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Hamilton storms to Valencia pole

EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX
Venue: Valencia Dates: 21-23 August 2009 Coverage: Live coverage of Friday's practice sessions, Saturday qualifying and Sunday's race - which starts at 1300 BST - across BBC TV, radio and online platforms. Find full listings here

Lewis Hamilton

Highlights - Hamilton grabs European pole

By Andrew Benson
BBC Sport in Valencia

World champion Lewis Hamilton secured his first pole position of the season with a scintillating qualifying display at the European Grand Prix at Valencia.

The Englishman, who won the last race in Hungary, beat team-mate Heikki Kovalainen to seal a McLaren front row.

Brawn's Rubens Barrichello is third, with team-mate Jenson Button fifth behind Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull.

Button's closest title challenger Mark Webber will start ninth in his Red Bull, behind Renault's Fernando Alonso.

Robert Kubica completes the top 10, and the BMWs will be boosted by the improved performance following a frustrating season in which the Pole has secured a top-10 grid position just twice since April.

The Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber have closed the gap on Button as the Englishman struggled in the last three races.

But Brawn have bounced back to form here while the hot conditions have left Red Bull comparatively struggling.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton hails 'fantastic' job

McLaren, though, have left all the teams slightly breathless as they seek to build on Hamilton's victory in Budapest and he is fancied to win a second race in a row.

The Hungarian race marked a watershed for McLaren, who started the season poorly, but have bounced back after introducing major aerodynamic changes to their car at the German Grand Prix last month.

BBC SPORT'S FUEL-ADJUSTED GRID (with projected race first pit stops*)
1 Barrichello (lap 19)
2 Kovalainen +0.216 (lap 16)
3 Hamilton +0.249 (lap 15)
4 Button +0.291 (lap 18)
5 Vettel +0.507 (lap 16)
6 Rosberg +0.540 (lap 20)
7 Webber +0.610 (lap 20)
8 Raikkonen +0.614 (lap 18)
9 Alonso +0.871 (lap 17)
10 Kubica +1.114 (lap 17)
* Calculated on the weight of fuel left in cars after qualifying had finished

Hamilton's superiority was demonstrated by the fact that he set his fastest lap on his first run in the final qualifying session, on which he was half a second quicker than his closest pursuer.

His rivals closed up on their second and final runs, but Hamilton was on an even faster lap at the end of the session, which he aborted when it became clear no-one could beat his time of one minute 39.498 seconds.

Kovalainen was 0.034secs behind him, with Barrichello 0.065secs adrift of the leading McLaren.

"It's a fantastic achievement for the team," Hamilton said.

"Clearly we have very good pace this weekend. It's been very close between me and Heikki. 'H' has done a fantastic job.

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"We stand in the best position going into tomorrow for a podium, but it all depends on strategy and the start and how the rest of the race goes."

Kovalainen is driving a slightly different specification of car here to Hamilton, who has a new shorter wheelbase design, and McLaren say the Finn's car is about 0.2secs slower.

Kovalainen looked on course to best Hamilton's first time - at which point his team-mate was behind him and still on his hot lap - but he made a mistake at the final corner and lost precious fractions.

"I clearly went over the limit," Kovalainen said. "I could have done a bit better, but had I not pushed I could have dropped three or four places quite easily. Luckily I didn't lose more than one place. It's fine. It's a great place to start for tomorrow."

Jenson Button

Button tries to find positives in fifth

Barrichello was fastest of all in the second part of qualifying, when the cars run closest to their ultimate speed - drivers who make it into the top-10 shootout are not allowed to refuel before the race so their pace is dictated by the amount of fuel they have on board for the first part of the grand prix.

The Brazilian said: "It's good to be back and competitive. You never know how much fuel these guys have. I hope I have more than them."

Button said he had made a mistake on his best lap but that he in any case could not have beaten his team-mate.

"I went wide in Turn Four and lost a couple of 10ths but even so it would still only have been P4. Maybe P5 is better on the cleaner side of the track," said the Briton.

"I've got Mark (Webber) behind me, which is a good thing. We just have to see how the race pans out.

"It's unusual for us to be upstaged in Q2 and Q3 [though]. The McLarens are going to be very difficult to beat here."

Webber, who is 18.5 points behind Button heading into Sunday's race, said the Valencia street track was Red Bull's bogey circuit.

Jenson Button
Maybe P5 is better on the cleaner side of the track - but the McLarens are going to be very difficult to beat

Jenson Button

"I expected us to be a little bit better here," the Australian said.

"But we have been incredibly consistent and fast in a lot of venues.

"We haven't had many tough circuits. Everyone has had them at some stage. This looks like its ours.

"It was always going to be damage limitation. We knew it was going to be tough to really competitive in Q3 so we put a bit of fuel in to see what we could get for the back end of the race tomorrow.

"It's not Spa, Silverstone or Barcelona. It's a different kind of track and it's proving to be a difficult one for us.

"It's a slow circuit - long straights but no fast corners. We don't seem to be able to run the downforce level some of the other teams can. If you want to run the top seeds they're running we would have very low wing on the car. It's a very difficult race for us to nail."

Luca Badoer, standing in at Ferrari for the injured Felipe Massa, had a very poor qualifying.

He was slowest of all in the first session, and the gap between Badoer and the next slowest car, Jaime Alguesuari's Toro Rosso, was bigger than the gap between fastest man Button and Alguesuari in 19th.



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see also
European Grand Prix qualifying photos
22 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
European GP qualifying as it happened
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David Coulthard column
22 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
Alonso 'will switch to Ferrari'
21 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
Vettel pens new Red Bull contract
21 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
McLaren talk up Kers 'advantage'
20 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
Button out to reignite title push
20 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
Renault drive chance for Grosjean
18 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
F1 on the BBC
01 Dec 11 |  Formula 1


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