Britain’s Lewis Hamilton coolly snatched pole position in the dying seconds of qualifying yesterday to boost his chances of sealing the Formula One world title at the Chinese Grand Prix.
The 23-year-old McLaren Mercedes star made light of immense pressure with a near-perfect final lap to close a hard-fought session ahead of Ferrari’s outgoing champion Kimi Raikkonen and title rival Felipe Massa.
It was Hamilton’s seventh pole this season and the 13th of his career as he targets his first drivers’ championship, which he allowed to slip through his fingers last year.
With just the Chinese and Brazilian legs to go, Hamilton needs to beat Massa by six points to become the sport’s youngest champion, provided BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica, the only other title contender, does not win.
Hamilton was up against it after slipping to fifth in the opening run of the final qualifying session, but he drove nearly faultlessly to take pole.
“That was as near to a perfect lap as I could have driven,” Hamilton said. “I knew there was a job to do and I was just totally focused on my lap.”
Hamilton said he was able to clear his mind of a simmering controversy after several rivals accused him of driving too aggressively. Renault boss Flavio Briatore also said Hamilton would “throw away” the title again.
“I did not feel under any extra pressure at all,” Hamilton said. “To be honest, I had nothing else on my mind but the lap and the job.”
Massa admitted it had been a tough qualifying session for Ferrari, but remained confident for today’s race.
“We have been struggling a little bit to put together a perfect lap and this qualifying was a little difficult. But we have been here before and had very good pace for the race,” Massa said.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who is seeking a hat-trick of consecutive wins and has said he is supporting Massa’s bid to overhaul Hamilton, will start fourth.
Hamilton’s McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalaien was only fifth, ahead of Australian Mark Webber in a Red Bull. Webber has to drop 10 places because of an engine change on his car in the morning.
On a clear, dry afternoon, the first part of qualifying was dominated by the McLarens, with Hamilton fastest ahead of Kovalainen and German tyro Sebastian Vettel third for Toro Rosso.
Red Bull’s British veteran David Coulthard was livid that his final flying lap was spoiled by German Nick Heidfeld of BMW Sauber.
“It was unsporting behavior by Heidfeld. He had no intention of a faster lap. I have given him the benefit of the doubt, but this shows what sort of person he is,” Coulthard said.
Massa improved from fifth to second in the second session, but he was again eclipsed by Hamilton, who ran in fastest after a switch to soft tires.
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