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Hamilton takes pole as Ferrari increases the pressure

NEWS STORY
18/10/2008

Ahead of today's all-important qualifying session, the air temperature is 28 degrees C, while the track temperature is 36 degrees.

On Friday, Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheets in both sessions, the only driver to break the 1:35s barrier. However, this morning, the McLaren driver was out-paced by BMW's Nick Heidfeld.

Having been on the pace yesterday, it was noticeable that the Ferraris and Fernando Alonso were well down the timesheets this morning. However, with rain widely predicted for tomorrow perhaps they are thinking in the long-term. Certainly, over the three sessions, the Ferraris and Alonso are up there, but almost 0.4s off Hamilton's extraordinary pace.

While McLaren, mindful of what happened in Japan last week, is calling on Hamilton to adopt a softly-softly approach, the Englishman has been pushing for much of the weekend so far. However, while he has clearly been the quickest here, there have been a number of mistakes, most notably his pitlane gaffe this morning.

The bad news for Red Bull is that following his spectacular engine failure this morning, Mark Webber will receive a 10-place grid penalty.

First out is Piquet, one of several drivers yet to confirm a drive for 2009, and therefore eager to deliver this weekend. Seven other drivers, including the Williams, Force Indias and Hondas, join him.

Tyre options are hard and medium, which we will refer to as hard (hard) and soft (medium). For much of the weekend, thus far, the hard tyre has been the favoured option.

Piquet posts the benchmark, crossing the line at 37.511, however, moments later he is elbowed out by Glock, who posts 37.369. Barrichello, repeating his surprising pace of this morning, goes third (37.550).

Raikkonen is the first of the big guns to leave the pits, followed by Massa, Hamilton and Kovalainen.

Vettel (softs) goes quickest with a 36.318, but Massa (hard) and Kovalainen are both on hot laps. The Brazilian crosses the line at 36.089, as Bourdais goes second. Kovalainen goes third (36.181), but Hamilton posts 35.566 to take the top spot.

Massa improves with a 35.971, only the second driver to break the 1:35s barrier this weekend. Raikkonen (36.669) drops to eighth. Webber is seventh as teammate Coulthard goes ninth.

All eyes on Alonso, who crosses the line at 36.285 to take seventh. Teammate Piquet goes third with a 36.029.

Kubica, still down in seventeenth, is struggling with understeer. One has to wonder if BMW has repeated the strategic mistake it made in Japan. That said, teammate Heidfeld is sixth (36.224).

With less than five minutes remaining, Kubica is in the danger zone, while Trulli, Coulthard and Raikkonen are thereabouts. While Hamilton has settled for his time, as has Piquet, Massa and the rest are back on track.

A 35.623 sees Kovalainen go second, while Raikkonen moves up to fourth (35.983). Teammate Massa fails to improve.

Kubica is out on softs while Heidfeld is using the hard option.

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