Lewis Hamilton posted the quickest time in a dramatic qualifying session at the Spanish Grand Prix overnight. But more drama was to follow, with Hamilton now stripped of his pole position and forced to start from the back of the grid.
At the end of the session Hamilton’s McLaren ran out of fuel and the 2008 world champion pulled aside and got a lift back into pitlane. McLaren explained the mishap saying it was an unavoidable mistake, or force majeure.
However, the FIA confirmed their decision in statement, which reads in part: “A team member had put an insufficient quantity of fuel into the car, thereby resulting in the car having to be stopped on the circuit in order to be able to provide the required amount for sampling purposes.
“As the amount of fuel put into the car is under the complete control of the competitor, the stewards cannot accept this as a case of force majeure.
“The Stewards determine that this is a breach of Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations and the Competitor is accordingly excluded from the results of the Qualifying Session. The Competitor is however allowed to start the race from the back of the grid.”
Alonso displayed improved fortunes for Ferrari by posting the third fastest lap and, with the updated starting order, will start from the front row. Expect him to zip past Maldonado and enjoy some clear track off the line for the first time this year.
The drama began early when Jenson Button (McLaren) and Mark Webber (Red Bull) failed to make the cut into the final qualifying period.
In the closing stages of Q3 Alonso claimed provisional pole (1:22.302), which lasted just a few seconds before Maldonado (1:22.285) continued a strong showing for Williams this weekend, narrowly eclipsing Alonso’s time. But both men and the entire field were blitzed by Hamilton’s time (1:21.707), almost half a second quicker than Maldonado.
An odd quirk of the original qualifying results was the finishing order of the first three men compared to their teammates: Hamilton (P1), Button (P11); Maldonado (P2), Senna (P18); Alonso (P3), Massa (P17). Similarly, Red Bull returned one of their poorest qualifying sessions for some time. Vettel could not manage a lap worthy of finishing and did not register a time in Q3. He will now start the race from P7, with Webber back in P11.
Daniel Ricciardo was just eclipsed by his Toro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne. They will line up on P14 and P15 respectively.
Rounding things out, Narain Karthikeyan was miles off the 107% qualifying time, but has been saved embarrassment courtesy of the stewards and will start with an impatient Lewis Hamilton beside him.
With thanks to the FIA we bring you the full transcript from the post-qualifying press conference after the break.
[Pics: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, Williams/LAT Photographic, Ferrari]
Spanish GP – Conference 3
1 – Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren)
2 – Pastor MALDONADO (Williams)
3 – Fernando ALONSO (Ferrari)
Lewis, McLaren’s 150th Formula One pole position today. You really had to manage to the process though, particularly with the tyres. You were in the groove from the start, but what happened at the end when you stopped out on the track?
Lewis HAMILTON: Well, firstly it was a fantastic qualifying session for me. Really, I’m very happy with the way… I think it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever had. Amazing job by the guys in the garage. Huge thanks to the guys in the factory for bringing us the upgrades, which have worked fantastically. I stopped on the track. I was told to stop. I don’t really have any idea why. But the car was feeling great today. It’s a great day for the team, I think. I don’t know what happened with Jenson, but he’s got great strength and pace throughout the race, so I have no doubt that he will make his way up through the grid.
Pastor, a sensational session for you and Williams. Where did you find the speed from?
Pastor MALDONADO: I think we’ve been working so hard from the beginning of the year trying to understand these tyres and to develop our car around the tyres and I think we actually did a really good step forward for this race. We need to continue to like that, keep pushing. I think at the moment there is a great atmosphere in the factory, a great atmosphere here in the team, the car looks pretty consistent and fantastic, especially in the race pace, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It’s a great feeling to be here, it’s my first time in the top three, so I’m really happy and hopefully we will continue like that and I would like to say thanks to the whole team.
Fernando, a lot of updates also on the Ferrari. Are you heading in the right direction now?
Fernando ALONSO: Yeah, I think so. Obviously for us it was impossible to even dream about being in the top three in the four races, we just had eyes on Q3 with no new set [of tyres] left or anything like that, so definitely it’s a step forward. The grid is so compact now that if you improve two or three tenths it makes a huge difference in terms of positions: five or six positions. So we did a step forward. I still doubt how much we did, because I think maybe P3 is a little bit over-performing what we can do at the moment. But I’m extremely happy with the lap; it was perfect. I don’t think there is much more to come. I think I could put 100 more sets of tyres on and I could only repeat the lap time probably. It is the way it is. I’m extremely happy for today and hopefully we maximise or capitalise on this good starting position tomorrow with a good result.
Back to you Lewis. Obviously a lot of tyre tactics going on in qualifying today. What about the race tomorrow? What’s your read on how things are going to shape up and what kind of shape do you feel you’re in to become the fifth different race winner in five races?
LH: Well, we’ve looked after our prime tyres, which is generally the better tyre for the race, or so it seems at the moment – the longer lasting tyre. Also the option tyres are all in good condition so… I think it’s going to be a massively tough race tomorrow. Of course, I’ve got these two great drivers next to me. I’m really happy to see this guy [Pastor Maldonado] up here and to see Williams up here and also Fernando. It’s really great to see my old team-mate up here as well and I’m going to have a great battle with these guys and I really hope we’re going to put on a great show for all the fans.
Lewis, congratulations. That was a great lap at the end. You must be so satisfied with it?
LH: I really am. I think every time you go out, every time you qualify you’re searching for that perfect lap. You’re searching to put the car in just the right sweet spot, where you’re gaining all the time you could possibly gain and you’re not losing anywhere and I really felt that throughout Q1, Q2 and Q3… after Q1 I was like ‘damn, that should have been my Q3 lap’ but I was really grateful that I was able to continue that throughout the session and yeah, fantastic feeling really – overwhelmed.
Lewis, you’ve started third on the grid here for the last three years and you haven’t yet won this grand prix, you’ve been twice second. Do you really want to tick this box, win this grand prix, one of the ones you haven’t yet won?
LH: Well I’m very much aware that I have an incredibly tough race tomorrow with these guys who are massively quick – also on their long runs – and just how tricky it is in general. But it would mean a huge amount for me to win here in Spain. It’s always been a great place for me, it’s beautiful weather all the time and the people are just incredible and the support that I’ve had continues to grow year by year. And it’s become such a pleasure for me to come here. So, to win at one of the circuits where they have one of the biggest fan bases for Formula One in general, would be fantastic.
Can you explain why there should be such changing fortune, even between team-mates? For example, your team-mate didn’t get through to Q3, his [Maldonado’s] team-mate didn’t get through into Q2 even and his [Alonso’s] team-mate starts 17th. It seems extraordinary the changing fortunes even for team-mates.
LH: I think it’s surprising all of us. We are all very surprised. Obviously we are very happy that we’re up here! It just fantastic to see how close it is. You lose a tenth or two, that means you have to use your next set of tyres which then has a knock-on effect for the next session if you do or don’t get through. And so it’s massively competitive and it’s great for… I’m sure the fans are loving it – maybe not enjoying Q3 so much, but we definitely did.
Pastor, where did it come from? How much did you get sorted out in Mugello? Do you think it’s a knock-on effect after Mugello?
PM: I think all the guys in the factory did a wonderful job because the upgrades we have for this race, everything is working on the car. I was pretty happy yesterday in the free practice and the balance is there. Even though our strongest point has always been in the race, so I’m looking forward for tomorrow. Actually we improved – our worst thing was the qualifying pace so pretty happy for that, pretty happy for the team, for my country, for myself. It’s a great job today.
Is this a favourite circuit, one of your best? I know Bruno [Senna] said it was one of his favourite circuits…
PM: I think all of us, we know very well this circuit, we enjoy this circuit because of the combination of corners we find here, even the teams know very well. I think we have been working so hard in the winter tests here and so we find a good balance in the car and a good compromise for quali and race.
Did you feel yesterday ‘hey, we can really do something here’? Did you already feel that yesterday?
PM: Yes. I think yesterday we were thinking about top ten, it was possible. This morning I was quite surprised about our performance because the car was so quick with lower fuel. This morning it was possible.
Fernando, I don’t think anyone was ever going to discount you here. I don’t know what it was, maybe the crowd, or Ferrari etc, etc, How much satisfaction, third on the grid?
FA: Really happy. No doubt that this is a special weekend for me. And as I said on Thursday, there is always some extra motivation, some over-performing a little bit of what you have on hand, and yeah, thanks to the updates we had here, definitely we did a step forward, in the right direction because we hardly get into Q3 in the first four races and now we arrive with a little bit more comfortable way and then in Q3 the lap was good. I said before in the other conference with another hundred new tyres I would repeat the same time – I don’t think there is any time left. But the points are given tomorrow, not today. We did as much as we could today and we are happy to start in a much better position that what we did in the previous grands prix. But we need the points tomorrow. Especially… the grid positions are mixed a little bit as you said, with some of the people that are in front of us in the championship, they start at the back tomorrow – so we need to take benefit of this good position today and score more points than them.
We remember in particular your start last year. Are we going to see a repeat of that?
FA: I’ll tell you tomorrow. Definitely, a little bit like Pastor and Williams, our race pace is much better than qualifying pace – that is normally our weakest point and we suffer on Saturday some bad positions and then compromise a little bit our race pace. So tomorrow we have a privileged position to start, so the first corner will be important if we can gain some positions, but it’s important also not to lose. The race tomorrow is very long with the tyre degradation and, as I said, we must score points tomorrow, good points, with this position we have. So, aggressive start yes, crazy start not.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Adrian Huber – Agencia EFE) Fernando, will you be happy tomorrow repeating this position or will you be looking for something more?
FA: You never know in Formula One. I think a podium position, we tend to agree in the team, if someone tells us two or three days ago, before coming to Barcelona, or after the Mugello test, that in Barcelona you will be on the podium, I think we all agree, we all be happy with that position. Today, obviously with this position, that dream or that target is closer. But I think the race is very long tomorrow and we saw even in Bahrain, Kimi started ninth, (11th), he was P10 or P11 in lap one and he nearly won the race in the end, so the positions are not crucial anymore as previous years. I think it will be an extremely tough race tomorrow to take care of the tyres again. Degradation, DRS, KERS to overtake. Pitstop strategy, we will see probably a lot of pitstops for everybody. The more pitstops you have, the more risk you have to have a problem in the pits. There are a lot of factors tomorrow that we need to take account. It will be a difficult race. A podium, I think, will be a good result for us and happy.
Q: (Leonid Novozhilov – F1 Life) Lewis, are you happy? What are you feeling now? What do you think about tomorrow, this position?
LH: I really feel fantastic. I’m very, very happy. Normally you can always be happy with a pole position of course, but for some reason even more so this time than maybe any other qualifying that I’ve had, except for the first pole position I have had in Formula One. Just because, as I was just saying, you’re always looking for that perfect lap, and I really, really felt that I got everything just, just sweet there and got absolutely everything out of my car. I didn’t miss apexes or anything like that. It’s an incredibly feeling when you have that. It’s really just a very unique experience. But tomorrow’s going to be a tough race. As you were just saying, Fernando had a great start here last year and it’s such a long drive down to turn one – but he was also saying people are coming to win from quite far back, or to compete for wins from quite far back, so tomorrow’s just going to be about looking after your tyres, getting the right pitstops at the right times and really being patient, I think, at the most important times during the race.
Q: (Fulvio Solms – Corriere Dello Sport) To all three drivers; they have chosen new rules and tyres to have an unpredictable Formula One. Do you think this championship is just unpredictable, or technically less logical as well?
FA: I don’t think they choose the tyres for the championship to be unpredictable. We have the tyres that we have.
LH: I’m not sure that they were expecting it to be as it is, but I definitely think that it is a bit unpredictable at the moment, massively close. There have been several different winners in the races and you can make such a big difference, if you don’t finish one race but then you win the next race, it can still keep you in contention so it feels for me – out of all the championships that I’ve been in – it feels to me to be one of the most exciting ones. Regardless if I haven’t won yet, it just feels like one of the best, I imagine, for people to watch.
PM: I think that the tyres are the same for everybody so all the teams and all the drivers are working hard to adapt ourselves, even the cars to these tyres and to get the best performance we can.
Q: (Marco degli Innocenti – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Pastor when you reached Williams, there were a lot of people, among journalists too, who expressed doubts about you and they said that you have got the seat because of your rich sponsors and so on. Now, are you convinced that you have proved that you are one of the top drivers, thanks to your qualities?
PM: I’m think that I’m lucky, I’m lucky to have not only a sponsor behind me but also a country behind me, pushing me so hard. Here I am, doing my job, doing my best, trying to improve every time. I have a mission, which is to be back with Williams to the top, so here we are. We still need to keep pushing, to keep improving and I think that is possible.
Q: (Silvia Arias – Parabrisas) Pastor, congratulations, I want to know about the start tomorrow. What do you think? Is it going to be easier to attack Lewis at the first corner, or defend from Fernando?
PM: I think it’s going to be a very tough race, because not only us three but even the other drivers have a very close pace. Our strongest point was always race pace so hopefully our car will be very consistent and pretty good in the race. I hope to continue like that, I hope to stay in the position, the podium is very important for us, the points, so it’s very important to keep calm and to do good race.
Q: (Laurentzi Garmendia – Berria) Lewis, we have such a close championship in terms of times in qualifying, but I think your gap was over half a second to Pastor. Does it surprise you? It looks like a dominant car.
LH: Yes, I’m definitely surprised to have such a big gap. I wasn’t surprised that it was a good lap because it felt that I switched the tyres on the right way and I feel that I extracted everything but yeah, considering that all the sessions are so close, all the teams are so close, I definitely wasn’t expecting to have such a big gap. That’s quite a big gap for us but we definitely can’t take it for granted. I think we’ll go to other races and it will be slower and in some races we will be faster but we really, really hope that with the continuous upgrades that we get we can try to maintain the pace that we have, especially through qualifying but most importantly to try and improve through the race.
Q: (Mike Doodson – Honorary) Fernando and Lewis: I think we all agree that it’s a good thing when Williams is doing well in Formula One and both of you have had moments this year when you’ve been racing with Pastor or the other Williams driver. I wonder if either of you or both of you could tell me where the car has strong points that you’ve noticed while racing with it on the circuit.
LH: I can’t remember exactly what your strong points are but for me it’s fantastic to see Williams up here, really, really very happy for them. I know Sir Frank quite well since I’ve been here and I’m a huge admirer of him and his team and to see them up here again, I think Formula One’s just not been the same without Williams being at the front, competing. So it’s good, it’s great for them and for the whole team. I’ve always thought they had quite a good car, it always looked quite beautiful but I think this year it’s performing as well as looking good, so we’ll definitely be on our toes to try and make sure we’re ahead of them.
FA: Yeah, I don’t know. Obviously I fight a little bit more with them than Lewis probably in these four races. The car looks strong in race pace as Pastor said and basically taking care of the tyres. I remember in China they did like 32 laps with the same set of tyres that no one could adapt to. Apart from the car, they are doing a very good job, setting up the car with the engineers – I know some of them, very talented and a fantastic job from the drivers as well. Pastor has this year proved, not only today, but many times this year that he’s doing a fantastic job, also with Bruno but less lucky sometimes. In Australia, on the last lap, Pastor crashed behind me but I was already fighting in the top five so it’s not new that he’s fighting in these top positions so well done to all of them.
Q: (Jaime Rogriguez – El Mundo) Fernando, after the last free practice this morning, did you imagine that after qualifying could be fighting for pole? When did you feel the real change in the car?
FA: No, obviously this morning’s practice we didn’t think we could be in the top five or top six. I think P8 to P12 was more or less our position after practice, same as after yesterday’s practice as well, that we were fastest in the morning and P14 in the afternoon, so we were something in between those positions in practice as well. Yeah, I’m happy and a little bit surprised to be in front of one McLaren, both Red Bulls, both Lotuses, so definitely this is not what we were expecting but qualifying went like this, it went our way this time and as I said, today means nothing if we don’t finish the job tomorrow.
Q: (Carlos Miguel – La Gaceta ) Fernando, are you worried that you might not to be able to finish the race in the same position you are in now, or are you worried the rhythm of the Renault – because they were very strong on Friday – and maybe some of the guys behind. I ask about Kimi because I think he could be a contender for the race.
FA: Yeah, yeah, definitely, the Lotus will be a threat tomorrow, starting fourth and fifth. They’ve been quick all weekend so tomorrow no surprises if they are fighting for the podium or even for a race win. Sebastian is P8 so he will be fighting for a top position later in the race. With Jenson and Mark having the possibility to chose which tyres to start on, I’m sure that they will prepare something good to recover position because they have the pace. They had the pace yesterday in FP2 and I’m sure that tomorrow they will be quick. The race will be tough to maintain positions because we believe that there are quicker cars behind us but let’s see what we can do. On the other hand, this is not an easy track to overtake on,
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto, Motor und Sport) The forecast for tomorrow is significantly cooler, can that change the picture that some cars which hadn’t been up to speed today might fall into the operating window of the tyres tomorrow?
LH: I think it could be the opposite. If people are struggling today to switch their tyres on then potentially they would struggle even more if it was cooler but that is a real tricky situation to be in, that sometimes three tyres come in and one, your left front doesn’t work and then you just have understeer and you don’t get the time. If it is the case and it’s cooler tomorrow it will be tough for everyone, even the guys who did switch their tyres on today.
FA: Maybe rain.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) To all drivers: you approach the times that you registered in winter testing today, with the same tyres but 20 degrees hotter asphalt. Can you make an analysis about this?
LH: Did we do these times in the winter?
FA: Yes, 21.6s for Grosjean in winter I think. We did 22.2s, we did 22.5s today, something like that. I think the cars improved a lot between February and now but the temperature… we know that the hotter it is the slower you are. It happens in the winter as well. If you do your best time at 9 ‘o clock in the morning, then you cannot repeat those times in the afternoon. In a way that shows how much the cars improved for everybody from February to here. It’s good.
PM: I agree. I think today was a bit more windy, which is a penalty for everybody.