Hamilton locks up Belgian GP pole with perfect lap

Hamilton locks up Belgian GP pole with perfect lap

On a lap that mimicked his Ferrari rival's every fast sector, Lewis Hamilton on Saturday pipped Felipe Massa to pole position for Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The two drivers, atop the driving ...

On a lap that mimicked his Ferrari rival's every fast sector, Lewis Hamilton on Saturday pipped Felipe Massa to pole position for Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The two drivers, atop the driving championship points table, will share the front row for the third time in the past four races. Hamilton clocked a lap of 1 minute, 47.338 seconds. Massa drove a 1:47.678.

Pole winner Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Hamilton's McLaren Mercedes teammate Heikki Kovalainen similarly displaced Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, dropping the current world driving champion from third to fourth.

Hamilton, whose 1:46-flat time was beaten only by Kovalainen in the second of three qualifying sessions, as the day's quickest lap, said he produced three perfect laps, lockups notwithstanding, on his way to pole.

"I was so happy with all three laps I did throughout qualifying," Hamilton said. "Today the team made no mistakes, and I made no mistakes. I had three great laps or four great laps. My first Q3 lap I had a bit of a lockup in Turn 1. I had the same my second Q3 lap and somehow managed to keep it together. But the rest of the lap I'm very, very happy with."

The top starting position is Hamilton's fifth this season. Throughout qualifying, McLaren drivers produced similar times on each of two provided Bridgestone tire compounds. Having shown themselves slower to warm tires to optimum operating temperatures, the McLaren MP4-23s proved best in cool temperatures. The Ferrari F2008s, which figured to blaze their way to the front on the high-speed, low-downforce circuit and which had pushed themselves to the front through Friday practice sessions, were left wanting.

Massa, too, said he "did a great lap, almost a perfect lap" then conceded, "but it was not enough."

"Sometimes you do a great lap and you're still missing something," Massa said. "In qualifying, these (McLaren) guys showed definitely a better performance than us. We need to understand why."

Kovalainen called qualifying straightforward and without problems but said a speed-coaxing effort by his team "not quite enough to be higher up on the grid." He said he lost time in the middle sector, the twistiest bit of the 4.35-mile circuit through the Ardennes Forest.

Although the top four spots for one of the season's fastest races represents the same-old, same-old in Formula One Whoswho and Whatswhat, the next few spots raised eyebrows. Toyota failed to reach the top 10 but Red Bull Racing family junior team Scuderia Toro Rosso placed both cars there for a second consecutive race. Indeed, Toro Rosso rookie Sebastien Bourdais, who has been overshadowed by his younger teammate, F1's coming man Sebastian Vettel, all season, treated all to a whoop-and-holler moment with the fastest time in the first qualifying period. He nailed a second-fast time for a few milliseconds in third qualifying and wound up outqualifying his teammate.

Deploying behind Raikkonen are Nick Heidfeld for BMW Sauber and Fernando Alonso for Renault, Mark Webber for Red Bull and Robert Kubica for BMW Sauber, and Bourdais and Vettel in the top half of the grid. In the bottom half are Toyota's Trulli next to Renault's Nelsinho Piquet, Toyota's Timo Glock next to Red Bull's David Coulthard, Williams's Nico Rosberg next to Honda's Rubens Barrichello, Honda's Jenson Button next to Force India's Adrian Sutil, and Williams's Kazuki Nakajima next to Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella.

"I have the feeling we are a little closer to McLaren and Ferrari here," Heidfeld said. "However, I think in the race it will be very difficult for us to keep up with their pace. Tomorrow the weather conditions will be an important factor and a good start for me will be crucial. I will start from the clean side of the track."

Alonso, in his second stint as a Renault driver after winning world titles for them in 2005 and 2006, said he was satisfied. "We know that in normal conditions it's difficult to finish in the top four and that to finish in fifth or sixth place is a good result," he said. "So that means that we have done a solid job today."

Webber, whose RB4 is Renault-powered while Toro Rosso's STR3s are pushed by Ferrari engines, flew the flag for the French team.

"It's good to see Alonso and me up there today," he said. "It's encouraging for Renault and for our team, for everyone here and in Milton Keyes (Red Bull's England headquarters)."

Toro Rosso drivers kept calm about it all.

"A couple of tenths is all that separated us from sixth or seventh," Bourdais said. "It's beginning to come together and it's been a good weekend so far. I feel this track and its corners suit me better. It was nice to see my name at the top of a timesheet in Q1. it's been a long time."

Vettel, known to love rain racing, called the glass half full.

"I'm quite happy and we can be satisfied to get both cars into Q3, which we did not expect at this track" he said. "It was a strong qualifying performance. I was struggling a bit on those sections where the driver doesn't have to do much. I could not find the pace my teammate had. I messed up my last run a bit but it didn't affect the result in the end. I think we have a good strategy for both cars so let's see what happens. At the moment, I'm starting on the dirty side of the track, but if it rains it becomes the clean side."

The area's iffy weather and changeable temperatures dictate.

"We knew we would be struggling a bit today given these low temperatures, and it was a difficult qualifying for us," Trulli said. "This has been the trend of the weekend so far, unfortunately."

Trulli said running a second weekend on his race engine affected his time. Older engines lose a bit of power, he said, which matters greatly on this circuit.

Dry weather greeted drivers for the opening session of qualifying after final free practice -- in which Heidfeld went quick -- was run on a damp circuit. Nakajima said the dry track should have helped Williams but the grip wasn't there, leaving him downfield. Fellow Williams runner Rosberg said he couldn't find grip, either.

Button's qualifying laps were his first of the day and he was passed by teammate Barrichello only after the checkered flag fell on first qualifying. Barrichello also expressed optimism but the clear fact is the Hondas aren't performing.

Circuit officials announced the corner currently called Stavelot, Turn 15, will be renamed for the late Belgian racer and journalist Paul Frere. Curve Paul Frere leads into the final, fast sector of the circuit.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Jenson Button , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , David Coulthard , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Sébastien Bourdais , Heikki Kovalainen , Paul Frere , Robert Kubica , Timo Glock , Sebastian Vettel , Kazuki Nakajima , Adrian Sutil
Teams Ferrari , Red Bull Racing , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams