Lewis Hamilton couldn’t believe his luck in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, as not only did he take a dominant pole position, but his main rivals for the win all tripped up in one way or another. However his luck changed after the session as the FIA Technical delegate reported him to the stewards for a fuel quantity irregularity after he stopped out on track on his cool down lap.
Tyres were again the dominant story, as teams tried all manner of curious strategies to give themselves the best chance in the race.
Sebastian Vettel looked good in practice but really struggled for pace in qualifying and was forced to use up all his new soft tyres simply to make the cut into Q3. Once there he didn’t set a lap time so he could have a free choice of tyres for the start of the race.
Red Bull got the tactics all wrong with Mark Webber, who felt he had the car to get pole. He was left in the garage in the final stages of Q2 with a new set of soft tyres available, when he should have been out on track. The track improved by more than the team expected and others went faster, knocking Webber down to 12th spot.
Hamilton’s McLaren team mate Jenson Button set the fastest time in Friday practice but then lost the set up completely; he found his car hard to drive on Saturday, particularly on the hard tyre, complaining of rear instability all day and then of understeer in qualifying on the soft. He starts 11th.
As Hamilton took his third pole position of the season, the 22nd of his career and McLaren’s 150th in Formula 1, he was joined at the front of the grid by Williams’ Pastor Maldonado and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. The Williams looked good throughout practice on both types of tyre and an impressive Maldonado was fastest in Q2. Meanwhile the heavily updated Ferrari went well, in Alonso’s hands at least, setting a best time six tenths slower than Hamilton. Whether that is the true reflection of the step Ferrari has taken we will see tomorrow. Alonso finished almost a minute behind the winner in Bahrain. It will be interesting to see how much they have cut that by.
The session threw up many surprises, most notably the level of track improvement. Normally from the start of the hour to the end the track improves by 0.3 seconds, with most of that in Q1. Today it kept on improving, to the tune of around 0.8 seconds. This is what caught out Webber and Red Bull, who thought that they had done enough with a 1m 22.9s lap.
Hamilton, who had been the pace setter throughout the session, was the only driver in the final phase of qualifying to take two runs. He set his first “banker” lap on a set of scrubbed option tyres that he had previously used in the second part of qualifying. Although, he did leave his second run until very late and only decided to go for it, at the point when it looked like Pastor Maldonado was going to take pole for Williams.
Completing the second row of the grid is the Lotus of Romain Grosjean, the young Frenchman showing no hangover from his complete lack of track time in the morning’s final practice session (fuel pressure problem). He beat his team mate Kimi Raikkonen by just 0.04 seconds. The Lotus cars are sure to once again be a threat tomorrow as they have shown both long-stint pace and an ability to cope with the high levels of degradation in high temperatures.
In sixth position is Sergio Perez, the Sauber driver having a fairly quiet but impressive session. The sister Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi had got in to the final part of qualifying, however a hydraulic issue meant he could not compete in the shoot-out and will start from tenth position. The Sauber cars sandwich Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher. Schumacher, like Vettel, chose to not complete a flying lap, thus allowing him the opportunity to pick his starting compound for tomorrow. However, Rosberg did opt to set a flying time using new tyres on the left hand side of his car and scrubbed tyres on the right side and he found himself 1.3 seconds off the pace of Hamilton at the climax of the session.
Behind the top twelve, which was completed by Button and Webber, the cars lined up in team order; barring two anomalies.
Behind the Force India pair, led by Paul Di Resta, and the two Toro Rosso cars, led by Jean-Eric Vergne was Felipe Massa. Massa could not find the gains from Ferrari’s many upgrades that Alonso managed; he was 0.6 slower than the Spaniard in the second phase of qualifying so he will begin the race in seventeenth. This is one place ahead of Bruno Senna, the second Williams driver looked to make his way into the top seventeen during the first part of qualifying, however a spin in to the gravel at turn 14 on his final lap abolished all hopes of making the cut.
Joining Senna at the tail end of the grid are the Caterham, Marussia and HRT cars. Vitaly Petrov and Charles Pic out-qualified their respective team mates for the first time this year as Narain Karthikeyan failed to beat the 107% time and may not be starting tomorrow’s Grand Prix.
SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m21.707s
2. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m22.285s + 0.578
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m22.302s + 0.595
4. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m22.424s + 0.717
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m22.487s + 0.780
6. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m22.533s + 0.826
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m23.005s + 1.298
8. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull No time
9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes No time
10. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber No time
11. Jenson Button McLaren 1m22.944s + 0.839
12. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m22.977s + 0.872
13. Paul di Resta Force India 1m23.125s + 1.020
14. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m23.177s + 1.072
15. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m23.265s + 1.160
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m23.442s + 1.337
17. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m23.444s + 1.339
18. Bruno Senna Williams 1m24.981s + 2.398
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m25.277s + 2.694
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m25.507s + 2.924
21. Charles Pic Marussia 1m26.582s + 3.999
22. Timo Glock Marussia 1m27.032s + 4.449
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m27.555s + 4.972
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m31.122s + 8.539