Hamilton stripped of pole position

Briton finishes quickest but is banished to back of grid after stopping on track due to fuel mix-up

Barcelona

One moment Lewis Hamilton was savouring a sublime lap. The next, he was contemplating the ridiculous.

After taking pole position by half a second he was told by his team to stop his McLaren on the track after they detected a "technical issue". The team spoke of force majeure but subsequently the stewards deemed that a mechanic forgetting to fuel the car properly did not count as that, and that the team had contravened the rule requiring a car to have sufficient juice to get back to the pits under its own steam.

One might have expected Hamilton's best lap time to be cancelled, and his next best to count, which would have left him sixth on the grid. But he received the ultimate penalty for an error that had nothing to do with him, was excluded from the times altogether and will start from the back of grid. Welcome to the draconian world of F1.

Thus, just before a surprise paddock celebration of Sir Frank Williams's recent 70th birthday, the veteran racer found his Venezuelan driver Pastor Maldonado sitting on the most extraordinary pole position of the season. If the fact that Hamilton was (once) fastest and team-mate Jenson Button only 11th had highlighted the incredible sensitivity of Formula One's tyre situation, Maldonado's terrific performance doubly underlined it.

This year Pirelli's tyres offer high performance for only a limited time before degrading. It's up to the teams to figure out the optimum chassis set-ups and for the drivers to keep the rubber alive as long as possible. That's part of racing and always has been. But what's significant is that nobody has yet been able to get it right consistently because the tyres' perfect window of operation is so small, just a few degrees either side of the optimum.

McLaren did it in Australia, where Hamilton was on pole and Button won, and in Malaysia, where Hamilton was on pole but then had things upskittled by the rain, which allowed Fernando Alonso and Ferrari to snatch a brilliant opportunist's victory. Then it was Mercedes' turn, spectacularly, in China, as Nico Rosberg scored his first F1 victory.

Last time out, in Bahrain, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull were back on top. Now Williams were hot. For the first time this year Pirelli brought tyres that are two compounds apart, with hard and soft rubber rather than hard and medium, or medium and soft. That has made it even harder for teams to get the set-ups absolutely right because there is such a performance and durability difference between the two.

Hamilton had been elated after doing a peerless job and encapsulated the arcane art when he spoke of finding the sweet spot of his car as Button struggled all day to balance his. "That's one of the best sessions I've ever had," Hamilton said, the pleasure on his face a stark contrast to the haunted expression that characterised him last year. "I was really satisfied with that lap. Every time you go out to qualify you search for that perfect lap and I was able to put the car in that sweet spot where you just gain time and don't lose any. It was a fantastic feeling. Overwhelming."

Button, who had been fastest on Friday, said glumly: "I didn't get anywhere near the balance I had yesterday. I had understeer in the high-speed corners and the rear end was very loose in the slow-speed stuff."

Then came the bombshell, and Maldonado's promotion. Maldonado and local hero Alonso thus start from the front row, the Lotuses of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen behind. The Finn is the real dangerman, keen to make amends for bottling his attempted pass of Vettel in Bahrain. And, almost alone of all the front-runners, he doesn't care about the tyres. "They're not causing the change in racing," he declared. "It's because we don't refuel any more. If you'd asked the old Bridgestone tyres to do what we are asking the Pirellis to do, with 160 litres of fuel on board, they'd be degrading at the same rate."

His Lotus's long-run pace and consistency on the soft tyres has been ominously impressive.

Today's grid

1 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:22.285; 2 F Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:22.302; 3 R Grosjean (Swi) Lotus F1 Team 1:22.424; 4 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:22.487; 5 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:22.533; 6 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:23.005; 7 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull no time; 8 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP no time; 9 K Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber-Ferrari no time; 10 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:22.944; 11 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:22.977; 12 P Di Resta (GB) Force India 1:23.125; 13 N Hülkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:23.177; 14 JE Vergne (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.265; 15 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.442; 16 F Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:23.444; 17 B Senna (Bra) Williams 1:24.981; 18 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 1:25.277; 19 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 1:25.507; 20 C Pic (Fra) Marussia 1:26.582; 21 T Glock (Ger) Marussia 1:27.032; 22 P de la Rosa (Spa) HRT-F1 1:27.555; 23 N Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-F1 1:31.122. 24 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1min 21.707secs (excluded)

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor