McLaren repeated its one-two from Monaco – but this time it’s a two-one, with Lewis Hamilton on his first ever pole position.
He starts alongside team mate Fernando Alonso as the McLaren team turned the tables on rivals Ferrari.
A fine lap from Nick Heidfeld puts him third – giving McLaren a useful buffer between them and Ferrari, led by Kimi Raikkonen.
Against expectations McLaren had looked quicker than Ferrari in practice – with Hamilton quickest of all on Saturday morning.
Behind the inevitable pair of McLarens and Ferraris was Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri in a surprising fifth.
But engine problems for Heikki Kovalainen mean the Renault driver will start ten places back from his qualifying position.
Heikki Kovalainen was in trouble again – the kerb at turn four spitting his Renault into the wall backwards. The red flags came out as he limped back to the pits minus a rear wing.
This gave the Red Bull mechanics more time to work on David Coulthard’s front left brakes, which had caused him trouble on his first effort. But they weren’t able to get the problem sorted.
Felipe Massa’a first lap was a 1’17.236 which he improved to 1’16.756 next time around. But he was behind both McLarens – Alonso fastest on 1’16.562 and Lewis Hamilton right with him on 1’16.576.
After some stunning pit work by both sets of mechanics Kovalainen and Coulthard were both able to get out on track, setting up an extremely close battle to make the cut for the top 16.
Ironically the two drivers that clashed at Monaco were now battling for survival once again. This time Coulthard got through with a late lap to take 13th fastest, but Kovalainen dropped to 19th – which will become last after his penalty.
Joining the Finn were both Spykers, Ralf Schumacher (who blamed traffic) and Alexander Wurz (who blamed himself).
The guillotine was particularly harsh for Davidson, who was 0.052s slower than team mate Sato, yet failed to make it out of Q1.
17. Anthony Davidson – 1’17.542
18. Ralf Schumacher – 1’17.634
19. Heikki Kovalainen – 1’17.806
20. Alexander Wurz – 1’18.089
21. Adrian Sutil – 1’18.536
22. Christijan Albers – 1’19.196
In the second session most drivers had turned to the softer compound marked by a white stripe.
Surprisingly Jarno Trulli’s first hot lap was only half a second slower than Raikkonen’s from the first session – track temperature having fallen slightly since the first session. But then Mark Webber set the fastest lap of qualifying so far with a 1’16.257.
Hamilton confirmed that the track was quicker with a scorching 1’15.486 – almost six-tenths quicker than he had been in morning practice.
Just as in Monaco this was starting to look like an all-McLaren affair. Alonso came back at him – quicker in the first sector, slower in the second – and a scant 36 thousandths slower at the line.
Massa, third, was only a tenth quicker than Webber.
Sato, Coulthard the Hondas and the Toro Rossos sat in the drop zone with less than three minutes remaining – none of them had yet lapped in less than 1’17. But Heidfeld fell to sixteenth after he lost his lap for cutting the final chicane.
It gave Heidfeld one shot at making the cut – he threw the BMW around the lap, leaned on the wall at the final chicane, and leapt to third with an astonishing 1’15.960 – the only driver besides the McLaren to lap in less than 1’16.
The second session weeded out all of the Red Bulls except for the flying Webber. It also arrested the progress of the remaining Honda powered runners.
11. Takuma Sato – 1’16.743
12. Vitantonio Liuzzi – 1’16.760
13. Rubens Barrichello – 1’17.116
14. David Coulthard – 1’17.304
15. Jenson Button – 1’17.541
16. Scott Speed – 1’17.571
Both drivers and their team mates were gunning for pole, but could any of remaining six (comprising the BMWs plus Trulli, Webber, Giancarlo Fisichella and Nico Rosberg) get in among them?
On his first lap Hamilton skirted across the chicane as Heidfeld had done – but would he lose the lap counting towards his fuel credit? The young Briton was pushing hard, closer to the wall than anyone at the turn four chicane.
The surface was still causing problems for the drivers with Rosberg running off at the third chicane.
As ever the drivers used the early laps to burn off as much of their race fuel load as possible before switching to fresh tyres to put in a quick lap.
Trulli was first to get ready for a hot lap but unusually chose to use the harder compound tyres. Every other driver picked the softer compounds which at this circuit had an especially short life-span.
The session came alive as the drivers rattled the times in. Raikkonen seemed to be matching Hamilton’s sector times around every corner of the track – but at the line Hamilton’s 1’16.316 was almost two-tenths faster than Raikkonen could manage.
But fastest of all was Alonso – another 0.15s quicker than Hamilton, visibly quicker at the final chicane where he almost scraped the retaining wall.
Heidfeld had managed to get among the front runners and took fourth off Massa – but it would get even worse for Ferrari as the final laps were completed.
The battle for pole had once again become an exclusively McLaren affair – Hamilton found time through each of the sectors and lapped in a brilliant 1’15.707.
Alonso seemed to have a response – through the first two sectors he was quicker than Hamilton. But the Spaniard made a mistake in the final sector and coasted back – pole was Hamilton’s.
Further back three excitingly close times promise a fascinating race tomorrow – Webber, Rosberg and Kubica were covered by just eight hundredths of a second.
1. Lewis Hamilton – 1’15.707
2. Fernando Alonso – 1’16.163
3. Nick Heidfeld – 1’16.266
4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1’16.411
5. Felipe Massa – 1’16.570
6. Mark Webber – 1’16.913
7. Nico Rosberg – 1’16.919
8. Robert Kubica – 1’16.993
9. Giancarlo Fisichella – 1’17.229
10. Jarno Trulli – 1’17.747