Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took pole position for the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, in a session interrupted by an accident that befell the championship leader of Lewis Hamilton.
The McLaren driver had just set the fastest section time when he suffered a front-right wheel failure on the approach to the fast Schumacher S. The silver car slew straight on, bounced over the gravel trap before crashing hard into the tyre wall.
After impacting the wall, Hamilton was seen moving his legs in the cockpit. The British rookie attempted to extricate himself from the cockpit but was clearly in some discomfort and stopped to await medical assistance.
The qualifying session was immediately red-flagged while the doctors attended to Hamilton, who waved to the crowd while being stretchered away to the medical centre.
McLaren subsequently confirmed that Hamilton sustained no serious injuries, broken bones or bruising, and that he did not lose consciousness during the crash. The Englishman was taken to Koblenz Bundeswehr Hospital for a precautionary CT scan, which proved to be entirely normal. As is normal, Hamilton will require a final sign-off by FIA Medical Delegate Gary Hartstein on Sunday morning before he is allowed to race. The team expect the outcome of this to be positive.
The cause of the shunt was a problem with the right-front wheel airgun during the previous pit stop in which Hamilton’s McLaren was fitted with its last set of Bridgestone tyres before his all-out qualifying run. The wheelnut could not be fitted properly, and a second airgun was needed to cure the problem. However, back on track the wheel was still able to move enough to generate sufficient damage to cause it to fail.
The session was red flagged for 30 minutes as the damaged car was recovered, and repairs were made to the conveyor belt round the tyre wall. When the session resumed, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa lapped in one minute, 31.778 secs to set provisional pole. But this was immediately beaten by team-mate Raikkonen with a time of one minute, 31.450 secs.
As for the double world champion, Fernando Alonso was actually faster than the Finn in the first section but he then had a major oversteer moment in the middle of his fast lap and as he crossed the start/finish line, the Spaniard could only record the second fastest time with one minute, 31.741 secs.
This was Raikkonen’s first pole position since the season’s opening Grand Prix at Melbourne and judging by his previous two race performances, the Finn is looking great for a hat-trick of wins.
Behind the leading three came the BMW-Sauber pair of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica – fourth and fifth respectively. Mark Webber did a splendid job to qualifying his Red Bull in sixth (14 places ahead of his team-mate David Coulthard, who was eliminated at the first knock-out stage).
Heikki Kovalainen was the only Renault in the top ten with P7. As for Giancarlo Fisichella, the Italian struggled and could only managed 13th position.
The Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher will line up in eighth and ninth on the grid – despite Trulli spinning at the final chicane at the end of the third session.
And starting behind them all will be Lewis Hamilton. The championship leader will start the race carrying the same fuel load as when he competed in qualifying.
Sunday’s European Grand Prix will be a fascinating contest as the three championship contenders’ battle for the overall win. Will Raikkonen go for his hat-trick of race victories? Can Alonso reduce the points gap to Lewis with a better grid position? What about Massa, can the Brazilian challenge his Ferrari team-mate and take the win himself? But I suspect all the focus will be on Hamilton. The British driver will start in his lowest grid position this season and it will be interesting how well he will race against Heidfeld, Kubica, Webber, Kovalainen, Trulli and Schumacher in his comeback to score valuable championship points. It should be highly entertaining at the Nurburgring!
European Grand Prix starting grid
1. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1:31.450
2. ALONSO McLaren 1:31.741
3. MASSA Ferrari 1:31.778
4. HEIDFELD BMW 1:31.840
5. KUBICA BMW 1:32.123
6. WEBBER Red Bull 1:32.476
7. KOVALAINEN Renault 1:32.478
8. TRULLI Toyota 1:32.501
9. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1:32.570
10. HAMILTON McLaren 1:33.833
11. ROSBERG Williams 1:31.978
12. WURZ Williams 1:31.996
13. FISICHELLA Renault 1:32.010
14. BARRICHELLO Honda 1:32.221
15. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1:32.451
16. SATO Super Aguri 1:32.838
17. BUTTON Honda 1:32.983
18. SPEED Toro Rosso 1:33.038
19. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1:33.148
20. COULTHARD Red Bull 1:33.151
21. SUTIL Spyker 1:34.500
22. WINKELHOCK Spyker 1:35.940