Hamilton on pole in Spain as rivals falter
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 May 2012   |  5:04 pm GMT  |  83 comments

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.

The upside for Webber is that he starts 12th with a new set of soft tyres and three sets of hards for tomorrow’s race.

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.


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

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Grayzee (Australia)

Well, I have lemented on this site before about what I am calling “The F1 World Tyre management Championship”, and how I hate not seeing the cars running as fast as they go.

James replied on one post that they still run low fuel, no holds barred, flat out in Qualy.

Well, not in Q3 this time.

This whole tyre thing has become a farce, when top 10 cars don’t run because they need to save tyres. Pathetic really.


Hopefully maclaren have given LH a new engine, gearbox and anything else that warrants a grid penalty. Can he use hatd tyres?


Firstly great to see a Williams up there.

2 points:

I cannot believe RB completely stuffed up Webbers qualifying the way they did, a bit of a joke!!!

The tyre debate:

I believe MS is correct! Vettel did not even go for a quick run.

What a joke for such a great qualifier.

Want we want to see is these great drivers pushing each other for the pole not guys just going around to save tyres for later.

These new tyre rules has gone too far.

I know that overtaking has improved with all the new devices.

Here is a solution-Qualifying tyres!

Let them go nuts on these and have plenty left for the race!!


I must say, I have zero (0) trust in the way stewards are going about ensuring rules are followed. It seems feelings/politics/the weather is what decides if and how certain offences are penalized, more than the written rules. The same goes for bigger issues as well (Bahrain etc…) It is up to the arbitrariness of the steward(s) of the week (different from GP to GP), to decide if and how to penalize no matter if it makes sense or not. They could even overrule the written rules themselfs…How can you respect a ruling body that is (on the limit to being) arbitrary in how/if they enforce written rules?

LH is put at the back of the grid (!!), even though most sensible would be to remove the time he did using his (too) lightly fuelled Mclaren and let him keep his first time from Q3. A time he set using (probably) a car with legal weight.

The same LH is NOT penalized when he overtakes NR with all four wheels clearly outside the track limits. Naah, almighty steward did not feel for enforcing the obvious rule that day. Why? No one knows. Could be stewards believed no one saw it. After all only ~22 spectators made it to the Bahrain GP…


LH claimed he was beside NR when NR pulled right. The stewards have access to a lot more than what we see on TV. I am guessing that based on their decision not to punish LH, he must have been beside NR when he left the track. More relevant is why SV was not punished for stopping on the track due to fuel shortage. Would the advantage of being 2KG lighter for 50 or 60 laps not be 50 or 60 times greater than the advantage from being 2KG lighter for 1 lap. If there was consistency, SV would have been disqualified. Stupidly harsh, but at least consistent.


The reason SV was not punished is becasue FIA regulations just says the car has to be driven back during practice session, while nothing is mentioned about driving it back during the race:

“Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.”


Agree very inconsistent SV should shave also been penalised.

Bring in Qualifying tyres I say


James, you did not mention that Alonsos lap in Q3 was on old/used tyres, compared to LH who set his P1 lap on a set of new tyres (I think).

That would make Alonsos lap (and his P3) even more impressive, since practice was suggesting new softs were worth quite a few tenths over a used set. That would in turn suggest that the Ferrari, in the hands of FA, is no more than lets say 3 tenths behind the currently fastest car on the grid. If true Ferrari has outperformed themself in a huge amazing way.

Another interesting observation is that FA beat both Renaults. Renault drivers once again complaining about making “small misstakes here and there” on their laps in Q3.


Hi James,

can you explain what decides the order between drivers who only do an outlap? E.g. today between Vettel and Schumacher? Is it the positions from Q2?

Also, do you think some of the top teams told their drivers to do a “slow” lap on the soft tyre in Q1 that ensured progression to Q2 but did not take too much out of the tyre for the race (or for a banker run in Q2 or Q3) ?


Why don’t strip the fault lap out and use the next best complete lap?

This penalty is too much and unreasonable at all.

He get to Q3 cleanly, at worst, he should be at 10th, as he didn’t do any lap in Q3.

I would like to know that exclude for the qualifying is written in the rule, or just the steward decision.


Q3 is a joke.

I think one alternative would be to have the drivers get their time from an average of two running laps and if they fail to complete two flying laps then give them 5 spot penalty.

..but then again…

If that were the rule, then Q2 would turn into a joke as well.

All in all, perhaps it would be easiest to give the teams few more tires..?


Been waiting three weeks to see McLaren and Lewis try and put things right. Really deflated now, this is turning into a nightmare season.

McLaren messed up but the penalty is totally disproportionate. Lewis to Red Bull?


Can’t see it. – a move to Red Bull would give him No 2 status, same as a move to Ferrari or staying with McLaren. The Mercs aren’t quick enough. At the minute he has the fastest car with the most incompetent crew. The crew is managed by Whitmarsh. Solution seems like a no brainer if McLaren want another WDC or constructors title. Someone who has a record of success running a team…. What is Ron Dennis doing these days 🙂


And become nr2 driver to Vettel? And why would he move to a team running a slower car? I firmly believe LH best (and only) chance to win another title, would be with Mclaren.


Hopefully we’ill get rain tomorrow, it’s possibly the only chance for Lewis to Win and shouts the stewarts mouths who are ridiculous


Lewis is starting from the back of the grid. I’m not really a fan of Lewis but I feel very sad for him, I remember earlier reading an interview of him saying how he was able to do such a perfect lap, a real morale killer.


What a ridiculous decision from the stewards to relegate Hamilton to the back of the grid.

The most logical thing would have been to delete his fastest time, or make him start 10th. And this is all considering Lewis was the only driver that actually bothered to make Q3 interesting – by actually setting a proper time. Otherwise it would have been a complete farce of a Q3 session.

It is clear – qualifying rules need to be changed with regards to tyres.

Having said that, the number of operational mistakes McLaren have made (not just this season) has been frankly amateurish.


Maybe the explanation for the apparently very hard penalty, is that (FIA believe for some reason) this was not just a misstake, but something Mclaren did on purpose in order to make 100% sure they get the pole. Circuit de Catalunya is after all one of the hardest circuits to overtake on and being behind another car will hurt your tires alot…especially for a driver not very famous for being kind to his tyre.


Poor old Lewis, macca mess up again, perhaps if he has a nice word with Frank he can have the number 2 seat alongside Pastor next year.


Hamilton disqualified from Qualifying results due to running out of fuel. Stewards didn’t buy Sam Michael’s story that Force Majeure – LH starts from the back of the grid. Maldonado get the first Williams pole since Hulkenberg in Brazil with Alonso moving up to join him on the top row!


Lewis was totally excluded from qualifying.

Totally insane decision… why not give a penalty? Why not strip the time?

Regardless, can’t believe McLaren once again screwed Lewis’ race!


Its reported that Hamilton as been penalised for stoping for not returning after his pole lap, and will start from the back of the grid. If true, all I can say is good god, how incompetent can Mclaren get.


Having read on the BBC website that Lewis has been demoted to the back of the grid, one wonders what must be going through his mind ?

After two pit stop errors at the last race and now this debacle, he must be having serious second thoughts about re-signing for McLaren.

As the FIA were able to take more than the necessary 1 litre of fuel from the car, this is a very harsh penalty, given that his big margin over the Williams of Maldonado would certainly still have put him on pole, even if he had more fuel in the car.

Hamilton does seem to attract disproportionately higher penalties than some other drivers on the grid. Or in this case, is a move to the back of the grid a mandatory penalty ?


“Hamilton does seem to attract disproportionately higher penalties than some other drivers on the grid.”

This is simply not true. In Bahrain, he blatantly overtook another car with whole his car OUTSIDE the track – no penalty what so ever. Last year he was crashing into other cars every now and then and was only penalized for some (not all) of those incidents.

Short memories…


interesting that you fail to note that rosberg squeezed lewis off the track. rosberg was investigated by the stewards for that, not lewis. the rules state rosberg has to leave a cars width when defending in that manner, and he didnt. lewis options were run off the track, or get out of the gas. which would you chose?

love a bit of blatant bias.


It might be to compensate a bit for the number of times he had been forgiven while he was with Alonso. And as McLaren screwed up the 2007 title, Charlie Whiting continued to create a new rule each time Lewis put his foot in it or needed

a crane to end up as the new British world champion that the inner circle had been pushing for.


Just heard Lewis will start from the back of the grid! A bit harsh by the stewards!


Hamilton to the back of the grid, shocking decision

Waste of time watching qualifying when half the cars don’t even set a time


Back of the grid seems harsh


Grosjean outpaced Raikkonen in every session. Whats the story there James?


My guess is that Kimi has been working on race pace. It’s clear that (unlike 2008 for instance) this season is going to be won on Sunday not Saturday. Grosjean did a good job in Bahrain but the honest fact of it is that Kimi was faster regardless of having saved a set of tyres. Kimi can be quite “quiet” on Fridays and Saturdays. Expect him to be faster than Grosjean today.



– If teams don’t bother to take part in qualifying, fans should not bother watching or pay for the tickets

– Ferrari slightly improved, maybe 0,2 better than the rest, but P3 is not their real pace. Good job, Alonso!

– Well, McLaren is indeed destroyng this season for Hamilton. I doubt 0,3 litre is enough to complete the lap

– Well done williams, lotus. I would love to see Kimi winning.


In which way did Lotus do a good job? Alonso snatched 3rd from both of the Lotus drivers with a slower car and used tyres. Kimi may win if he does not make misstakes…he tends though more often than not to do a few so.


And how do you know ferrari was slower?


I’ve never felt sorry for Hamilton before but I do now. And to the back of the grid is a terrible decision. Throw out his pole lap ok but not to the back of the grid. Be lucky to get points now with Barcelona being so hard to pass it. With that said come on fernando 🙂


“The FIA said the fuel inside the McLaren was insufficient and therefore have sent Hamilton to the back of the grid for tomorrow’s race.”

Sent to the back rather than a five place penalty…seems overly harsh to me – what do you think, James ?


The rules regarding weight issues have always been strict, if the penalty was just a 5 spot grid penalty, many teams would break the rules intentionally because they could gain more than 5 places, expecially with the tight margins we have this year. The rules need to be strict to prevent cars stopping on track unnessasarily.

Rubinho's Keyfob

I agree. Whether or not McLaren were trying to pull a fast one (no pun intended!) in the belief they would not be penalised, I’d have thought a 10 place penalty would be the absolute maximum (i.e., nullify the Q3 effort, with the added punishment of having more used tyres than those around you on the grid).

But to nullify the whole of quali? That seems very harsh indeed.

What I also don’t understand is why, when VET and MSC cruise around and don’t even bother to set a timed lap when they are capable of doing so, they are actually rewarded (by being allowed to put on a fresh set of rubber for the start of the race).

The message seems to be: “For the best chance in the race, get to Q1 and then sit in the garage and don’t use up your tyres”..


As a Hamilton fan I would be really disappointed if he lost pole because of underfuelling especially because he clearly had the outright pace to go fastest without any tricks. But at the same time I would not be that surprised.

It was a brilliant lap though.

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