That's all for today folks. Hamilton is well and truly back out of the shadows. And if I may dare stare into the crystal ball for a second: imagine him and a Ferrari-driving Fernando Alonso fighting it out for the title next season? Join BBC Sport's bearded bard Sam Lyon here tomorrow from 1200 BST for the big race. Adios.
From Bugati Veyron on 606:
"I think Button and Barrichello might be carrying a little bit more fuel than McLaren. Knowing how good McLarens are with their start, Brawn must have gone conservative. Good for Brawns that both cars are on a cleaner side: they may end up third and fourth after the first corner. Raikkonen starting too far down for his Kers to affect the top five."
Sweeping up the scraps like Franz Beckenbauer in his pomp, Red Bull's Mark Webber qualified ninth behind Renault's Fernando Alonso. Disappointing afternoon for both of them. Kubica will start in 10th. Raikonnen sixth and Rosberg seventh. But it's all about McLaren. "What they've achieved is absolutely mind-blowing. Phenomenal. They will go ballistic," says Eddie Jordan, who earlier in this season said their car should be sent straight to the scrapheap.
Who stuck a coat hanger in Lewis Hamilton's mouth? "We've not had a one-two qualifying experience for a long time. It's a great experience. Heikki did a brilliant job too. And it's a fantastic achievement from the guys back at the factory."
Championship leader Jenson Button looks like a burst balloon. "In a way it's better to be in P5 on the clean side [rather than P4]. Hopefully Seb Vettel won't be there for to long. The McLarens were very quick and impossible to catch. But it's not to bad."
Incredible turnaround for McLaren after the Great Depression that was their hideous early-season form. Vettel, Button and Raikkonen will start Sunday's race in fourth, fifth and sixth tomorrow. Instinctive, confident, brave... Hamilton looked to be driving brilliantly then. And what of his car? "That could be the car that dominates the rest of this season," declares F1 pundit David Coulthard
Kovalainen had pole in his grasp but let the back end of his car slip away in the penultimate corner... But he takes second. And MCLAREN LOCK OUT THE FRONT ROW AS WORLD CHAMPION LEWIS HAMILTON TAKES POLE POSITION FOR THE EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX
. Barrichello will start third on the grid for Brawn.
New tyres for Hamilton. Leaving it late for a flyer - but still leads. McLaren want to make sure. Raikkonen third, Alonso fourth, Rosberg fifth, Kubica sixth... this is the real nitty gritty. Not long left. Hectic. Tense.
An all-British front row could be on the cards. Hamilton fastest, Button second. Lots of cars doing their best to save tyres now. Remember, they are running with race fuel now.
Just 10 minutes this session. Brawn will want to make the most of this Spanish heat. Belgium could be far cooler. They should store their inconsistent tyres near the Earth's core between races. Lewis Hamilton absolutely flying... 1.3 seconds faster than anybody else. Wow.
So all the big guns make it through. Consensus here and with the boys on BBC1 is that this top-ten shootout is fairly open... but that Lewis Hamilton is favourite just ahead of the Brawn drivers. Ding ding... gloves are off. Q3 is under way. Sit tight.
Time's up - lots of cars still out after the chequered flag though. Barrichello quickest. Alonso sneaks into eighth like a thief in the night. Exhale Renault. Heidfeld, Sutil, Grosjean, Glock and Buemi are out...
Raikkonen sneaks through, just.
Not long now for Q2. Could be a high-profile casualty here... Deep breaths in the paddocks. Hamilton done, he's gambling to save tyres.
Renault struggling: Alonso sits 11th even after a flying lap. Top ten go through. Hamilton still top.
1338: Luca Badoer on BBC Radio Five Live
"I made a mistake on the last corner which cost me a lot of time, but it doesn't matter. This is all a test for me, this is the only way I can learn. I am still enjoying it and tomorrow the race will be exciting. I will do my best to hopefully, maybe, overtake somebody."
Button quickest - but hard to know what Brawn's true pace is here in Valencia, not sure they know either. But we'll soon find out. Barrichello fastest now. Then Hamilton. Word reaches me from the inner sanctum in Valencia's bustling warren of paddocks that Badoer's lack of speed is causing amusement, "but not shock" i.e. everyone knew he was slow.
"Ferrari have to make a different decision for Spa," insists F1 pundit Martin Brundle
on BBC1 as he digests Badoer's brilliantly uncanny impression of a injured snail after a big Sunday roast. Qualifying session two is underway... 15 drivers aiming to knock each other out.
1324: Badoer, Alguersuari, Trulli, Nakajima, Fisichella all knocked out of Q1...
bit of a surprise to see old Bobby Kubica in third and Sebastien Buemi up in sixth. Badoer was three seconds slower than his team-mate Raikkonen and F1 is aghast at his lack of pace. "Shocker", says DC on BBC1. Brit drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were first and second fastest respectively. Who'd win an arm wrestle between that pair?
Button into fourth. Both Toyotas in the knockout zone. How their form has dropped off since some early highs. Time's up - but a few laps still to be completed...
Williams driver Nakajima in a bit of trouble on the circuit, but he sits 13th. Button 15th. Surely not for long. 'Bahrain with walls' is yet another description I've just heard for this Valencia circuit. Not bad. not great either. Webber moves up to fifth...
Lots of talk that McLaren have potentially the fastest fuel-corrected car on the grid this weekend. And Hamilton goes fastest. Renault new boy Grosjean leaps from 17th to 4th. Webber in the knockout zone. Does he really want to watch the cricket that much? Track temperatures up to 45 degrees.
Rosberg quickest but Barrichello on a hot one. Yes. He takes top spot. Lots of cars locking up at Turn Two... Hamilton, Alonso. Webber is 14th. Azure blue skies. Loud engines.
That gritty white powder used to soak up the oil spilt from Vettel's car is still snaking around the track from Turns 18-24. Heikki Kovalainen leading at the moment, though not every driver has been out. His McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton has a little wobble. It's going to be a tense hour.
1306: BBC Radio 5 Live's Holly Samos:
"Lewis Hamilton says he is hoping to get into the top five. I thought he would be going for pole - but he says top five will do."
Luca Badoer is first out and the session in under way. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner
has just told BBC Sport: "It was a fairly terminal engine failure [for Vettel]. So we have new one in for qualifying, which is not ideal. But the guys turned it round in very quick time. Mark [Webber] has not been too happy, but I think he can have a good qualifying."
The grandstands are full, sun's shining - plenty of bare chests a la Newcastle away fans (if a tad more tanned) - and there's Michael Schumacher's chatting away to Eric Clapton. It looks alright this Valencia lark. Qualifying session one just a couple of minutes away...
1254: BBC Sport's Sarah Holt in Valencia:
"I can shed some light on EJ and DC's shirt combination for you. I'm sure Mr Coulthard won't mind me saying that he arrived at BBC HQ bearing a gift for EJ which was... an Italian designer shirt printed with purple space invaders. And that's what EJ's wearing on air now. How about that for camaraderie? DC wasn't quite so pleased when I asked him if he was just handing down a shirt to EJ because it didn't fit him. Hmmm."
Boss of the championship leaders. Stuttering form. Red Bull breathing down their necks. Less than 15 minutes until qualifying at an uber-critical stage of the season. "I'm looking at the cricket scores right now, that's the most important thing," laughs Ross Brawn
. Inconsequentially, he also added: "We're back to a normal set-up at this race because the tyres are looking after themselves in this heat. The programme we have here will be repeated in Spa, so we may see a bigger spead of changes. But we learnt a lot in practice yesterday - I'm not saying we've completely conquered it (the tyre heat problems) - but a good practice on Friday at Spa and we could be in good shape. Monza should be fine for us, anyway, because getting heat into the tyres there is traditionally easier."
BBC Sport's Sarah Holt in Valencia:
"Vijay Mallya's yacht, the Indian Empress, has sailed into Valencia's Juan Carlos I marina. The Force India boss definitely has the biggest boat in the business and after looming over the Monaco harbour it is towering over the rest of the flotilla here too. There is talk the team boss may invite his counterparts over for an evening cocktail after qualifying. No invite for me though, alas."
Vijay Mallya's yacht in Valencia, as seen by BBC Sport's Sarah Holt
Less than 25 minutes to qualifying in sweltering Valencia... Stefano Domenicali also had this to say about his Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, who was seriously injured in a qualifying crash at the last grand prix in Hungary: "Felipe is doing really well considering what happened to him. He has shown an unbelievable speed of recovery. But after such an accident, which affected the skull, the brain, and so on, it is better to stay cool and calm. He wants to come back as soon as possible but we must take it step by step. We will probably know his position a lot better in mid-September."
Cooler than a cucumber-clasping lounge lizard planting a flag into the South Pole, Jenson Button chats to BBC pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz
. "We don't know where we are compared to the Renault and the McLarens," says the championship leader. "There is more to come from the car."
1225: Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali
is vague when pressed on Fernando Alonso's mooted move to Ferrari next season... which is the hot rumour sweeping across the global village after McLaren head honcho Martin Whitmarsh appeared to let the cat out of the bag yesterday. Paraphrasing: We have nothing to say but we cannot confirm what is happening next season. That's about the sum of it. There is no outright denial.
Just to clarify the engine situation as things stand, given Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel blew his in practice earlier on. The German has used five engines already this season, as have all the others. Except for Kubica (six) and the Toro Rossos (four each). Mad shirt from EJ on the box. Jake and DC and the Irishman all going for various shades of blue or purple. Natty.
Hey! TV coverage is just getting under way on BBC1. UK users - please refresh your browser if you cannot already see video at the top of your screen.
1204: BBC Sport's Sarah Holt in Valencia:
"This is just the second time that Valencia has hosted a grand prix but the street circuit around the marina already has a bit of a reputation as, well, inducing a siesta rather than a fiesta. The drivers have mixed views but if you want someone to tell it like it is then Mark Webber's your man. Here's what the Red Bull driver reckons: "It's a very, very boring street track. It's one of the least challenging circuits that we go too." Right now, the Australian, who's been glued to the Ashes in between sessions, will probably welcome any distractions."
Welcome back. So occasional cult hero Adrian Sutil topped that red-flag interrupted final practice session. And who was last? Ferrari stand-in driver Luca Badoer. The Italian, incidentally, was fined 5400 euros yesterday for up to four separate penalties for driving too fast in the pit lane. Sounds like he needs one of those refresher driving courses.
BBC Sport's Sarah Holt on Twitter:
"Adrian Sutil tops practice for Force India once the session is restarted. Paddock predictions say the team could nick a point on Sunday"
1116: BBC Sport's Andrew Benson in Valencia:
"Michael Schumacher has told the Italian TV station Mediaset that he is not interested in a comeback to Formula 1. He said his only intention was to return to fill in for Felipe Massa following the Brazilian's accident in Hungary, but that a return for any other reason is out of the question. That dismisses German reports that he is training in the hope that his neck will recover sufficiently to allow him to make a full-time return next year."
1114: Anonymous on 81111:
"Why does a multi-billion pound sport resort to a man with a broom and a bucket of sand to clear oil and debris? Can't Formula One Management tender a contract to make a specialist machine to do a proper job?"
From HP888 on 606:
"Vettel is going to be on engine number six during today's qualification. Seven races to go with three engines left will not be a problem to Red Bull Racing."
And he takes it! Massive coup for Sutil and Force India: the first time they have topped a practice session since Monaco in 2008.
Nakajima second, Kubica third... Alonso 15th, Webber 17th. It's a bit of a jumble. Can't imagine the order would have looked like that if the session hadn't been red flagged. Concur? Does this throw qualifying wide open? And what about Seba Vettel. Has he blown his championship chances?
Home hero Fernando Alonso nearly brushes the tyre barrier with his decelerating Renault at Turn Two, but he just avoids it, keeps the engine running and cracks on with his lap. Heikki Kovalainen has gone fastest...
but Sutil has just done a quickest first sector.
Button, Hamilton and others out - but will Sutil's time be bettered with all that gunk on the track? Huge clouds of white powder explode up from the track like talcum powder as the drivers try and avoid the main racing line. Everyone out apart from Vettel.
1054: PRACTICE SESSION WILL RESTART AT 1055
. So that means the drivers have just five minutes left for a quick zip through the streets, should they wish.
1052: BBC Sport pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz:
"Michael Schumacher is strutting around the paddock in some quite outrageous sandals." The big man has teamed his footwear with white linen shorts and a red Ferrari top while the snappy-dressing German has topped off the look with some funky gold mirrored sunglasses.
Saying that. There's nothing doing at the moment and time is running out. So if the clock runs down, that's it. No more practice. Which should make for an epic qualifying session (at 1300 BST). Kubica says he thinks they will only get one more run. There a huge dustbin cart-looking type vehicle sweeping up the grit from the middle of the track right now. Have Hamilton et al been chucking chewing gum and apple cores out of their car? Think green chaps. Talking of which - dolphins spotted in the harbour!
Unlikely that Vettel's engineers will replace his engine in time to get any more practice under his belt. But the rest of the drivers should be out for, say, another 15 minutes once the salty-looking grit soaks up all that black gold on the harbour-side streets of the Andalucían Manchester. Erm, Valencia is Spain's third biggest city. Sutil tops the timecharts, don't forget. Followed by Kubica, Hamilton, Button...
"We don't know [what happened]," a baffled Seb Vettel, who was running 15th fastest at the the time, tells reporters. "Suddenly I lost power and then got stuck. I don't know any more than you." Despite the red flag, the clock's still ticking... 23 minutes left.
Big blow for Red Bull and Seb Vettel, who gets a 'backie' from race stewards back to his garage as team boss Christian Horner shakes his head. Only eight engines allowed throughout the season, and that's the third of the young German's to go. Is his championship bid over? So the third practice session is suspended for now. Oil gushed out of Vettel's motor. It's now being cleared up.
BBC 5 Live sports extra commentator David Croft
does a fair impression of a young choir boy as Adrian Sutil goes quickest. Can Force India grab their first F1 point tomorrow? SESSION HAS BEEN RED-FLAGGED... LOOKS LIKE SEBASTIAN VETTEL HAS BLOWN HIS ENGINE.
Loads of oil on the track, which is obviously dangerous.
Hamilton, flying, is quickest thus far. Ferrari new boy Luca Badoer was third fastest not long ago. Yet he was three seconds behind the world champ. And only three cars had posted times. Much-maligned Valencia looks charming. Grosjean second right now. All but one car has been out for at least a lap.
From nesholland on606:
"My prediction is Alonso pole with Hamilton splitting the Brawns, Button 2, Ham 3, Barichello 4th. Then in the race, Ham will kers it into 1st, Alonso will pit after a few laps and the podium will be Hamilton 1, Button 2 and Barichello 3."
Brilliant stuff from Sebastien Buemi yesterday, who was whimpering in his car about a burnt foot as his Toro Rosso car overheated. Turns out he didn't actually singe his tootsies. He was just being soft. No practice times posted yet. Badoer's out on the track. Oh and sorry folks. Couple of issues with live video right now. Refresh again to bring it back (as Moloko might say).
1009: BBC Sport's Sarah Holt in Valencia
: "Hola todos. I write to you from under gorgeous blue skies. I've been at the track since 8am - just in time for a bowl of Special K at Ferrari and then I was off to discover Andrew Benson bending Ross Brawn's ear at Brawn HQ - the Brawn boss was building up for a big day by way of a strawberry smoothie instead of the full English some of the crew were tucking into. Brawn still have some fine-tuning to do during final practice and it'll be interesting to see how Lewis Hamilton gets on. The world champion didn't do much running on Friday after damaging his front wing so it will be interesting to find out just how fast his updated McLaren is."
Seconds to go before a couple of multi-million dollar nimble hunks of carbon fibre glide out onto the harbour-side streets of Valencia... (UK users) please refresh your browsers to see live video action at the top of this page.
0948: BBC Sport's Andrew Benson in Valencia:
"Ate in the same restaurant last night as Eddie Jordan, among whose companions were former Ferrari and McLaren F1 driver Stefan Johansson. When EJ and friends came over for a chat late on, Eddie was accosted by an enthusiastic Danish fan, who wanted his photo taken with him. EJ beckoned Johansson over, saying to the Dane: 'You'll want Stefan in it, too, I'm sure.' 'Oh, you were a racing driver, too?' said the man. Ouch.
"Brawn are confident they will be quick this weekend - they are not having the same problems with generating optimum tyre temperatures in the baking Valencia heat as at the last three races. They are less sure they have solved the wider problem, though. They have some ideas to work on, but the Belgian Grand Prix next weekend, where temperatures will almost certainly be about half those here, will be the acid test."
Some early 606ers have been dismissing Schumacher's failed return as 'another Ecclestone publicity stunt'. Sceptical. Turning thoughts to today. The third and final practice session - a mere limber-up, the equivalent of Usian Bolt touching his toes - starts in about 20 minutes. RBOK [Real Business of Qualifying] starts at 1300 BST. Who's your money on? Expect fireworks.
That's what's happening next season, according to McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh - the first senior F1 figure to publicly acknowledge the mooted move long considered a fairly open secret. Your thoughts on that, and today's European Grand Prix qualifying of course, are most welcome: try 606
text. My telepathy skills haven't been the same since turning 30.
Greetings all. The crushing on-track absence of Michael Schumacher may have left Formula 1 a little deflated yesterday on the first day back after the summer break. But, as the sport proves time and time again, another huge story is always just around the corner.
Fernando Alonso to Ferrari anyone?