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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hamilton on pole in Belgium

Lewis Hamilton edged Felipe Massa in the closing seconds to take pole at Spa, as McLaren and Ferrari were again the cream of the field.

“Today has been a great day for me. I was so happy with all three laps I did throughout qualifying,” Hamilton said. “It is always satisfying when you can go out, do one lap and come back in and watch everyone else going around trying to get their laps done. Today the team made no mistakes and I made no mistakes. I had four great laps but especially at the end.”

Massa felt he left it all out on the track.

“To be honest, I did a great lap, I did almost a perfect lap but it was not enough,” he said. “Sometimes you do a great lap and you are still missing something. On the qualifying these guys showed definitely a better performance than us and we need to understand why. I think yesterday we had a great car.”

Heikki Kovalainen took third and Kimi Raikkonen fourth, setting the tables for an epic battle on one of the sport’s remaining grand locations.

Best of the rest was Nick Heidfeld in the BMW Sauber. The embattled German, fastest in the morning practice, out-qualifying teammate Robert Kubica, who starts in eighth.

“I'm happy with the qualifying result, and for me the weekend has gone well so far,” Heidfeld said. “It wasn't bad on Friday, this morning I was quickest and fifth was the best possible result in qualifying. For me it is very important to know the work we have done has paid off.”

Renault's Fernando Alonso, fastest in Friday’s free practice was sixth, with Mark Webber’s Red Bull in seventh.

The Toro Rossos round out the top 10. Sebastien Bourdais, in desperate need of good showings in the remaining races to stake a claim to his seat next season, was the class of Q1. The Frenchman, fastest in the session, bested highly-rated teammate Sebastian Vettel.

“A qualifying session when I can get out of the car and say that I drove well and that the team, as usual did a good job,” Bourdais enthused. “It was nice to see my name at the top of a time sheet in Q1. It’s been a long time!”

Rain has played its part already this weekend, but it was dry for the start of Q1, though windy and cool as the STRs set their surprising pace. Not so surprising were the Force Indias, Hondas and Kazuki Nakajima in the Williams, who were eliminated at the end of the session.

“We have to be pleased with what we achieved in qualifying today,” said Rubens Barrichello, explaining Honda’s plight. “Particularly given that we have been pretty much at the bottom of the timesheets so far this weekend. It was a good lap and a good effort from the team. It’s just a shame that the car is not able to be more competitive here.”

Conditions steadily improved over the course of the day’s activities, and the times came tumbling down. Unable to keep pace were the Toyotas, which along with Nico Rosberg, Nelson Piquet and David Coulthard, were eliminated when Q2 concluded.

“We knew we would be struggling a bit today given these low temperatures and it was a difficult qualifying for us,” explained Jarno Trulli. “It was very hard to get the temperature into the tyres in order to make them work properly so it is then not easy to judge the car balance.”

The final shootout quickly revealed it was again a Ferrari/McLaren battle, and while Spa has been a Ferrari track in recent years, the Silver Arrows appear to be up for the challenge.

“I think coming from Valencia we knew we had some work to do. I have come here feeling better than ever and more and more comfortable in the car,” said Hamilton. “The preparation has been fantastic. As you can see I am stoked and I am struggling not to smile. Tomorrow is going to be a challenging day for all of us but with the pace and the package we have we are going to be hard to beat.”

For the rest it may come down to the ever tricky Ardennes weather. Action kicks off 2pm local time Sunday.

The grid:
  1. Hamilton, McLaren, 1:47.338
  2. Massa, Ferrari, 1:47.678
  3. Kovalainen, McLaren, 1:47.815
  4. Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:47.992
  5. Heidfeld, BMW Sauber, 1:48.315
  6. Alonso, Renault, 1:48.504
  7. Webber, Red Bull, 1:48.736
  8. Kubica, BMW Sauber, 1:48.763
  9. Bourdais, Toro Rosso, 1:48.951
  10. Vettel, Toro Rosso, 1:50.319
  11. Trulli, Toyota, 1:46.949
  12. Piquet, Renault, 1:46.965
  13. Glock, Toyota, 1:46.995
  14. Coulthard, Red Bull, 1:47.018
  15. Rosberg, Williams,1:47.429
  16. Barrichello, Honda, 1:48.153
  17. Button, Honda, 1:48.211
  18. Sutil, Force India, 1:48.226
  19. Nakajima, Williams, 1:48.268
  20. Fisichella, Force India, 1:48.447
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