The frantic final seconds of qualifying for the German Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton move to the top of the timesheets with a best lap of 1:15.666s and snatched the pole position away from Ferrari rival Felipe Massa.
Throughout much of practice at Hockenheim, Hamilton and Massa have traded best times at the head of the timesheets and once again this afternoon it was Massa who lost out to the McLaren Mercedes driver in the very final seconds.
With Hamilton, Massa and Kimi Raikkonen all tied at the head of the championship with 48 points, Hamilton’s ninth career pole position could prove critical heading into Sunday’s 67-lap Grand Prix.
Heikki Kovalainen, fastest in the morning practice session, set the third fastest time. The Finn was clearly on the absolute limit as his first qualifying run saw him run wide and through the gravel trap on entry into the stadium, while his final push to move up from tenth position saw him run wide exiting the final turn, kicking up dust and dirt as he still managed to improve to third position.
Perhaps the star of qualifying was Jarno Trulli who set the fourth fastest time for Toyota. With team-mate Timo Glock starting 11th, it was another great effort from the Italian veteran, something of a qualifying specialist.
A good run from Fernando Alonso saw the Renault driver qualify in fifth position on a day when he had not really expected to shine as he looked to find a balance on the R28. With his team-mate Nelson Piquet struggling, Alonso is again carrying the points hopes for Renault.
It was pretty clear that Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari was not particularly well balanced as his first run saw the defending champion miss most of the apexes as the car tended to understeer through the turns. A much tidier second lap saw Raikkonen improve significantly, but starting sixth, seven-tenths of a second behind Hamilton tells its own story.
Robert Kubica put in a solid performance for BMW Sauber to qualify in seventh position at a circuit where the F1.08 does not seem to shine, while Mark Webber and David Coulthard will be happy to start eighth and tenth respectively for Red Bull Renault.
With five German drivers in the field, the honour of being the fastest German in qualifying fell to Sebastian Vettel who lines up an excellent ninth in his Toro Rosso Ferrari, three-tenths of a second ahead of Coulthard and just two-tenths behind his 2009 team-mate Mark Webber.
With Glock starting 11th in the second Toyota, Nick Heidfeld’s final run in the second round of qualifying saw the German veteran lock up his brakes and run wide at the hairpin. As a result, he was unable to improve and will be disappointed with 12th position.
Nico Rosberg starts 13th in the leading Williams Toyota in what is proving to be a frustrating mid-season run for the team. Jenson Button leads the way at Honda with 14th position ahead of the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Bourdais who, like Heidfeld, ruined his final qualifying lap after going too deep into the hairpin.
Kazuki Nakajima was the fastest of the runners to be eliminated in the first round of qualifying in his Williams Toyota, while Nelson Piquet was a disappointed 17th in the second Renault after an error into the hairpin on his first timed lap and then unable to find a clear run at the end of the session. It is the fourth time so far this year that Piquet has not made it through the first round of qualifying.
Following a great run at Silverstone last time out, it was back to reality for Rubens Barrichello who lines up 18th in the second Honda. The Brazilian veteran has started at Hockenheim 18th before, and actually went on to record his maiden Grand Prix victory the following day in wet conditions. A repeat is pretty unlikely, but if it rains, progress is certainly possible.
Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella pushed hard for Force India, but could do no better than 19th and 20th respectively half a second adrift of Barrichello. Fisichella may have further problems as he clearly backed up Kubica ahead of his final run of the session.
There are no points for qualifying, but so far it is looking good for Hamilton and Massa…
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