Spain Qualy: Hamilton on pole
Ferrari and Williams back in the mix as Hamilton shines
Last Updated: 12/05/12 7:25pm
Lewis Hamilton has claimed pole position for the Spanish GP after an extraordinary and entirely-unpredictable qualifying hour at Barcelona that ended with his McLaren marooned out on the circuit and both Ferrari and Williams celebrating their return to the elite.
It was just like the old days as the third and final segment of qualifying finally sizzled into life with Fernando Alonso, in the deceptively-improved F2012, jousting with his former foe for pole and a Williams, after years stuck in the doldrums, back in the mix as Pastor Maldonado produced the performance of the day to take second on the grid.
Take your pick for the most stunning feature of the dramatic culmination: the sudden realisation Ferrari, at least when the F2012 is being wrestled by Alonso, are serious frontrunners again, the confirmation that Williams - fastest in Qualy Two and for the majority of Practice Three - are the latest additions to an ever-lengthening list of teams capable of winning this season, or the awe at Hamilton trumping the field by over half a second as he produced a devastating lap of 1:21.707 as the chequered flag fell.
Hamilton in pole position
As has proved to be the case so often this season, there was still another sting in the tale to be told, however, with Hamilton ordered to stop out on the track as he completed his slowing-down lap. The problem is not thought to be serious but, given McLaren's unerring capacity to shoot themselves in the foot this season, Hamilton's legions of admirers are unlikely to breathe easy until his MP4-27 is spotted taking its place at the front of the grid for Sunday's race.
It's a contest that already holds the promise of being a classic with the ultra-aggressive Maldonado starting alongside Hamilton and the revitalised Alonso in the shadow of the MP4-27. Each driver will have genuine reason for satisfaction with their efforts, especially because each contrasted sharply with that of their team-mate.
For although Hamilton looked the fastest driver throughout the session, Jenson Button never once appeared comfortable in his McLaren, losing balance in his charger and subjecting his radio to what seemed like a continuous stream of complaint about understeer. Meanwhile, Bruno Senna haplessly put Maldonado's career-best performance into even more creditable light by succumbing to pressure in Qualy One and crashing out as the drop beckoned. As for Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari, the less said the better.
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Elsewhere, the Lotus team were quietly efficient, with Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen settling for fourth and fifth. Given the E20's ability to make their soft tyres last, neither driver should be written out of the equation for Sunday's race. Sauber also continued to impress, with Sergio Perez taking sixth ahead of the disappointing Mercedes and a lacklustre Sebastian Vettel who abandoned his final lap in order to start the race on the hard compound and whose primary objective throughout the afternoon seemed to be saving tyres rather than securing a frontrunning grid-slot.
In that context, Mark Webber's failure to reach Q3 did not assume a high profile, but Red Bull's determination to save rubber rather than join the final shoot-out is another unedifying chapter to the wider debate about the importance of the Pirellis in F1's current guise.
Perhaps the solution would be to award points for qualifying performance. Hamilton, fresh from his third pole in five races and seemingly free from any calculations about putting preservation ahead of pace, would surely agree.
Since this report was published, Lewis Hamilton has been excluded from the results of qualifying and demoted to the back of the grid for breaching Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations.