A grumpy Lewis Hamilton struggled through qualifying at the Turkish Grand Prix and admitted to wrong decisions – but still managed to take third and expects to challenge the Ferraris.
Pole was taken – to nobody’s great surprise – by track specialist Felipe Massa, while McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen returned from his Barcelona smash in style to seize second. Kimi Raikkonen could only manage fourth.
A strong Red Bull performance put both cars into the final qualifying session, but David Coulthard did not set a competitive time and will start 10th. Both Hondas were eliminated in the second session, with Jenson Button 13th.
The demise of Anthony Davidson’s Super Aguri team meant a slightly different format for qualifying – only five drivers were eliminated in each of the first two sessions instead of six.
Hamilton visibly struggled with handling during his laps, and surprised everyone by electing to stay on the harder tyres for his final, crucial laps. Team-mate Kovalainen ran on softs and reaped the benefit.
Afterwards, Hamilton said: “It was a tough qualifying session for me. I had a fantastic lap in Q1, and in Q2 I struggled a bit on the option tyre so I opted for the prime tyre because I felt it would be more consistent.
“I did it and I guess I made the wrong decision. I struggled in the first Q3 lap, it was terrible. The second one for sure was an improvement but still wasn’t quick enough.”
However, he remains confident he can challenge in the race itself: “I think we have got a good package this weekend and myself and Heikki have shown we are up there with the Ferraris and should be able to push them in the race.”
Coulthard, mindful of his recent qualifying disasters that left him languishing at the back of the field, made certain of advancing through the sessions by making heavy use of the softer option tyres. This left him with only primes for the final session, so his team sent him out once for the form of it but otherwise took a long view, sacrificing a place or two in qualifying for better race strategy.
Coulthard said: “I’m happy to be through to the top ten after problems at the last two grands prix. We used all our option tyres to get there though, two sets in Q1 and two sets in Q2, as I didn’t want to take any risks. As a result, we only had primes left at the end. We only did one run in Q3 as we wanted to save fuel, so the car was very heavy.”
Team boss Christian Horner added: “David did an excellent job to get comfortably through to Q3. As he had no soft tyres left for his final run, we were always adopting a strategic game with him.”
But if Red Bull were happy, Honda were less so. The team’s steady improvement over the season to date stalled, with a general feeling that the cars had run more strongly at the previous race in Spain.
Button said: “I have to be reasonably pleased with 13th as we were struggling to get the tyres working in qualifying today.
“Q1 was not too bad and we completed both runs on the prime tyre. We switched to the option for my first run in Q2 as everyone seemed to be going quicker on that tyre but for some reason the option didn’t work for me and I had no grip. So we went back to the prime which should be about three-tenths slower around here so 13th is not too bad.
“It’s annoying that we can’t get the option to work but our prime tyre pace is very good, particularly over longer runs.”
Button is a long-standing admirer of the Istanbul circuit, so he’s looking forward to the drive even though he’s not greatly optimistic about his chances of points.
He said: “It’s a long way forward to get points from here but this is a tough circuit on engines so we’ll see what happens. I’ve always had fun racing here as it’s a great place to overtake so I’m looking forward to the race.”
Turkish Grand Prix qualifying positions
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
- Robert Kubica, BMW
- Mark Webber, Red Bull
- Fernando Alonso, Renault
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW
- David Coulthard, Red Bull
- Nico Rosberg, Williams
- Rubens Barrichello, Honda
- Jenson Button, Honda
- Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso
- Timo Glock, Toyota
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams
- Nelson Piquet, Renault
- Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India *
- Adrian Sutil, Force India
* Fisichella will be demoted to last place after suffering a three-place penalty for running a red light in the pit lane during practice.