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Hamilton steals pole from Alonso in Japan 29 Sep 2007

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren celebrates pole position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007 (L to R): Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren and Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren after qualifying.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007 Schumacher collides with Yamamoto Takuma Sato (JPN) Super Aguri F1 Team SA07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007

Believe the hype and relations have deteriorated markedly between McLaren team mates Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, and on Saturday the former did nothing to improve them by snatching pole position away from the Spaniard in the dying moments of a wet qualifying session at Fuji Speedway.

The world champion had made the running almost throughout, setting the pace at 1m 25.438s with minutes to spare, but right at the end the Englishman banged in a 1m 25.368s to take his fifth pole position of the year. At a time when grid position is crucial, and he has followed Alonso home in the past two races, it was a telling psychological success as their title fight reaches critical mass.

The Ferraris were left trailing by the McLarens this time, apparently lacking the sheer grip of the MP4-22s. Kimi Raikkonen pushed as hard as he could, but 1m 25.516s left him third with team mate Felipe Massa fourth on 1m 25.765s.

Hamilton and Alonso were both very happy, but Raikkonen is also feeling very confident about the performance of the Ferrari in race trim. Interestingly, he also said he had a gearbox sensor problem, which didn’t help him.

Fifth place again fell to the redoubtable Nick Heidfeld, who had scraped through Q1 with seconds to spare for BMW Sauber. The German lapped the F1.07 in 1m 26.505s, which was enough to see off Nico Rosberg’s 1m 26.728s for Williams. The latter, however, drops back to 16th on the grid thanks to his engine change on Friday.

Things looked up for Jenson Button and Honda on the latter’s home turf, thanks to the effect of the wet track on car performance. Button was able to remind people of what he can do as he lapped in 1m 26.913s to shade Mark Webber’s Red Bull by a thousandth of a second.

Sebestian Vettel was Toro Rosso’s star of qualifying, giving the team their first top-10 start with 1m 26.973s, and BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica completed the first five rows with 1m 27.225s.

Q2 was a disaster for Renault, with Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen finishing up 11th and 12th on 1m 26.033s and 1m 26.232s respectively. David Coulthard was right behind them with 1m 26.247s. Jarno Trulli was 14th on 1m 26.253s, and Tonio Liuzzi 15th on 1m 26.948s. The Toro Rosso driver gambled on it being dry on Sunday by running full dry aero settings on his STR02, hence the deficit to Vettel.

Ralf Schumacher got through Q1, but not before he locked up and clobbered Sakon Yamamoto’s Spyker in the final corner. His Toyota was too badly damaged to be fixed in time, so he wound up 16th without an official time.

Corrected for Rosberg’s penalty, the first eight rows of the grid read: Hamilton, Alonso; Raikkonen, Massa; Heidfeld, Button; Webber, Vettel; Kubica, Fisichella; Kovalainen, Coulthard; Trulli, Liuzzi; Schumacher, Rosberg.

Rubens Barrichello’s miserable weekend continued as he finished only 17th on 1m 27.323s for Honda, heading Alex Wurz’s Williams (1m 27.454s), Anthony Davidson in the Super Aguri (1m 27.564s), Spyker’s Adrian Sutil (1m 28.628s), Super Aguri’s Takuma Sato (1m 28.792s) and the unfortunate Yamamoto (1m 29.668s) who was not amused by Schumacher’s mistake.

The weather forecast remains unsettled for Sunday, and right now the Japanese Grand Prix has the look of one of those races in which anything could happen.