Lewis Hamilton earned his first pole position since China last year with a stunning lap around the Valencia street circuit, sealing a McLaren one-two.
The defending world champion grabbed the top spot in his very first attempt in Q3, by a margin of 1.3 seconds compared to his nearest competitor! The shock of that winning edge resulted him going off the track immediately at the first corner!
Even championship leader Jenson Button was unable to beat the one minute, 39.498 seconds benchmark and he will start the European Grand Prix down in fifth.
The only driver to challenge Hamilton’s pole lap was team-mate Heikki Kovalainen. The under-pressure Finn had the opportunity to take his second career pole but made a mistake approaching the final corner on his best lap… Still he can be satisfied in starting the race on the front row, the first for McLaren since Hungary last year.
Rubens Barrichello continued the Mercedes-power domination with third for Brawn GP. The Brazilian was the fastest of all in qualifying with a time of one minute, 38.076 seconds in Q2, so to line up on the second row was a great achievement especially when you consider that Rubens only used one set of tyres in Q3.
Red Bull Racing’s Sebastien Vettel (who recently has signed a new contract with the team to race until 2012) qualified in a surprising fourth position. This result was unexpected, as the RB5 seemed to be off the pace compared to its rivals. In addition, the German suffered a major engine failure in the morning practice session. Still, at least Vettel is ahead of his championship rival Button by one spot on the grid.
The series leader is struggling for balance in the BGP 001 and to end up fifth is not an ideal position for Jenson Button. He really needs to rediscover that winning momentum found earlier this year (Jenson last dominated a race back in June at the Turkish Grand Prix) or else risk losing more points to his championship rivals.
Kimi Raikkonen will start sixth for Ferrari ahead of Nico Rosberg’s Williams and home crowd favourite Renault’s Fernando Alonso.
Completing the top ten is Mark Webber – who looked uncomfortable with the balance of his Red Bull car – and Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber.
As for the two new drivers making their Formula One debuts at Renault and Ferrari, Romain Grosjean and Luca Badoer respectively, the one-hour qualifying session was a difficult challenge for the pair. For Grosjean, he did a reasonable good job by taking P14, less than 0.4 seconds behind his more experienced team-mate Alonso compared to his predecessor, the recently fired Nelson Piquet Jr.
The same cannot be said to Badoer, who replaces the injured Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher in the cockpit of the F60. With the lack of preparation bar those two demo runs this week, the Ferrari test driver simply struggled throughout the qualifying session and will start his first race since 1999 at the tail end of the grid… Luca looked out of depth compare to the others and the margin between the Italian to team-mate Raikkonen was nearly two seconds slower! Ferrari really needs to reconsider a more experienced driver in the next event if Badoer doesn’t improve in the race on Sunday.
Qualifying times from Valencia:
1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:39.498
2. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 1:39.532
3. Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes 1:39.563
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:39.789
5. Button Brawn-Mercedes 1:39.821
6. Raikkonen Ferrari 1:40.144
7. Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1:40.185
8. Alonso Renault 1:40.236
9. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:40.239
10. Kubica BMW-Sauber 1:40.512
11. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber 1:38.826
12. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:38.846
13. Glock Toyota 1:38.991
14. Grosjean Renault 1:39.040
15. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:39.514
16. Fisichella Force India-Mercedes 1:39.531
17. Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1:39.795
18. Trulli Toyota 1:39.807
19. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:39.9252
20. Badoer Ferrari 1:41.413