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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hamilton on pole in Germany

A flyer in the closing moments of qualifying delivered Lewis Hamilton the pole at Hockenheim, edging Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.

"I knew that we had the pace. My lap was really smooth. It was pretty easy going," Hamilton said. "I was quite comfortable we could have gone a little bit quicker if we needed to. I felt quite cool."

For Massa, it was business as usual, the Brazilian shying away from saying his performance was redemption for the British Grand Prix.

"I just had a very bad weekend at Silverstone, not just the race the whole weekend was very bad for me," he said. "What we saw today here was not the recovery. It was just what we are able to do. That’s our target, to be competitive and we are so it’s just normal."

Hamilton’s McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen, the fastest man in Saturday’s morning practice session, will start third. Jarno Trulli will start next to him in his well-qualified Toyota.

"For myself, in qualifying the car felt the best it’s felt all weekend so far. Going into Q3 I was very confident that I could be challenging for pole position but then arriving in turn 12 in my first lap in Q3 I just lost the rear end and went wide," Kovalainen said. "I don’t know what happened there, it just suddenly turned in. But I think I maybe just tried to go too deep into the corner. I think I damaged the bottom of the car a little bit on the right hand side."

Fernando Alonso continued to show good qualifying pace in the Renault, and will start fifth. It will be interesting to see if he can keep that pace Sunday.

Kimi Raikkonen must be a bit disappointed to be starting sixth, and will need a blistering start to keep up with his teammate and the McLarens.

Robert Kubica starts in seventh, ahead of a glut of Red Bull-related drivers – Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and David Coulthard -- rounding out the top 10.

It was a mostly dry circuit that met the drivers as qualifying under way, with a few threatening drops of rain. Times steadily dropped through the first session as drivers traded top honors, but winds made the going tricky.

"You notice that down the back straight. You are trying to hold the steering wheel straight as much as possible but the wind hits you from the left and from the right. You can feel it each time that it is moving the car," Hamilton said. "Then when you get to the stadium, obviously when you come in, it is a bit blocked up by the stadium. As you come in there you have reasonably decent downforce, then at the last corner all of a sudden you get a big gust of wind."

Renault and BMW Sauber were the latecomers, waiting until half the session had passed before emerging from their garages.

Kubica drew particular attention after a morning crash resulted in a broken driveshaft. He would set the fifth best time on his first flyer, but just make the cut (14th) when all was said and done. The Pole said he had difficulty with the Force India cars blocking him.

It was a familiar group who found themselves eliminated at the end of the session – Kazuki Nakajima, Nelson Piquet, Rubens Barrichello, and the Force Indias.

For Piquet, a very disappointing qualifying as the Brazilian had seemed to be turning a corner. A performance made all the worse when compared to Alonso’s. Piquet indicated he felt he was held up by Vettel, but now judgment was made by the stewards.

A tough one for Barrichello, as well, from race podium to qualifying 18th, however, the veteran was quick to point out he won the 2000 race at Hockenheim from the same position on the grid. Realistically, though, it will take rain for an encore performance from the Honda driver.

The field pared down, first on the track for Q2 after the break was Raikkonen, followed by Massa. The McLarens soon joined the fray as Raikkonen, Massa and then Hamilton each posted the best time.

Meanwhile, it was another wait and see session for BMW Sauber, who waited again to almost the midpoint of the session before turning a lap.

By the final two minutes, McLaren and Ferrari knew they were through to the final session, but it was a mad scramble as the rest of the field headed back out onto the track.

Coulthard and Vettel used strong runs to put themselves in the top 10. But mistakes by Sebastien Bourdais and Nick Heidfeld killed their chances of making Q3.

They were joined by Jenson Button, as well as Timo Glock and Nico Rosberg, which left Vettel the only German to make it to the final session.

So in many ways it was the usual suspects in the final shootout, with the McLarens and Ferraris battling it out for the top spot, and it was Massa who set the benchmark, only to be pipped by Hamilton at the end of the session.

"It has been a good day, as you can see I feel pretty chilled and very happy with what we have done,"Hamilton said. "But today is not when you win points, tomorrow is when you win points, so me and Heikki are going to do the best job we can tomorrow to get a one-two."

Possible showers and cooling temps are in the forecast for race day. The action kicks off at 2pm local time Sunday. For U.S. fans, it’s tape delay again – 1pm Eastern on Fox. Lucky us.

The grid:
  1. Hamilton, McLaren
  2. Massa, Ferrari
  3. Kovalainen, McLaren
  4. Trulli, Toyota
  5. Alonso, Renault
  6. Raikkonen, Ferrari
  7. Kubica, BMW Sauber
  8. Webber, Red Bull
  9. Vettel, Toro Rosso
  10. Coulthard, Red Bull
  11. Glock, Toyota
  12. Heidfeld, BMW Sauber
  13. Rosberg, Williams
  14. Button, Honda
  15. Bourdais, Toro Rosso
  16. Nakajima, Williams
  17. Piquet, Renault
  18. Barrichello, Honda
  19. Sutil, Force India
  20. Fisichella, Force India
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