Brazilian GP: pole shot

Not great, but no disaster. That’s the best way to sum up Lewis Hamilton’s final qualifying session of 2009. On a day when Ferrari and McLaren tried to outdo each other in appearing to remain calm under pressure (‘We’re treating this like any other grand prix’. Yeah, right) it was Ferrari who won out.

While McLaren continued to make changes to Hamilton’s car during the final free practice session this morning, the Ferrari crew were posing for an end-of-term photograph in their garage. The relaxed look stiffened somewhat when Hamilton then turned in a very quick lap to go faster than Felipe Massa but it seemed much harder work for the Englishman when compared to the more stable Ferrari.

So it proved in qualifying, Massa taking pole for the third year in succession – with no apparent trouble. Hamilton made a mess of his penultimate lap with mistakes at the first corner and then the Descida do Lago, the third turn where he ran wide during last year’s race. Hamilton’s final lap was an improvement all round, but not good enough to match Massa – or Jarno Trulli or Kimi Raikkonen.

Hamilton may be relieved to have Heikki Kovalainen qualifying fifth but the menacing presence of Fernando Alonso directly behind Lewis probably won’t do a lot for his sleep pattern tonight.

We feared the worst when Hamilton walked from the McLaren garage and didn’t speak to the waiting media on his way to the team’s office. But, on cue, he later emerged to stand in front of the sponsors’ back drop and say his piece.

He looked extremely relaxed, almost as if this weekend, this season, is finally drawing to a close and we’ll have an answer one way or another tomorrow.

‘I’m here to win the championship, not necessarily the race,’ said Hamilton, referring to the need simply to finish in the top five, regardless of what Massa does. ‘I’ve just got to hold position on the first lap.’

Absolutely. But easier said than done on the short sprint over the blind brow and into the downhill braking area for the blind apex Turn 1. Then steep downhill through the Senna Esses, where all manner of wheel banging and nose wing damage has been inflicted over the years.

Hamilton is in some rough company. Massa, meanwhile, can do all he has to do by having Trulli and Raikkonen hold everyone up while he wins the race and then asks how Hamilton got on.

Hamilton ought to do the job. But F1 this season has not been that straightforward. We’re in for a nerve-wracking 71 laps.

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