecutive race. Massa lines up behind the Englishman next to Renault's Fernando Alonso, winner of the past two races. Kovalainen starts next to BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld after sixth-quickest Mark Webber lost 10 spots for needing an engine change after his Red Bull RB4's Renault motor blew near the end of final free practice. Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel and Toyota's Jarno Trulli share the fourth row ahead of Vettel teammate Sebastian Bourdais and Alonso teammate Nelsinho Piquet.
Missing from the top 10, those who reached the final of three qualifying sessions, was Kubica. Plagued by balance problems throughout practices, he informed his team in second qualifying that the car understeered during braking then didn't turn. An enormous effort lifted him from the first qualifying session to the next but then it was done.
Hamilton, 23, said "a big oversteer" on his opening flyer in third qualifying cost him seven-tenths when going wide in Turn 8 put him on the marbles and messed up the subsequent two turns. "I'm very happy I got the lap down," he said of the pole-grabber, executed under mounting pressure from Ferraris, from teammate Kovalainen, and from a public demanding a better showing at the track where he lost the world championship a year ago as a rookie.
"I didn't have anything else on my mind except for doing a good lap," he said. "I was relaxed. I was happy with the balance of the car. I knew I could have done it and so it was a matter of going out and doing it. It was tough, for sure, because everyone was very competitive, even Heikki."
Ferrari runners Raikkonen and Massa were less sanguine with their rides.
"I think this hasn't been the most easiest weekend," Raikkonen said. "Anyhow we tried many different things and played around with the setup and finally today we found a pretty OK setup and it seemed to work pretty well in the last qualifying."
Massa was consternated by inconsistent balance.
"I think by now we are struggling a little bit, just starting to make the right lap," he said. "It looks that McLaren guys had a little bit more easy car to put a lap together. We don't know how it's going to be in the race. We had a similar result in the last race then had a very strong pace during the race. I hope to have a strong pace in the race and maybe try to see if we can improve a little bit our car, especially in the long stint."
Hamilton's final attempt in second qualfiying put him top with the first sub-1:35 lap of the weekend, a 1:34.947. Massa followed ahead of Kovalainen, Raikkonen and Vettel, then Heidfeld, Alonso, Bourdais, Webber and Trulli. Kubica could pull himself only to 12th, so starts 11th with Webber's engine-change penalty. Toyota's Timo Glock starts alongside Kubica. They line up ahead of Rubens Barrichello for Honda, Nico Rosberg for Williams, Red Bull's David Coulthard, Webber, Kazuki Nakajima for Williams, Jenson Button for Honda, and the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella.
Coulthard called for a penalty on Heidfeld, who passed the Scot and, Coulthard asserted, interrupted the Red Bull driver's lap in an unsporting display.
"I'm extremely disappointed with what Nick Heidfeld did at the end of Q1 on the last out lap," Coulthard said. "All the cars were bunching up on the second-to-last corner, as they jostled for position, but Nick suddenly passed me on the inside into the last corner, just as I was about to start my flying lap. It was very unlikely he was going to do a better lap on prime tires, and he was on the dirty side of the track, so he wouldn't have done a fast lap by squeezing through the inside at that point. And he came in before the end of that lap anyway. He would have known he was in the top 10 already, so for me it was very unsportsmanlike behavior, as all he did was screw up my last flying lap. There wasn't any intention of him doing a quicker time."
Massa (1:35.150) and Raikkonen (1:35.326), on soft tires, popped to the top of the charts in second qualifying, with Vettel again third. Hamilton, on softs and running wide on the final corner, came on with a 1:35.442 only to watch Kovalainen jump to second with a 1:35.245.
Vettel leaped into third-best time behind the McLarens. Kovalainen's support of his team ace dropped Massa to fifth in the first session. Alonso was fourth after drifting to the bottom of timesheets. Piquet wound up seventh after Raikkonen, ahead of the Toyotas of Trulli and Glock, and the BMW Sauber of Heidfeld, who pipped Hamilton for fastest lap in final free practice.
Perhaps to be done with it, Hamilton took the pit-entry escape road at the end of practice. That was the spot of his championship-dashing escapade of a year ago when he slid off while trying to pit on worn tires. Raikkonen won the race, slicing 10 points from a 17-point deficit. The Finn earned the rest of the points at the final race in Brazil. He took the title by a single point from then feuding McLaren teammates Hamilton and Alonso.