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Lewis Hamilton has sealed McLaren’s 150th Formula 1 pole position in Spain on Saturday afternoon. The Englishman, on his first Barcelona pole after a completely mixed up qualifying session, will share the front row with Pastor Maldonado’s Williams. Both Jenson Button and Mark Webber were eliminated in Q2.
On a baking hot day in Spain, qualifying always did promise to be exciting but this afternoon has ended up delivered a truly remarkable result. Not only was there a track temperature of 41°C (106°F), but the wind speed also increased to throw yet another variable into the mix when tyre management was already absolutely crucial for all.
Narain Karthikeyan’s disastrous weekend continued; as he ran into more troubles for HRT, the Indian is cemented to the back of the grid and missed the 107 percent cut-off. It remains to be seen whether he will be allowed to race, with only his lap times from third practice being able to serve as any evidence of pace for the FIA.
As Jean-Éric Vergne improved to avoid a fourth straight Q1 elimination, Bruno Senna was under pressure to remove himself from the first drop zone of the day; however, repeating an error of yesterday, the Brazilian took too much kerb at Turn 12 and ended his day in the gravel trap. He will start Sunday’s race from 18th position on the grid - all the more embarrassing when team-mate Maldonado is on the front row.
More drama followed in Q2. Jenson Button was both frustrated and confused to suffer from both oversteer and understeer today, perhaps as a result of the changing winds around the track, as he missed the cut and starts 11th. Confirming that the pole-sitters of 2009 to 2011 had been removed in one fell swoop, Mark Webber was caught out and saw his name tumble to 12th on the timesheets as he sat in the garage.
Also out of action in Q2 were the Force India and Toro Rosso duos, occupying positions 13 to 16, as well as the Ferrari of Felipe Massa; the 2007 pole-sitter and winner briefly sat in the top ten but was duly bumped back down the order for Ferrari. Further back, Vitaly Petrov out-qualified Caterham team-mate Heikki Kovalainen for the first time as Charles Pic again got the better of Marussia partner Timo Glock.
Heading into the grid-deciding phase that is Q3, Kamui Kobayashi could not take part after his Sauber stopped on-track at the end of Q2. It initially looked as though only two lap times may be posted, with the field desperate to save their tyres, but eventually only Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher – eighth and ninth in the classification – decided to end the period early. In the case of Vettel, he did not want to start the race on the Soft compound; for team-mate Webber, he has one extra set of tyres for tomorrow - carrying no less than four new sets into the race.
With just two minutes left on the clock, several runners finally elected to return to the track. This brought a flurry of changes on the timesheets in the final seconds, with Fernando Alonso delighting the home crowd by briefly seizing the top spot, as he had also done when driving for Renault four years ago. Grosjean, Räikkönen, Pérez and Rosberg slotted behind him in the final order. Remarkably, Maldonado grabbed provisional pole – continuing his speed of practice – before Hamilton rounded the final corner to establish his lap time of 1:21.707. The 2008 World Champion has now celebrated three poles and two second places in qualifying this year.
As Hamilton continues his search for a first 2012 win, Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix promises to bring a titanic battle, with Red Bull having saved more sets of tyres than the majority of their rivals but starting down in eighth and 12th places. Curiously, Hamilton stopped on his slowing down lap with a technical problem which is yet to be diagnosed. Should for any reason he lose his position, such as taking a gearbox penalty, Maldonado will inherit a maiden F1 pole and Williams’ first since 2010.
The 2012 Spanish Grand Prix begins at 2pm local time (BST +1) on Sunday and can also be followed through the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Report
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