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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hamilton on pole at Fuji

With three races to go in the championship, Lewis Hamilton couldn’t ask to be in much better a position, taking pole at Fuji, with rival Felipe Massa well back in fifth.

“We have been able to outpace the Ferraris which is great for us and I think a really strong showing from me and from Heikki, so hopefully tomorrow we can push forward with the strategy we have and really challenge for the front,” Hamilton said.

Massa had been fast in the previous two sessions, but his Ferrari lost pace in the final session.

“A shame. Today I was the quickest man on track but at the wrong moment. In Q3, I never had the right amount of grip from both sets of tyres that I used,” Massa explained.

Teammate Kimi Raikkonen put aside his recent string of lackluster qualifying sessions to take second, just ahead of Heikki Kovalainen’s
McLaren.

“It has not been easy lately in the races but we have done a lot of work and finally we have got a little result out of it, so it is good to be here and it is a good place to start with tomorrow,” Raikkonen said.

The third driver standing between Massa and Hamilton is Singapore winner Fernando Alonso who achieved a strong fourth.

“We can be happy with fourth place, which is a good result and the work we did yesterday certainly paid us back today,” Alonso said. “I think we can realistically aim for a top five finish.”

BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica was sixth ahead of the Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock. The STR boys rounded out the top 10, Sebastian Vettel edging Sebastien Bourdais.

Rain overnight left the drivers with a green track. Toyota owns the track, and the home team provided plenty to cheer about with both drivers in the top 10 and Glock topping Q1.

“We've done quite a good job overall this weekend preparing for qualifying and the race,” Trulli enthused. “In Q2 I was fourth and Timo was fifth so it shows that the Toyotas are going well... Now we must go for a strong result for everyone here in front of our own fans and we must fight really hard until the end tomorrow.”

Honda, on the other hand, couldn’t muster anything new at its home race, both cars eliminated in Q1. Joining them were the two Force Indias.

Nick Heidfeld, recently given a vote of confidence by BMW Sauber for improved performance, was a surprise elimination in the first session.

“Now we know it was the wrong decision to stay on the harder tyre compound for the second outing in Q1,” Heidfeld explained. “After my initial run on the first set of those tyres, I knew I could improve on the Prime tyres, so we took the risk and put on another set. I actually did improve, I was about half a second quicker, but still it wasn't enough and I missed Q2 by one tenth of a second. Robert just made it.”

Once again the Toro Rossos had the better of their Red Bull stablemates, David Coulthard and Mark Webber both missing the final shootout, the Scot in 11th and Webber in 13th. Splitting them are Renault’s Nelson Piquet.

Kazuki Nakajima could do no better than 14th in the Williams at his home race, but he did manage to pip teammate Nico Rosberg.

“After a strong run in the practice sessions that was a difficult qualifying, but we did do our best. I don’t think that this afternoon’s conditions suited the car that much...” Nakajima said.

Things seem to be playing into Hamilton’s favor as the shadows grow long on this season. But it is important to note the Briton won here last year, only to squander the championship to Raikkonen, who trailed by 17 points at the time.

“I just try to take every race as it comes and I am definitely, compared to last year, looking at the championship and what I need to do to win it. It is obviously within my grasp but we as a team have to put a really strong effort in to continue with the momentum we have,” Hamilton said. “For me, I am approaching every race exactly as I have throughout the season. I don’t think I need to change anything, just keep the car on the road and try and bring it home and score some good points.”

That would be a tall proposition this year for the Finn, who has yet to be mathematically eliminated, but serves to highlight this year’s title is far from decided.

“I don’t have much to lose. For sure we want to try to win both championships but it is not going to be easy against McLaren,” Raikkonen said. “But I will do the best job I can tomorrow and hopefully we can fight for the win and if we can get it, that would be nice. But I don’t look to the championship that much now. I just try and go and win some races and finish with a nice three last races of the season. That would be good.”

The grid
  1. Hamilton, McLaren, 1:18.404
  2. Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:18.644
  3. Kovalainen, McLaren, 1:18.821
  4. Alonso, Renault, 1:18.852
  5. Massa, Ferrari, 1:18.874
  6. Kubica, BMW Sauber, 1:18.979
  7. Trulli, Toyota, 1:19.026
  8. Glock, Toyota, 1:19.118
  9. Vettel, Toro Rosso, 1:19.638
  10. Bourdais, Toro Rosso, 1:20.167
  11. Coulthard, Red Bull, 1:18.187
  12. Piquet, Renault, 1:18.274
  13. Webber, Red Bull, 1:18.354
  14. Nakajima, Williams, 1:18.594
  15. Rosberg, Williams, 1:18.672
  16. Heidfeld, BMW Sauber, 1:18.835
  17. Barrichello, Honda, 1:18.882
  18. Button, Honda, 1:19.100
  19. Sutil, Force India, 1:19.163
  20. Fisichella, Force India, 1:19.910
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