Last-gasp pole for Hamilton as cold war heats up off track

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton put together the perfect lap on his final run in yesterday's qualifying session to snatch pole for today's Canadian Grand Prix away from Robert Kubica. The Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa slid on to the second and third rows of the grid respectively.

After a damp start the Ferraris went fast but not fast enough – the Finn third fastest, the Brazilian sixth. Kubica took pole position away from Hamilton (below) on his last run, only to have the Briton repay the favour in the last seconds of qualifying to put himself on target for a repeat of his 2007 victory here.

"It's been a fantastic Saturday for me," Hamilton said. "I didn't know that Robert was on the pole, as I was still P1 as I went into my last lap, but I had the feeling Robert might have beaten my time so I really knew I had to stick it out there.

"The track was really chewed up. Turn two and the exit to Turn seven and the apex and exit of the hairpin, there was loads of debris there. I just had to try and stick it out there and that's where everyone was losing their time. It was quite a clean lap, but I lost a lot of time in Turn 10. Icouldn't carry as much speed there or get on power early.

"It is a difficult race to prepare for, but with the experience of leading last year and the four safety cars, we can anticipate it's going to be very similar."

Off the track, the rift in the longest-running production in Formula One – The Max and Bernie Show – is becoming clear for all to see. First there were Ecclestone's comments in the days leading up to the Extraordinary General Assembly meeting in Paris in which embattled FIA president Mosley was told that 103 of his member clubs had the faith in him and 55 did not.

Now there is the story that Ecclestone and the manufacturers plan a breakaway World Championship. We've heard that before. On both occasions, back in 1981 and again last year, Mosley was at the forefront of the carefully contrived speculation. Now such a thing is being turned on him. So what's the beef that threatens to tear F1 apart?

It centres upon the agreement between the FIA, as the regulatory body of the sport, and the Formula One Group, led by Ecclestone, one of the commercial rights holders, and CVC, the holder of the remaining rights, whom he represents. Under the terms of an agreement signed in 2000, for a sum of $362m the FIA sold the commercial rights to Ecclestone for 100 years. He then sold a share of those rights to CVC. But there is a catch, sometimes known as the Don King Clause. Under that, if CVC want to sell the business on, which is, after all, what they do, Mosley has a veto which he can exercise at any point. The FIA are Mosley's powerbase, and he is loath to step down. Ecclestone and CVC, and the manufacturers, are desperate for him to do just that.

"In my opinion Max should stand down in November," Ecclestone told this paper last week. "For me it's a difficult situation because I run the Formula One Group of companies and the teams, the manufacturers, are violently opposed to him. But 62 per cent of the automobile clubs that make up the FIA voted to retain him as their president."

Ecclestone believes, however, that far from stepping down, Mosley will stand for re-election in October 2009 for another four-year term. "Max will be the president until he dies. This is what many people don't understand: he enjoys confrontation. He likes argument! These things stimulate him." That is not what the majority of people in the paddock want. The mood remains that Mosley should go, irrespective of what the majority of FIA member clubs think.

Sir Jackie Stewart, an implacable enemy, said: "Max is entirely convinced that he can conduct his business as president no matter what occurred. He's wrong. He is failing to recognise that a lot of companies do not want to see him in the paddock, and nor do the royal families of Spain, Bahrain and Monaco. A number of the chairmen, presidents or CEOs of the companies who were represented at Monaco called me and asked what to do, because they all wanted to avoid the risk of being seen with him. They put elaborate systems in place to achieve that.

"It is extremely selfish of Max to say that he can continue. At what cost to motorsport? The British papers were full of the scandal and how scandalous it was that Max won the vote and is carrying on. If he doesn't care about the damage he is doing, then he is not the quality of person that should be doing that job. I am simply bamboozled by the arrogance of that attitude. It is just totally self-serving."

Ecclestone added: "Max has always ruled by fear. But I think more people will be likely to take him on after all this."

Mosley won the vote, but Formula One's cold war is now really beginning to heat up.