McLaren Returns to Form in Valencia


What Happens When Certain Things Return to Normal

— After Saturday morning practice was shortened because Sebastain Vettel’s engine blew, Lewis Hamilton topped qualifying for the European Grand Prix at Valencia.  Heikki Kovalainen made the front row all McLaren, with a return to form for the Woking team.  Those modification have paid off, at least in qualifying.  Hamilton will run the shorter wheelbase car in the race Sunday, while the Finn will be running the same areo specs used by Hamilton to win the Hungarian GP.

The Brawns performed somewhat better in the hot conditions, with Rubens Barrichello third and Jenson Button fifth.  The championship contenders from Red Bull were fourth (Sebastain Vettel) and ninth (Mark Webber).  Spanish favorite Fernando Alonso qualified eighth.  Rookie Romain Grosjean was at his targeted Q2 qualifying fourteenth.  Luca Badoer, Felipe Massa’s replacement at Ferrari, qualified a strange twentiethth, 1.5 seconds behind the nineteenth place Jaime Alguersuari.  The lack of speed cannot be blamed on the car since teammate Kimi Raikkonen qualified sixth.

Q1:
Everyone but Alonso was out early in Q1, where Lewis Hamilton set the first 1:38 of the weekend.  With three minutes left, Webber, Alguersuari, Glock, Trulli, and Badoer were in the knockout zone.  With only a couple of minutes left, Kazuki Nakajima had parked his car on the side of the circuit, ending his qualifying chances (despite his second fastest time in the morning practice.)
Out at the end of Q1:
16. Fisichella 1:39.531
17. Nakajima 1:39.795
18. Trulli 1:39.807
19. Alguersuari 1:39.925
20. Badoer 1:41.413

Q2:
With only five minutes left, the top ten are all in the ’38 range.  Both Renault’s remain in the garage, Alonso goes to 11th on his first lap.  Peter Windsor interviewed Luca Badoer about his very slow qualifying (1.5 seconds behind next fastest Alguersuari).  Badoer explained that he was “hoping for a bit better, but we were expecting this pace…[in the race] I just have to run and not make mistake.”
Out at the end of Q2:
11. Heidfeld 1:38.526
12. Sutil 1:38.846
13. Glock 1:38.991
14. Grosjean 1:39.040
15. Buemi 1:39.514

Q3:
In a not terribly exciting Q3, the drivers lapped with their race-starting fuel loads (next season will prove to bring  more flying laps as teams must fill the cars for the race after the qualifying).  Rosberg turned out a better qualifying time than ususal, clearly saying “pick me! pick me!” to any team that will have him, though preferring McLaren, for 2010.  Brawn appears to still be struggling with speed, while the modifications to McLaren have proven quite useful indeed.  Kovalainen nearly beat his teammate for pole, but had a moment on the last corner that kept him in second.
1. Hamilton 1:39.498
2. Kovalainen 1:39.532
3. Barrichello 1:39.639
4. Vettel 1:39.789
5. Button 1:39.821
6. Raikkonen 1:40.144
7. Rosberg 1:40.185
8. Alonso 1:40.236
9. Webber 1:40.239
10. Kubica 1:40.512

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