Lewis Hamilton took his first pole position of the season and the 14th of his career at Valencia today, beating his McLaren Mercedes team mate Heikki Kovalainen into second place. Rubens Barrichello was third for Brawn GP. Sebastian Vettel was fourth with Jenson Button fifth. The other title contender, Mark Webber was down in 9th place.
Hamilton tacked the session with great confidence, doing only one run and saving a set of tyres in the second part of qualifying. He said afterwards that it has been a long time since he had the car to do this.
But he was under pressure from his team mate. Hamilton set the pole time on his first run in the final session, with Kovalainen. Unusually, neither driver improved on their second runs; Kovalainen was on target to beat him until he made a mistake in the penultimate corner and Hamilton aborted his second lap because his time was not under threat.
Barrichello has been faster than Button all weekend and it was no real surprise that he was ahead in qualifying.
Sadly it was also no great surprise that Ferrari stand-in Luca Badoer qualified in last place. The Italian has not driven a car this year and has never been to the Valencia track before. he has been off the pace all weekend, but the margin in qualifying was far greater than anyone expected. He was 1.5 seconds slower than the 19th placed driver Jaime Alguersuari, who went through a similar challenge without any testing at Budapest last month, but was far closer to the pace. Badoer was also 2.6 seconds slower than team mate Raikkonen.
It is hard to imagine how Ferrari can keep him in the car for Spa unless he has a towering drive tomorrow surging through the field.
At least he has KERS. The device is very important here, McLaren say it is worth 4/10ths of a second per lap. Their system didn’t work Friday with some new experimental parts in it, but it worked fine today with old settings.
As for the other rookie, Romain Grosjean, he was very strong in Q1 but ended up in 14th place.