Saturday, 19 July 2008

German Grand Prix Qualifying: Hamilton in the Driving Seat

Lewis Hamilton scored a last gasp pole position for McLaren-Mercedes right in the heartland of Mecedes-Benz at Hockenheim today. He will start tomorrow's German Grand Prix alongside one of the men with whom he currently shares the World Championship lead, Ferrari's Felipe Massa. It was a very poor day for the other man vying for the title though, as Kimi Raikkonen could only manage sixth place in a very competitive Ferrari. He was edged out by compatriot Heikki Kovalainen, as well as a couple of superb laps from Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso.

The session got underway under slightly overcast but warm and dry conditions. A swirling wind had a few drivers on their pit radios complaining of struggling with balance early on in the first session, but otherwise the conditions were pretty good for driving race cars. At the top of the timesheets it was the expected Ferrari vs McLaren battle ensuing, with Felipe Massa leading the top four drivers. He badly needed a good performance after his horror show at Silverstone last time out, and it was the perfect start to his day's work.

Massa's fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello came back to earth with a bump after his brilliant podium in Britain by getting knocked out in the very first session. He will start 18th, ahead of the two Force India cars on the back row. Nelson Piquet had a very poor session finishing 17th. After seemingly having a bit of a recovery in this very troubled debut season of his, he now seems to have gone backwards again. His misery was to be compounded later in the day when team mate Alonso showed just what the Renault car is capable of in expert hands. Nakajima was the final man to miss out, being squeezed out very narrowly by Jenson Button.

The second session saw much of the same up at the front of the grid, with Lewis Hamilton this time narrowly edging out Massa's Ferrari for top spot. The top four drivers were through safely, but Fernando Alonso was able to squeeze into the top four st the expense of Raikkonen, who wasn't really impressing so far.

The battle for the final spots in the shoot out was between the likes of all four Red Bull drivers, the BMW cars, and the Toyota of Glock. In the end there was disappointment for two of the German drivers as Glock and Heidfeld missed out by the narrowest of margins, with compatriot Rosberg a little further back. However, Germany's new favourite son Sebastien Vettel restored some pride as he put in an excellent performance to get into the top 10. Toro Rosso team mate Bourdais looked like he could be in with a shout of getting into the final session, but after setting a very good first sector he looked up hugely going into the hairpin and disappeared off onto the run off zone; his day was over. Both Red Bull Racing drivers did well to get through into the final session.

The final session saw a real split between the top 7 drivers and the next three. Webber, Coulthard and Vettel were having their own miniature battle for 8th, 9th and 10th, but were at least a full half a second adrift of the rest of the field. Webber was eventually 'victorious', with Vettel getting into 9th ahead of the man he will replace at Red Bull, David Coulthard. Kubica will start alongside Webber after a decent session. He seemed to drive pretty strongly and cleanly, but the BMW just seems to have lost the edge they had over the rest of the mid field. Perhaps they are focusing more towards their 2009 challenge?

Going into the final minutes of the session Massa was quickest. Raikkonen seemed to have found a bit of pace at last and went second fastest behind Massa. However, his team mate then increase his advantage to a full half second, really showing just how much quicker he is than his team mate this weekend. The two McLarens were the next cars to enter the Stadium sector with Kovalainen heading for the line first. He went bouncing through the grass on the exit of the final turn, but still had enough pace in hand to get ahead of Raikkonen. Hamilton was next through and kept things much more tidy through the final corners to snatch a brilliant pole position by nearly 2 tenths of a second. The action wasn't over yet though, as Fernando Alonso and qualifying specialist Jarno Trulli were both still out on track. Both drivers caused a real upset by getting ahead of World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. Clearly they are quite light on fuel, but brilliant laps from the two former Renault team mates nonetheless.

So going into tomorrow's race, the first of the second half of the season, it is advantage Hamilton. However, the start will be as crucial as ever with Felipe Massa breathing right down his neck. One of the key points of interest will be how long it takes Kimi Raikkonen to get ahead of the two cars in front of him on the grid. If he gets bottle-necked for more than a few laps then the top three cars may well have disappeared down the road and left him with no chance of a race win. He will be desperate to keep in touch though, as if Massa starts to edge out something of a lead over these next couple of races Ferrari may consider putting more effort behind the Brazilian's title push, at the expense of the current champ.

Provisional Starting Grid

1. Hamilton
2. Massa
3. Kovalainen
4. Trulli
5. Alonso
6. Raikkonen
7. Kubica
8. Webber
9. Vettel
10. Coulthard
11. Glock
12. Heidfeld
13. Rosberg
14. Button
15. Bourdais
16. Nakajima
17 Piquet
18. Barrichello
19. Sutil
20. Fisichella

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