Lewis Hamilton looked strong in both practice and early qualifying action at the Singapore Grand Prix today, but in the end he did not have to fight for the pole position for tomorrow's Formula One race as the qualifying session was halted with 26...
Lewis Hamilton looked strong in both practice and early qualifying action at the Singapore Grand Prix today, but in the end he did not have to fight for the pole position for tomorrow's Formula One race as the qualifying session was halted with 26 seconds remaining.
At 1:47.891, Hamilton held the fastest time of the final qualifying segment, when Rubens Barrichello made hard contact with the barriers with some 40 seconds remaining. The local yellow flags came out immediately, but it only took some 10 seconds for the race stewards to make the decision to red-flag the session, given the dangerous position of Barrichello's badly-damaged Brawn-Mercedes.
"(...) I knew that I had to push regardless of any damage," Barrichello explained. "I was really going for it on my final run in Q3 and unfortunately the car bottomed out and I lost control and ended up bouncing off the wall."
With all 10 cars on track and just starting their final hot laps, there would be no resuming the session later. The top starting position was granted to Hamilton by default, as his time was a comfortable 0.313 seconds faster than anyone else, giving the defending world champion and McLaren-Mercedes driver his third pole in the past four races.
"The car over the weekend has got better and better as the circuit has got grippier," Hamilton explained. "I was feeling more comfortable in the car. The lap was really very relaxed and I was able to go faster so I am quite happy."
Hamilton had had a much tougher time in Friday practice, and the McLaren team had decided to rebuild Hamilton's car overnight to address some problems, rumoured to be related to the KERS system.
"Friday practice was not spectacular for me, but I came here today with a positive approach and a big thanks to the guys," said Hamilton. "They worked until 10 this morning rebuilding the car. We had some problems so had to change the chassis, and they stayed up in the garage today in this humidity. They did a great job and I'm pleased to do this for them."
As for the "anyone else" part, it was Sebastian Vettel who set the second-best lap time with a 1:48.204, the Red Bull team adapting well to the Singapore street circuit. Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, will start fourth, having scored a time of 1:48.722 before the Barrichello incident.
"The first run in qualifying was very important but unfortunately then the red flag came out," Vettel explained. "At the end of the day, it is great to be back. Qualifying on a street circuit is very important and it's good to be back in front."
The big loser appeared to be Nico Rosberg, who had just started an impressive-looking hot lap when Barrichello's Brawn made contact with the wall. Alas, Rosberg did not have the opportunity to complete the lap, and we shall never know whether he might have had enough speed to put his Williams-Toyota at the front of the grid.
"We weren't sure we would get into Q3 because of getting the soft tyre to work," Rosberg explained about the early segments. "In Q2 I got a fantastic lap and Q3 was fantastic too. It is a completely different car (from Spa and Monza) and now we get back the car we had prior to those races and we were finishing fourth and fifth."
In the event, he will start third, behind Hamilton and sandwiched by the two Red Bull cars. The young German, son of the 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg, will also have additional motivation tomorrow from the events of the 2008 race, where Nelson Piquet's intentional crash gave the win to his Renault teammate, Ferdinand Alonso. Rosberg, who finished second, feels that the victory should have been his -- and he will now have another chance to fight for it in Singapore.
"I am pleased we have made another step for podium finishes," Rosberg smiled. "Who knows, maybe we can fight for a win soon. P3 is a great position to start from tomorrow and I will be on the clean side of the track, which might prove to be important."
Alonso, on the other hand, wants to prove that he was indeed deserving, and will start his Renault from the sixth grid position, as Barrichello, who set the fifth-fastest time, is demoted five positions because of a gearbox change this morning.
For Barrichello, it was a session of lows, highs and some more lows. The Brazilian veteran, the most experienced driver in Formula One, looked to be in danger of missing the cutoff for the second qualifying segment, as he languished in 18th place with the clock ticking down. However, a flying lap in the dying seconds of the segment gave him the fifth-fastest time and moved him on.
In the second segment, he managed a seventh-fastest time while his Brawn teammate and championship leader Jenson Button could not make the cut, finishing 12th and outside the final shootout. Barrichello then looked good in the final segment, until the fateful mistake took him into the wall. The only saving grace for the Brazilian was the stopping of the session: had it not been red-flagged, he would likely have seen all other drivers set faster times, and ended up in the fifteenth grid position with his gearbox penalty.
Nevertheless, with the Red Bull championship challengers Vettel and Webber starting second and fourth, Button and Barrichello have their work cut out for them given their mid-field starting positions.
Stuck in the second half of the final group were four cars: Toyota's Timo Glock, the BMW Sauber teammates Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica, and Heikki Kovalainen, the McLaren-Mercedes teammate of polesitter Hamilton.
"I didn't get a good enough lap in during my first run as I'd been running the harder tyre, which wasn't quick enough," a grim Kovalainen explained. "I also made a couple of mistakes, but I was focusing my efforts on my second run -- which would have been on a set of new Option tyres."
It was an even more disappointing for the other Finn on the grid, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. After consecutive podium finishes in the last four races, he will face a much tougher task tomorrow, as he could not push the Scuderia's steed into the final qualifying segment, finishing 13th in the second segment, nearly a second off Nico Rosberg's segment-best lap time.
"Unfortunately, today we were just not quick enough to get into Q3 and there was not much we could do about it," said Raikkonen. "It's logical that, as other cars improve, race after race, we pay a higher price for our decision to stop developing the F60. Tomorrow, we can expect a tough race as it is very difficult to overtake here, so getting into the points will be very difficult."
His teammate Giancarlo Fisichella, in his second race for Ferrari after switching from Force India, was 18th, and unable to make the cut for the second segment.
"Obviously, I am disappointed with this result," said the Italian veteran. "I really wanted to do well, but I still haven't managed to find the right level of confidence in this car: it's almost as if it is driving me rather than the other way round. Especially on such a difficult track, I don't have the confidence to go right to the limit."
The race start is set for 8 PM local time tomorrow.