Barcelona: McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton was fastest in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix on Saturday, storming past Pastor Maldonado to deny the Venezuelan a first Formula One pole position. Hamilton left it to his final flying lap to beat Williams driver by more than half a second for his third pole position of the season.
The Briton won with a quickest lap of 1 minute, 21.707 seconds. He is seeking his first victory at Catalunya Circuit, which would ensure the season has a fifth different victor for the first time since 1983. Fernando Alonso of Ferrari will start third in front of his home fans, followed by Lotus pair Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, Sergio Perez of Sauber and Nico Rosberg of Mercedes.
Overall leader and two-time defending F1 champion Sebastian Vettel will start eighth after opting to save his tires and failing to set a qualifying time. While 10 of the past 11 races have been won from pole, the high temperatures combined with tires that degrade quickly is set to influence the finishing order of Sunday's 66-lap race.
"I'm definitely surprised to have such a big gap," Hamilton said after securing McLaren's 150th pole. "It's probably one of the best ones I've ever had. It's going to be a massively tough race on Sunday."
After four races, Hamilton trails Vettel by four points following three straight third-place finishes. Webber is five points behind his teammate, while Button and Alonso trail Vettel by 10 points. "This feels to me to be one of the best championships," Hamilton said.
Mercedes teammate Michael Schumacher and Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber complete the top 10 after both decided against competing in the third session. Leading teams Red Bull and McLaren struggled. Fastest in practice on Friday, Jenson Button failed to reach the last qualifying session and will start 11th for McLaren. Mark Webber, who won pole here the past two years for Red Bull, is one place back.
"I struggled with the balance all day," Button said of his car. Felipe Massa's poor start so far continued, the Brazilian will start a season-worst 17th for Ferrari. The team is buoyed by Alonso's best starting position of the campaign, however.
"Hopefully we capitalize this starting position we are in Sunday," said Alonso, who finished nearly six-tenths behind Hamilton. "We must score points on Sunday. Aggressive start on Sunday. Crazy start, no." Maldonado had surprised by setting the pace in the second session and carrying that speed to the end.
"We've been developing our car around the tires. I think we made a step forward with this race," said Maldonado, the first Venezuelan F1 driver in nearly 30 years. "It's a great feeling to be here. I'm happy for Venezuela, which has helped me get here." HRT will have only one car on the grid after Narain Karthikeyan finished three seconds behind the cutoff limit to miss out.