Hamilton settles for second spot

Massa on pole but young Briton keeps main title rivals in his slipstream. By David Tremayne at Istanbul Park
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The Independent Online

It was the barest of touches,nothing approaching a handshake at all, and perhaps it gave the lie tothe newly re-established empathy between Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team-mate, Fernando Alonso.

It came at the end of qualifying, as they climbed from their cars and Hamilton savoured a hard-won second place on the grid. Alonso had run ahead of him in the previous two sessions, but now the tables had been turned, and the disappointment was writ large on the Spaniard's face. Felipe Massa, Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen were headed for the post-qualifying press conference as the fastest three runners. Alonso was only fourth, and unhappy about it.

And then there was the usual joshing between Massa and Hamilton, which in the circumstances merely served to underline the situation. The Brazilian extended a hand to his friend, who deliberately withdrew his before raising it to pat Massa affectionately on the side ofthe head. Their laughter was genuine and spontaneous, asit has been all season, that oftwo likeable young men who know they are sticking it to the establishment, and who have unbounded and unforced respect for one another.

For somebody whose world has been turned upside down since the post-qualifying events in Hungary three weeks ago, Hamilton has bounced back remarkably. Life, stressful back then and even at times during his holiday in St Tropez aboard McLaren shareholder Mansour Ojjeh's boat and again back home in the UK, was good again.

Alonso, by contrast, remained unhappy. He and Hamilton sat down on Thursday to air their grievances over the Hungarian débâcle, and as Hamilton apologised, Alonso told him his beef was with the team, not him. On Friday, there was more from the Spaniard, as he said: "That is always very clear in any team, you know, to have equal opportunities to everybody and to have an equal car to your team-mate.

"I think I gave the team a lot. When I arrived in December, I remember the car I drove; I remember the results they had in 2006. I brought to the team half a second, six-tenths, whatever, and I don't see anything giving me back."

It is hard not to feel for Alonso.Up until this season he was the new yardstick of the sport, the one man who seemed flawless. In the first two sessions of qualifying here he was faster than Hamilton: second to Raikkonen, then fastest. But in the one that mattered, Hamilton put it all together. And the result seemed good enough for pole until Massa rode his red horse out of the sun to beat him by a fraction, 1min 27.329sec to 1:27.373. Raikkonen's chances evaporated when he made a slight error in the penultimate corner, leaving him third on 1:27.546, but 1:27.574 leftAlonso fourth.

"It was very tough, very tight, always a big fight between all four drivers," said Massa, whose first pole position here a year ago translated into his first victory. "I'm very proud, especially after the very bad result in Hungary. Turn Eight here is fantastic, and I just managed to do it very well. I loved thecorner all weekend, got good speeds through there, and a good balance on the car."

By contrast, Hamilton struggled in the first two sessions. "Going into qualifying I knew we had the pace, we were either with Ferrari or slightly faster, so I was confident," he said. "So Q1 and Q2 [the first and second qualifying sessions] were a bit of a surprise to me. The car didn't feel great and I couldn't get a clean, smooth lap. I was fourth in the first session and third in the second.

"The first lap in Q3 was OK, I knew where I lost time, but going into that last lap I really put everything together. I lost a little bit of time in the last corner, but I'm absolutely happy with second."

The truth is that, the battle with Alonso notwithstanding, the racetrack is Hamilton's "happy place". Away from it, he admits, things are not so comfortable. The world of celebrity is not one he really wants to inhabit, and it is getting increasingly irksome that others want to force him to.

"It's quite disappointing, all the media attention," he said, alluding to the paparazzi's attentions during his holiday break. "It's a lot of rubbish, all those stories about me and Sarah Ojjeh. I was supposed to go away with my friends, have a lads' holiday, but I thought it was a bad idea in the middle of a season fighting for the world championship. Instead I was invited along to Mansour's boat and there were 13 of us, including all three of the Ojjeh daughters and their boyfriends.

"I wasn't expecting to have pictures taken, and what you didn't see in that one [Hamilton throwing Sarah Ojjeh into the water] was that there were 11 other people there. It's not as if I was in with all those women.

"My ex-girlfriend and I made a mutual decision to move on, and are still great friends. Now I'm supposedly dating one of the Ojjeh daughters, which is completely untrue. It's not me. I'm not a playboy. If I had gone out and bought all these expensive cars and dated all these women, fair play, but I'm not, I'm trying to lead a normal life."

The championship leader is smart enough to know that the price of fame comes high, even perhaps to the extent of driving him from the UK. Further success this afternoon will only bring that decision higher up his growing list of priorities.

Watch Lewis Hamilton in the Turkish Grand Prix on ITV1 today; the race starts at 1pm

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