13 Sep 2009

International Wire Story

6:03 am on 13 September 2009

bc-Motor-Prix 12-09 0489

Mot: Hamilton on pole for Italian Grand Prix

Motor Prix 2nd Wrap

By Tim Collings

MONZA, Italy, Sept 12 AFP - Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton grabbed the 15th pole position of his career here on Saturday when he produced a stunning last-gasp lap to take the prime starting spot for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.

Hamilton, in his McLaren Mercedes, clocked a best lap of one minute and 24.066 seconds to outpace his nearest rival and close friend Adrian Sutil by just two-tenths of a second, denying widespread celebrations in Delhi and Mumbai.

Sutil was second for the ever-improving Force India team, running on the same Mercedes engines as the McLarens, with two Finns, Kimi Raikkonen in a Ferrari, and Heikki Kovalainen in the second McLaren, taking third and fourth.

Brazilian veteran Rubens Barrichello was fifth for Brawn GP ahead of the current championship leader, his team-mate Jenson Button, the pair failing to break into the top four for this race.

Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi was seventh on his comeback debut with Force India and two-times champion Fernando Alonso eighth for Renault with the two Red Bulls of German Sebastian Vettel and Australian Mark Webber qualifying ninth and 10th.

On the first runs in the shootout, Hamilton set the pace with 1:24.605, a lap that left him in front of Raikkonen's Ferrari and the stunning Sutil's Force India while Button's first laps left him down in 10th.

With decent fuel loads, the cars were not showing their outright pace, as in Q2, but it was still a surprise when Sutil went top in the final seconds only to be overhauled shortly before the chequered flag fell by Hamilton.

On another glorious afternoon of blue skies, warm sunshine and perfect dry conditions, the opening mini-session delivered just what the local fans had come to see - a Ferrari on top of the time-sheets, with the flying Finn Raikkonen setting the pace ahead of Hamilton.

Equally satisfying for the tifosi was the sight of the luckless-so-far Giancarlo Fisichella cruising through to Q2 in 11th place, following his crash during morning practice.

He was clearly showing no nerves and plenty of determination on his dream debut with Ferrari.

Button, driving with greater confidence and much more of his once-customary smoothness, appeared to be back to his best again after his run of five races without a podium.

Team chief Ross Brawn was certainly showing no signs of strain as his outfit began the countdown towards the championship finale. Acknowledging that the Italian race was important, he said: "Well, the car looks ok, doesn't it?

"It's a pretty challenging track for the drivers. It's a nice place to be here at Monza and the fans are always very warm. This sunny weather should help us.

"But we have to put the whole sequence together. One stops looks to be a logical choice tomorrow but I think many might make two. There will be two races going on which will come together towards the end."

AFP gjw