Spain Quali Recap: Hamilton takes pole in dramatic final moments of Q3

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Lewis Hamilton (1:21.702) won pole for the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix in a qualifying session dramatic in the final moments. It appeared that no one would really bother running in Q32, then the final two minutes devolved into a mess of fast sectors and rushing to get out of the garage. Pastor Maldonado will start second, in his first time making it into Q3. Fernando Alonso held provisional pole for a moment, as neither Romain Grosjean nor Kimi Raikkonen could catch him on their final laps and so will start fourth and fifth. Still, Hamilton managed a lap a half second faster than Maldonado to muscle his way to pole. Meanwhile, Q2 was a mess of heavy hitters getting knocked out as the track changed at the very end under a bit of clouds after getting very fast in the middle of the session. Flying laps and soft tyres dropped Jenson Button and Mark Webber to eleventh and twelfth, leaving Felipe Massa to qualifying only seventeenth. Both Vettel and Schumacher only made it through to Q3 by the skin of their teeth and aborted their final laps in that session.

All three practice session saw a different driver lead the times. Alonso (1:24.430) took first blood at home in Spain on Friday morning, Button (1:23.399) led the afternoon practice, and Vettel (1:23.168) put himself back on top in the Saturday morning session with the fastest lap time of the weekend to that point. Many drivers had a chance to sit near the fastest lap time, with only Vettel, Button, and Kobayashi being amongst the fastest five in two sessions. Vettel did so in all three. Maldonado, Webber, Perez, Bottas, Rosberg, and Hamilton were in that fastest five in one of the sessions each. There were no major incidents in sunny Spain, though HRT, Marussia, and Lotus all suffered from lost time as drivers stopped on track with car issues.

Q1:
It was still sunny, but rather windy as the twenty minutes of Q1 got underway. No one was in a hurry to get the session started; Vettel wasn’t even fully suited up as the pit out light went green. Force India and Di Resta blinked first, with Grojsean and Raikkonen following, more than four minutes into the session. Hulkenberg joined them, as did Ricciardo and Glock, then others began to join as well. Di Resta’s first time (1:25.675) stood only for a moment, as Grosjean bettered it by nearly six tenths. Raikkonen was slower than the Scot in the dusty, pollinated air. Alonso (1:24.326) set the fastest lap on his first timed lap, but everyone but Vettel, Webber, Maldonado, and de la Rosa were on track behind him. Rosberg could not better the Spaniard’s lap, but Perez did, then Hamilton (1:24.143) went faster yet.

Halfway through, Hamilton led Perez, Alonso, Grosjean, and Raikkonen as the fastest five, but Button, Senna, Massa, Petrov, Karthikeyan, Maldonado, de la Rosa, and the Red Bulls had yet to set times. The latter had not even left the garage yet. Button was seventh fastest on his first lap as his teammate looked to better his own fastest lap at the top. Kobayashi, however, went faster yet in the first sector, but lost two tenths to Hamilton in the second. With seven minutes to go, Kovalainen, Pic, Glock, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan, Maldonado, Vettel, and Webber were in the knockout zone. Maldonado’s (1:23.380) first lap was on the soft tyre, and he went fastest of all on them by six tenths.

Vettel finally joined with six to go, on the soft tyres, just before Webber did the same. Their proposed fast laps would leave Ricciado, Di Resta, Petrov, Kovalainen, Pic, GLock, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan in the knockout zone. Maldonado, Hamilton, Perez, Schumacher, and Alonso were the fastest five with five minutes remaining as Maldonado looked to improve his own first sector. Down in eighth, Button went out on his second set of the softs. Raikkonen, also on the softs, posted the fastest first sector to move up to second fastest. On his first lap, Vettel went third fastest, only to have Webber go four tenths quicker and into that position. Di Resta next bettered Vettel’s time. Hamilton next joined them on the softs from eighth position.

Alonso, then Grosjean went fastest with two minutes remaining, as Vergne, Ricciardo, Petrov, Kovalainen, Pic, Glock, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan were in the relegation zone. That lasted not long, as Ricciardo moved up to fourteenth. Soon Senna was in eighteenth and just barely began a final lap after the flag. Hamilton, meanwhile, dropped to fifteenth, but he went fastest of all. In the end, Hamilton (1:22.583) led Grosjean, Alonso, Rosberg, Maldonado, Kobayashi, Raikkonen, Button, and Webber as the top ten. In a bid to get out of Q1, Senna pushed very hard and lost the rear at Turn 12 and slid into the gravel. Karthikeyan’s time was not enough to be within 107%, requiring a begging trip to the stewards.

Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Bruno Senna
19. Vitaly Petrov
20. Heikki Kovalainen
21. Charles Pic
22. Timo Glock
23. Pedro de la Rosa
24. Narain Karthikeyan

Q2:
The fifteen minutes of Q2 began much like the early moments of Q1. There was no rush to get out, especially at McLaren where Hamilton had only one set of soft tyres for the session, presumably saving the last set for Q3. Kobayashi began the session three minutes into it, followed by the Force Indias and others. The Japanese driver’s first time (1:24.031) lasted but a moment at the top. Di Resta then Hulkenberg slotted in behind, but Perez quickly bettered his teammate’s time, then so did Rosberg.

Halfway through the session, Hamilton (1:22.465) led Webber, Button, Rosberg, Vettel, Schumcher, Alonso, Perez, Kobayashi, and Hulkenberg as the top ten. Massa and Di Resta led the knockout zone with their times, as Maldonado, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Ricciardo, and Vergne had yet to set times. Maldonado went ninth fastest on his first lap, dropping Hulkenberg into the relegation zone. With six minutes remaining, only Lotus and Toro Rosso were out on track with the Venezuelan. Hamilton left the car in the garage with five to go, but seemed rather safe at the top, then he came back and got back into his McLaren. Massa went back out with four to go, as did Alonso and Di Resta. Vergne’s first lap put him third, then Raikkonen was second fastest. Ricciardo went seventh, drawing others out onto the track. Grosjean went second, with Raikkonen slotting in behind. Alonso, Perez, Maldonado, Kobayashi, Hulkenberg, Massa, and Di Resta were in the knockout zone with three minutes to go.

Hamilton and Webber remained in the garage while Vergne pitted, as did Raikkonen. Massa remained tenth, but got dropped down by teammate Alonso going fourth fastest. That also put Vettel in the knockout zone. Schumacher was thirteenth as Di Resta went sixth fastest. Vettel seemed safe with a fast lap ending just before the flag fell, and move up to fifth. Kobayashi, having dropped to seventheenth, move up to sixth. Button looked unsafe, but he moved up to seventh. Perez leapt to third while Webber was eighth, then twelfth from the garage. In final flying laps, Maldonado went fastest of all, dropping some serious hitters out in Q2. Maldonado (1:22.105) led Hamilton, Grosjean, Perez, Raikkonen, Alonso, Rosberg, Vettel, Kobayashi, and Schumacher as the men moving forward to fight for pole. Kobayashi parked his Sauber after the flag with a hydraulic leak, leaving only nine men to fight in Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Jenson Button
12. Mark Webber
13. Paul Di Resta
14. Nico Hulkenberg
15. Jean-Eric Vergne
16. Daniel Ricciardo
17. Felipe Massa

Q3:
Vettel got the ten minutes of Q3 underway straight after the light went green, sitting at the pit lane waiting for it. Hamilton followed him a minute later. Both set very slow sector times to get some times down, leaving them more options in qualifying. They could remain in the garage and not set any other times, or set a fast time. Hamilton’s second lap put up the only time (1:22.560) halfway through the session as the Mercedes drivers made their way out onto the track only to set sector times. Rosberg began a flying lap with a first sector time close to Hamilton’s. He was the only driver out with three minutes remaining, but Alonso and Raikkonen joined him at that point, as did Perez. All three did so on brand-new soft tyres. Rosberg’s time put him second fastest, a half second behind Hamilton. With two to go, only Vettel and Schumacher remained in the garage.

Then, Vettel went out as well, as all the drivers looked for a single fast lap. Alonso would be the first to cross the line with a fast lap. Raikkonen was behind him and three tenths faster in the first sector. Alonso made up a bit in the second. Alonso (1:22.302) went fastest, and Raikkonen could not better it. Perez slotted into third while Hamilton put together a faster lap yet. Grosjean beat his teammate but not Alonso. Maldonado then beat the home hero, but Hamilton himself gained another half second to muscle his way to pole. Rosberg, Vettel, and Schumacher all aborted their laps.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix:

 DriverTeamTimeLaps
1. Lewis HamiltonMcLaren1:21.70717
2. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:22.28514
3. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:22.30215
4. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:22.42414
5. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:22.48713
6. Sergio PerezSauber1:22.53314
7. Nico RosbergMercedes1:23.00517
8. Sebastian VettelRed Bulln/t14
9. Michael SchumacherMercedesn/t15
10. Kamui KobayashiSaubern/t14
11. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:22.94413
12. Mark WebberRed Bull1:22.9778
13. Paul Di RestaForce India1:23.12514
14. Nico HulkenbergForce India1:23.17713
15. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:23.26511
16. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:23.44211
17. Felipe MassaFerrari1:23.44412
18. Bruno SennaWilliams1:24.9818
19. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1:25.2778
20. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1:25.5078
21. Charles PicMarussia1:26.5828
22. Timo GlockMarussia1:27.0328
23. Pedro de la RosaHRT1:27.5556
24. Narain KarthikeyanHRT1:31.1224
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