Hamilton storms to Spanish pole
Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix in a dramatic end to qualifying that saw the pole time change hands three times in the final few seconds.
Hamilton's hugely impressive 1:21.707 saw him edge the surprise package Pastor Maldonado and home favourite Fernando Alonso as the Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen rounded off the top five. Championship leader Sebastian Vettel starts eighth ahead of Michael Schumacher, both choosing not to set a time to conserve tyres for the race.
McLaren's Jenson Button and Mark Webber were the big casualties of qualifying, both drivers missing out on Q3 and starting 11th and 12th respectively. It means Button is faced with an uphill task in Sunday's race having struggled with the hard compound tyre throughout the weekend.
With minutes remaining, it appeared that a highly tactical qualifying session would see the big hitters content to save their allocation of fresh rubber for their respective race strategies. But a late flurry of runs on softs saw home favourite Fernando Alonso look set for pole before first Pastor Maldonado then Hamilton snatched the front row spot.
Vettel was first to make his move in Q3 but coasted around, choosing not to set a time. It looked as if there would be little activity after that with teams seemingly content to concentrate on race strategy. But a late, dramatic finish means that teams still prize a high spot very highly.
The second part of qualifying saw some shock exits after an immediate flurry of activity. Hamilton was comfortably quickest with a 1:22.583 but his team-mate Jenson Button still complained of a lack of rear grip despite putting on a brand new set of soft tyres. The Lotus duo left it late to show their hand but both comfortably progressed, and after both Sauber's made it through there was an astonishing last gasp lap from Pastor Maldonado. He jumped to the top of the sheets with a 1:22.105 leaving Button and Webber to drop out alongside both Force Indias, Torro Rossos and Felipe Massa.
A very quiet start to Q1 saw teams biding their time to see who would go out first to set a competitive time, but having all tried to run on the hards Maldonado went out on the softs to start the domino effect. The last man trying to set a lap to make it through was Bruno Senna, but he pushed too hard and slid off the circuit at turn 12 in an attempt to make the cut.
It was business as usual behind Senna with Vitaly Petrov outqualifying Heikki Kovalainen for the first time and Charles Pic also ahead of Timo Glock. The HRTs will make up the back row although Narain Karthikeyan did not set a time within 107% and will have to await clearance to race from the stewards.