Ice-cold Hamilton cruises into pole position

A composed performance from the Briton saw him easily beat his rivals to dominate the grid. By David Tremayne at Hockenheim
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The Independent Online

Thankfully, Lewis Hamilton would make a lousy poker player. You watch his face after a qualifying session and it is usually crystal-clear whether he is happy or dissatisfied. Two weeks ago at Silverstone, where he later admitted he had done a poor job, it was writ large in his expression. Here at Hockenheim, he could scarcely control the maximum-wattage beam beneath his red Vodafone cap as he continued his current momentum by taking his third pole position of the season.

And, truth be told, he did it easily. Earlier in the weekend he had complained that his McLaren Mercedes silver arrow had felt nervous. Now it was running as smoothly as one of his engine manufacturer's S-Class limos.

"On my final lap in Q3 I was quite happy, to be honest," he ventured, referring to the third, crucial, session of qualifying. "It went smoothly. There were yellow flags out at Turn 12 on my first run, I guess where Heikki [Kovalainen] had gone off, so I was careful not to get a penalty. I lifted off the throttle, so it was not a great lap time. But that final lap was easy going and I felt quite comfortable. I could have gone quicker if needed, so I'm quite cool."

Cooler than Kimi Raikkonen, that's for sure, the man most see as Hamilton's sternest opposition for the world championship. Once again it was as if the real Finn had not turned up here, but just sent along the double who looks like him but does not drive the way he can.

Sometimes this season Raik-konen has arrived and just blitzed everyone. At other times, the double has done a valiant stand-in job but just has not quite been able to cut the mustard.

Step forward Felipe Massa. Once again, the little Brazilian was on the warpath as Ferrari's faster runner, and he did a fine job to snatch a place on the front row of the grid from McLaren's Kovalainen.

The Finn, like his team-mate Hamilton, was revelling in McLaren's performance enhance- ments of the past few weeks, which have tamed the MP4-23 and turned it into a car with similar pace to the Ferrari. His best effort yielded a lap in 1min 16.143sec, momentarily good enough for the pole.

"It's been a good effort from everybody, the car has really performed well over the last three or four weeks," he said. "In qualifying it was the best it has felt all week, so I was very confident I could challenge for pole, but I arrived at Turn 12 on my first lap in Q3 and lost the rear end and went wide.

"I don't know what happened. Maybe I just tried too hard and went too deep into the corner. And maybe I damaged the car a little. On the final run I went a little rallycross again on the exit to the last corner, so I am very happy with P3, taking into account all those moments."

That left the way clear for Massa, who banged in a lap of1: 15.859 to push Kovalainen down a place. Whatever Massa might want the world to believe, he was still smarting from a dreadful afternoon at Silverstone in which he spun five times in the rain as Hamilton walked on the water, but he insisted: "This was not really a recovery. I know I'm quick in the wet and I have been all my career, even in karts I won when it rained.

"I don't believe people who say I am no good in the wet, and I didn't forget how to drive in it in F1. Silverstone was just a bad weekend. What we did here was not a recovery, it was just our target, just normal."

It also seemed good enough for pole until Hamilton's final run netted 1:15.666 and reset the bar again. "It's going to be tough, for sure, very tight," Massa acknowledged. "The big question, of course, is to know how much fuel everybody had. Even in the test here last week, and again this morning, the lap times are very tight. And it's very competitive between Ferrari and McLaren, between all four cars, maybe. It's exciting, but we need to do everything right and hopefully we can do that in the race."

As Raikkonen admitted that he has been struggling all weekend to find the right set-up on his car, Hamilton sat and beamed, savouring pole position.

How important was it? "Well, this is quite a good circuit, you can overtake here and can follow reasonably close in Turn One, it's quite an exciting circuit for that. But it's very satisfying to be on pole. We've been working for this bit by bit, and the team have done a great job to put the car up there. I'm pretty happy with my own performance, too. I wouldn't say there is anything particular I have to improve on."

And just as he had a fortnight ago at Silverstone, he loved the atmosphere on Mercedes's home ground. "It's quite cool. We've had some great races in Germany, at the Nürburgring too. The atmosphere is always great, the fans here have always been fantastic. This weekend I'm surprised to see how many people were here on Saturday, and I very much appreciate all the support we have for our team. I feel chilled and happy with what we've done, but today isn't when we win points; that comes tomorrow."

Watch the German Grand Prix live today on ITV1 from midday. The race starts at 1pm

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