Lewis Hamilton put in a great lap today, just 15/100ths of a second slower than pole sitter Mark Webber’s, to line up on the front row of the grid for the first time this season.
This is particularly true when you consider that the McLaren enjoys a 6km/h speed advantage on the straights, thanks to Mercedes power and a fully optimised drag reduction wing.
To say that Webber is vulnerable would be to over state the position, but he will sleep rather less easily, knowing that Hamilton has the capacity to pass him, if he gives him the slightest opportunity.
The Red Bull has so much downforce that Hamilton will not be able to follow particularly closely through the vitally important Turns 9 and 10, which leads onto the long back straight. But a mistake there by Webber, as Vettel made last year under pressure from Button at the start, and the McLaren will be on him.
History tells you that the winner in Turkey has only ever come from the front row of the grid and only once has the pole sitter not won it. Webber’s race pace is hard to assess as he wasn’t particularly strong in Friday practice and then his engine failed at the end,
“Normally my long runs have been fine this year. It has been more of strength for me compared to qualy in some ways, ” said Webber. “It didn’t work that well in P2 on Friday but we will get on top of that and then we go from there, so looking forward. We know everyone will start on the option, get on with it.”
Looking back to Spain where Hamilton was again his main challenger, before the McLaren failed in the closing laps, Webber wanted Hamilton to know that he was stroking it at times, “We had an interesting feel with the gap to Lewis in Barcelona. They are a bit more competitive here but we certainly still had something in our sleeve there, so we will see how it goes.”
“With the new strategy, new regulations it makes it very difficult to pass but this is a place where you can, ” he said. “It is very hard to follow these guys through turn eight and to then be able to follow them after that but it is not impossible and I will be making it as hard as I can for Mark. We’re in the best spot I’ve ever been in to start the race. If I can get close enough to Mark then without a doubt I will be taking the opportunity. But we have to wait and see. We’ve got to look after the tyres, we’ve got a long race ahead of us but like I said, it’s great just to be there.”
Much of their pace in qualifying today came from a new rear wing which is optimised around the drag-reducing rear wing and this is a track where that counts for a lot, as we observed in the LG Tech Report yesterday. As much as 10km/h can be gained from it as it allows you to run a more steeply angled rear wing to get the downforce benefit, knowing that you can dump the drag on the straights.
Red Bull has not optimised its drag reducing wing yet and although they tested it on Friday, they opted not to race it this weekend. Despite McLaren’s ability to run a steeper wing angle, the Red Bull is 4/10ths faster in the middle sector, which features Turn 8.
Hamilton has a chance tomorrow, but we’ve already seen enough to know that he has a great chance in Montreal, which will play to the McLaren’s strengths. Add in Hamilton’s ability to run closer to the walls than anyone except Kubica and I’m getting my money on Hamilton to win Canada now.
As a footnote the accusation of Hamilton being a “manufactured” driver has reared its head again with Nigel Mansell wading in this time. Hamilton reacted this afternoon by saying that Mansell had his facts wrong when he accused Hamilton of being bankrolled at the age of seven with “£2.5 million to go karting.”
“He is a world champion and was a great star in his age and I look up to him. I wouldn’t have expected that form him but that’s the way it is, ” said Hamilton. “I feel I have been very, very fortunate to have had the support as without it I would not be here. I don’t know how he was funded when he was younger but for us it was virtually impossible to find money. It got more and more expensive. My parents paid all the way until I was 13 by re-mortgaging the house.”
Ironically that is a story which would be familiar to Mansell, who mortgaged his house to pay for a season in Formula 3, one which ended with a broken neck.