Hamilton looks the part on pole
World champion shrugs off spares fiasco to qualify fastest as Button shows signs of a revival.
Sunday 23 August 2009
British renaissance was the theme round the Juan Carlos Marina here as downtown Valencia broiled in 31C and Bridgestone's tyres smeared themselves into a track warmed to 46C.
Lewis Hamilton took his first pole position of the season as McLaren continued their upward swing from Hungary, and while Jenson Button might have been disappointed that fifth place left him two positions behind team-mate Rubens Barrichello, that too was a sign that Brawn are finding their way again.
The factories might have been closed for two weeks during the recent summer break, but the last week had seen all of the teams making frantic efforts to catch up again. That very nearly undid McLaren as they debuted an MP4-24 with a shorter wheelbase and then had to sit out a large part of Friday afternoon's practice when Hamilton damaged his after spinning into a wall and there were no spares to effect immediate repairs.
"Every little bit of time on the track makes a huge difference in tuning the car," Hamilton said. "In terms of dialling in the handling, I had a lot of pressure on me this morning, but we did a good job and I was comfortable with it. In qualifying it was nice to be able to do single laps and then get the times in. We haven't fully sorted the loose rear end that caused the problem yesterday, but my pole lap was OK, quite good."
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh took that one on the chin. "We have got parts that are literally in transit here. I don't feel embarrassed about it, I feel frustrated. I am sure tomorrow the circuit will have evolved a little bit more and I think we can be competitive. But it is not nice having to sit there for nearly an hour and a half not being able to run the cars."
Nobody was embarrassed or frustrated yesterday, however, when McLaren sewed up the front row of the grid for the first time since 2007.
"It's a fantastic achievement," Hamilton continued. "We have very, very good pace and it was very tight between Heikki [Kovalainen] and me. We haven't had a one-two in qualifying for a long time, and it feels great.
"There were times in 2007 when I only had to do one run, but this year has usually been a matter of all guns blazing. I did a couple of very good laps, and for sure we start in the very best position for a podium, but it all depends on strategy and how the start goes.
"It's a really great result for us and the team well deserves it." A small mistake by Kovalainen in the final sector cost him his shot at pole, but the upturn in his performance was timely after McLaren had told him he needs to up his game to fend off Nico Rosberg's challenge for his seat.
The driver market won't ramp up fully until Ferrari confirm that Fernando Alonso will race for them in 2010, and that isn't expected until Monza in September. But besides Kovalainen and Rosberg, Robert Kubica is on the market following BMW's withdrawal. There is still a question mark over Felipe Massa's future, Kimi Raikkonen is expected to be paid off by Ferrari so he can go rallying, and Giancarlo Fisichella is angling for the Ferrari test seat. Only Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber have been confirmed for 2010 at Red Bull.
And Button has yet to pen a new contract with Brawn, doubtless waiting for a new title sponsor to be confirmed and to see whether the world champion's crown can help him to claw back some of the pay cut he took at the beginning of the year.
He was philosophical to be fifth fastest when Barrichello was up with the McLarens. "I struggled with the car on low fuel, but when we put fuel on board the balance was much better," he said. "I went wide in Turn Four, which screwed me in Turn Five and I lost a couple of 10ths but, still it would only have been P4. In a way it's better to be P5 on the clean side here. Vettel is just in front but hopefully not for long. Obviously the McLarens were very quick this session and impossible to catch, so it's not too bad."
And Luca Badoer, standing in for the indisposed Felipe Massa and Michael "The Neck" Schumacher at Ferrari? He may have confused the pit lane and the race track after his 10-year layoff, as he was penalised four times on Friday for speeding in the pit lane. On the track there was no danger of that happening.
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