Hamilton happy to push pole-grabber Webber all the way

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The Independent Online

It's been a tough road for Lewis Hamilton recently, speed-trapped by criticism from sectors of the media and retired F1 drivers of varying skill and charisma.

Nothing summarised it better than the need to conserve fuel at Silverstone because he was driving harder than his engineers had calculated. But one mega qualifying lap swept all that away yesterday here on the chilly Nürburgring, and brought back the old smile as the McLaren driver separated his Red Bull rivals.

"That lap was as good as it gets," Hamilton beamed after Mark Webber had beaten him to pole position for today's German Grand Prix by only 0.05sec. "The team has made a fantastic effort with new upgrades and a constant push to bring up the performance, and they've helped massively.

"The lap was fantastic, one of the happiest laps I've ever had, and it felt incredible to be not far off Mark.

"We were struggling with overall downforce, but we kept on trying to dial the car in and find little bits here and there. The long-run performance here is better than Silverstone, where we struggled with the rule changes. We were on our back foot there."

After the débâcle of the British GP the off-throttle blown diffuser has been allowed back, and that, Hamilton said, had enabled McLaren to get back into the fight and push ahead of Ferrari.

Webber's great performance rekindled happy memories of his breakthrough victory here two years ago. "The session went pretty well," the laconic Aussie said, "and I was thinking on my slowdown lap that if somebody beats me they deserve it. I couldn't have got much more out of it."

He didn't need to say it, but it was also very satisfying to upstage his German team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, who was third on his home turf. It's nearly a year since Webber last won a race. "Where?" he asked himself out loud. "Hungary, yep? We all love winning, and it'd be nice to feel that again very soon."

He was discouraged from challenging Vettel in the closing laps at Silverstone and made his dissatisfaction clear. Vettel, off the front row today for the first time in 15 starts, smirked when asked whether he would stay behind Webber if the roles are reversed here. "It always depends on the situation," he said. "If it's similar to Silverstone, where for the team there is nothing really to gain, there is no point to try something silly. Otherwise I'll fight Mark, I'll fight anyone."

Bernie Ecclestone, meanwhile, has been gaily deflecting questions about the likelihood of being arrested for alleged involvement in the bribery scandal involving Gerhard Gribkowsky. Prosecutors in Munich allege he received $44 million (£27m) in bribes from Ecclestone, who in return received $41.4m in commissions, plus another $25m for his family's Bambino Trust, from Bayerische Landesbank, who owned a majority share of the Formula One group.

Ecclestone denies wrongdoing and says that he paid off Gribkowsky because he was threatening to cause trouble and suggest to the Inland Revenue that Ecclestone is the real power behind Bambino. It's no surprise the F1 rights-holder, insouciant as ever, turned up here, nor that he was accompanied by his senior lawyer, Sacha Woodward-Hill.

"Why wouldn't I be here?" Ecclestone demanded to know. "Why would they arrest me? There is no reason."

Grid: 1 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull. 2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren. 3 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull. 4 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari. 5 F Massa (Bra) Ferrari. 6 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes. 7 J Button (GB) McLaren. 8 A Sutil (Ger) Force India. 9 V Petrov (Rus) Renault. 10 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes. 11 N Heidfeld (Ger) Renault. 12 P di Resta (GB) Force India. 13 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams. 14 R Barrichello (Br) Williams. 15 S Perez (Mex) Sauber. 16 S Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso. 17 J Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso. 18 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber. 19 H Kovalainen (Fin) Team Lotus. 20 T Glock (Ger) Virgin. 21 K Chandhok (India) Team Lotus. 22 J d'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin. 23 D Ricciardo (Aus) HRT. 24 V Liuzzi (It) HRT.