Hamilton gets a grip at last to hit front of grid

Briton puts tyre troubles behind him to land pole with superb lap.
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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton put aside a weekend of tyre problems which had turned the track into a "skating rink", with a blistering final lap to snatch pole position for today's Canadian Grand Prix.

Hamilton had been quickest in the first two qualifying runs last night, as the second saw a big scalp fall when Michael Schumacher could only muster 13th fastest.

In the final session the Briton left it to the very end, but his best lap pushed Red Bull off the pole for the first time this year as Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel had to settle for second and third ahead of Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Tonio Liuzzi after the best qualifying session of the season.

The Formula One world loves being back in north America, after the Canadian GP dropped off the calendar in 2009, but initially the return to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Montreal's Ile Notre Dame was spoiled by cool temperatures and inconvenient rain which rendered the track a skating rink.

After rain on Thursday, the problem really began to manifest itself on Friday afternoon when the track had still refused to 'rubber in', and gain grip as the usual coating of rubber had not gone down during the morning's practice session. That, and lower than anticipated ambient and track temperatures which prevented the optional soft compound tyres generating the correct operating temperatures. That left cars sliding hopelessly around, to the detriment of the tyres themselves which then started to throw off rubber, exacerbating the grip deficiency.

"FP3 will be very, very important to compare between the option and the prime to see if the option is quick," admitted Bridgestone's head of motorsport tyre development Hirohide Hamashima. "If that is the case then maybe the grid will be interesting. Someone could take a risk with the option tyres for qualifying, and in that case we could have a little bit of a different story from the past races."

Lewis Hamilton, who will start from pole position this afternoon, said: "On the option tyre it was unbelievable. With the graining I had on the option tyre, I had to come in. But I think a lot of people had the same experience, except perhaps the Red Bulls, so it's going to be an interesting one. I don't think you'll be seeing a long first stint on the option tyre, that's for sure."

Within laps of the third session, however, Hamilton radioed his relieved crew with the news that the performance of his McLaren was like night and day compared to the previous outings. He was quickest in the first two qualifying runs, but the second saw a big scalp fall when Schumacher could only muster 13th fastest time.

In the final session Hamilton left it to the very end, but his best lap pushed Red Bull off the pole for the first time this year as Webber and Vettel had to settle for second and third ahead of Alonso, Button and Tonio Liuzzi after the best qualifying session of the season.

On his slowing down lap Hamilton's McLaren ran out of fuel, leaving him first to coast along sitting on the side of the cockpit, then to start pushing.

"That felt great," he smiled, "because it gave me time to wave to the fans, and we've had so much support from them here, there are lots of British flags. It felt great, a unique experience."

But where he used the softer tyre the two Red Bull drivers believe their strategy of qualifying on the harder compound will reap the big reward to today. Hamilton denied that he and McLaren are gambling on using a safety car intervention to their advantage, however.

"I don't personally feel so," he said. "Every race you are taking gambles. We haven't gone into this feeling we need to gamble. The two tyres are very close [in performance], and the option doesn't last as long as the prime, but the degradation isn't as bad as it was yesterday. Of course if the safety car comes around it could help, but it'll be interesting to see everyone's strategy tomorrow."

Webber smiled as he listened. "Today was a very good day for me," he said, "it was a good fight for the front row. McLaren were expected to be strong here, obviously on a different compound to us, and that's the grid we have today. To be on the front row with a tyre which, for us, we think will be more stable, means we are very happy. Let's see how it works out tomorrow."

Hamilton's composure was unaffected. "It's just been a great day," he said. "This pole is down to the guys after I damaged car little in practice. It felt like a bearing might be going as it was pulling a little to the left, so they changed both left-hand corners with only 40 minutes to go before the start of qualifying. As I watched the mechanics it was like watching an orchestra, they did a seriously professional job by them to repair it.

"It was a bit overwhelming really, as so many memories came back when they told me over radio that I had pole. It reminded me of taking my first pole and win here 2007."

The battle he'll have keeping ahead of the Red Bulls tomorrow, with Ferrari and Jenson Button within striking distance and Tonio Liuzzi close enough to spring a surprise for Force India, suggests that Canada could be every bit as exciting as Turkey, especially as the two Red Bulls head for the first corner.