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McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton claimed his third pole position this year by going fastest in Spain using the P Zero Yellow soft tyre: nominated along with the P Zero Silver hard tyre this weekend. Hamilton took his first pole in Spain and the 150th for McLaren with a time of 1:21.707, after a session that was characterised by several different team strategies.
Pastor Maldonado claimed second on the same tyre: the Venezuelan's best-ever qualifying result and the highest grid placing for Williams since the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Qualifying started with a track temperature of 40 degrees centigrade, which was slightly higher than qualifying in Bahrain two weeks ago. This only added to the energy put through the tyres by corners such as turn three: the longest and fastest corner of the whole Circuit de Catalunya.
With most of the teams looking at three stops tomorrow, and three sets each of the harder and softer compounds available as usual for qualifying and the race, tyre management was an important consideration from the very beginning of qualifying.
Maldonado was the first driver to switch to the soft tyre halfway through qualifying one, topping the time sheets to underline the pace he had shown since the beginning of the weekend. Both Red Bull drivers completed one run on the soft tyre towards the end of the first session.
All the drivers used the soft tyre during Q2. Most drivers went out on used softs to keep a fresh set for the final top-10 shoot-out, but while Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi qualified in the top 10 he was unable to take part in qualifying three due to a mechanical problem: meaning that it was a fight for the top nine.
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel was the first driver on track in Q3, completing a lap on soft tyres but not setting a time, while Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher went out on hard tyres and also did not set a time. The aborted laps from Vettel and Schumacher means that they will be able to start the race on whichever compound they like, as will Kobayashi.
Vettel was fastest during the final free practice session this morning, setting a time of 1:23.168 using the P Zero Yellow soft tyres, with the Sauber drivers also topping the time sheets for much of the session.
Paul Hembery: "Strategy was at the forefront of qualifying today, with a gap of around 0.8 seconds between the hard and the soft tyres, depending on the team. Historically, Barcelona is a race that has nearly always been won from the front row of the grid, but now drivers that have qualified lower down the grid still have a possibility to challenge for victory. There were some surprising eliminations in Q2; however these drivers will feel the benefit of having more fresh tyres, so it will be interesting to see what they can do with them. As Barcelona is so demanding on every aspect of the dynamics of a car, including tyre management, it is normally a very good indicator of the likely form for the rest of the year. With the teams so closely matched this season, and the upgrades introduced at Mugello beginning to take effect, it's going to be very hard to predict a winner for tomorrow. Particular congratulations to Pastor Maldonado and Williams - who have consistently got the most out of the tyres throughout the weekend so far."
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