Hamilton Quickest But Maldonado “On Pole” In Peculiar Qualifying

Not for the first time, Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team are involved in controversy following an official Formula One session. The Englishman was looking good for the race victory after being quickest in qualifying, but that now looks unlikely after being stripped of pole. The Englishman’s time of 1:21.707 was five tenths quicker than the Williams of Pastor Maldonado, but the Woking-based team’s car stopped on-track after the Q3 session. It was announced shortly after that the stewards were investigating the stoppage and later confirmed that Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying times would be wiped and he would start from the back of the grid.

Following a session, every car must have enough fuel to both return to the pits and provide the FIA with an amount to check for any possible irregularities. The sample amount the FIA take is half a litre, but the McLaren had just 1.3 litres in the tank, leaving it short of the required amount to get back to the pit-lane once the sample would be taken. Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren’s team principal, tried to argue that it had been under-fueled because of a team-error, as had happened at the 2010 Canadian GP qualifying session which the team got no penalty for. However, the fact that a repeat incident has occurred since then will have worked against them and they must now plot how they can come away with points as Jenson Button will also start oustide of the top 10 in eleventh place.

Pirelli’s rapidly-degrading tyres continue to play a headline role in 2012

The qualifying session was particularly strange as the track got quicker by eighth tenths from start to finish, a significantly bigger gap than the three tenths many teams were expecting. That was why Mark Webber and Jenson Button were both eliminated in Q2, although the same could not be said for Felipe Massa who starts in seventeenth.

Aside from the unexpected front-row starter, it was Frank Williams’ 70th birthday celebration in the Williams camp, and it made for a double celebration when new of Hamilton’s penalty broke.

Hamilton won’t have been smiling for long after qualifying

McLaren say points is their aim for the race, with both drivers heavily out-of-position:

“We accept that the stewards did not agree with our interpretation of force majeure. Our aim is now to maximise the points we can score tomorrow.”

Hamilton’s penalty means Williams get their first start from pole position since the season-ending Brazil GP in 2010 with Nico Hulkenberg

Pastor Maldonado expressed his surprise as he became the first Venezuelan in F1 history to sit on pole:

“[On Friday] we thought the top ten was possible, and this morning I was quite surprised by our performance, because our car was so quick lower fuel,” he said. So this morning we thought it was possible.

And we actually made a good step forward for this race. The car looks consistent, especially in race pace, so it’s a great feeling to be here, [my] first time in top three.

“We improved our worst thing, which was qualifying pace. So I am happy for the team, for my country and for myself.”

Alonso is sure the new Ferrari updates are working well

Fernando Alonso was happy to qualify what was then third place in front of his home crowd and stated that it was a display of Ferrari’s progress, even if third place was over achieving:

“Thanks to the updates we took a step forward in right direction,” said Alonso.

“Now we arrive to Q3 in a more comfortable way, and in Q3 the level is good. If I had 100 more tyres I would do same time, so [there is no] more time left. For us it was impossible even to dream about being in the top three in the first four races. We were arriving in Q3 with no new sets [of tyres] left, so that is a step forward. I think P3 is over performing what we can do at the moment, but I am happy. There is much more to come.”

Lotus had a good qualifying with both drivers

Lotus kept up with their strong form by qualifying in fourth and fifth, Romain Grosjean out-qualifying Kimi Raikkonen. Grosjean was pleased with his team’s work:

“It was a good performance from the team, especially as I didn’t run in FP3 because of a fuel pressure problem,” he said. “For the set-up we went from what we’d found out yesterday, and it worked pretty well. Everyone did a good job to get the car ready for qualifying after the problems of the morning.

We can be happy with what we have achieved – of course you always want more but this is the result for today. I think that I could have been a little bit quicker, not too much more.”

Raikkonen agreed and thinks the team can have a strong race:

We’ll see how it goes tomorrow in the race; the car has usually been better on Sunday than it has been on Saturday, so if that’s the case tomorrow we’ll be pretty happy,” said the Finn.

“A lot of small details will decide the race, and the tyres are one aspect. Our long runs were promising [on Friday], so we’re not looking too bad. Hopefully we get a reasonable start and we can be up at the right end and go for it. I think we’ve got a good car and that’s the main thing.”

Vettel thinks he got all he could out of his Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel finished the session in seventh, being a number of drivers who did not record a laptime in Q3 in order to save a set of the quicker and softer option tyre, but maintained that he would have been unlikely to be much higher up the grid regardless of times set:

A pretty different session today; it was extremely tight,” said Vettel. “From Q1 onwards we decided to go on the soft tyres. The first run in Q2 wasn’t good enough, so I had to go again and it was clear then that if we made it to Q3, we wouldn’t have any new soft tyres left.

I think we got the maximum at the end there in Q3, we saved some sets of tyres, which we thought going into qualifying would be crucial, but we didn’t have the pace of the top five cars today. Tyres will be important tomorrow, so let’s see what we can do.”

Schumacher defended the lack of running for much of Q3

Michael Schumacher agreed that it was the right thing to do, even if it did make for a poor show, with no one setting a time until nearly half of Q3 was complete:

“We wanted to save tyres this afternoon, which dictated how we managed Q3,” he said. “I did not complete a timed lap, and now I still have the choice of what tyres to start on tomorrow. Equally, I thought it was better to start from ninth on the grid than eighth, and be on the clean side.”

Spanish GP Grid

1.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault
 2.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari
 3.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault
 4.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault
 5.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari
 6.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes
 7.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault
 8.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes
 9.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari
10.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes
11.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault
12.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes
13.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes
14.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari
15.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari
16.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari
17.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault
18.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault
19.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault
20.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth
21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth
22.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth
24.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes * Penalty
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