McLaren's Kovalainen on pole at British GP

Heikki Kovalainen captured his first Formula One pole on Saturday and will now try for his first victory in the series in British Grand Prix.

updated: July 09, 2008 18:17 IST
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Heikki Kovalainen captured his first Formula One pole on Saturday and will now try for his first victory in the series in British Grand Prix.

The McLaren driver crossed the line more than half a second faster than Red Bull's Mark Webber, who also will be seeking his first win in Sunday's race, after the bigger contenders struggled to handle the breezy and wet conditions.

World champion Kimi Raikkonen, last year's British GP winner, was third fastest in his Ferrari ahead of home favorite Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, whose bid to take the pole was hampered when he skidded off the circuit at a left-hand bend.

Felipe Massa, who leads the series standings by two points for Ferrari, labored to ninth place in the grid despite posting the fastest practice time Friday. His best effort in the third round of qualifying was more than 2 1/4 seconds slower than Kovalainen and Massa blamed it on problems at a pit stop.

I lost so much time as the mechanics had trouble changing the right rear wheel and I was unable to start my second run," the Brazilian said.

One spot behind him will be Robert Kubica in a BWM Sauber. The Polish driver is second in the drivers standings but failed to post a time in the last of the three rounds of qualifying. He didn't even leave the pits because of mechanical trouble.

With wind and rain forecast for Sunday's race, this British GP looks as wide open as the drivers standings, where the top spot has changed hands four times in four races.

Kovalainen was consistent on both days of practice and qualifying, handling wet conditions Saturday when Silverstone was left damp after a heavy shower two hours before the sessions began.

"They were quite difficult qualifying conditions, with dark skies and blustery winds," said Kovalainen, whose best was 1 minute 21.049 in the final qualifying round. "But in the second part (of qualifying) it was much better without any problems, before a great run in the final part which I'm very happy about.

"Tomorrow is still a long race and anything can happen, but the balance in high and low speeds is as good as it's been all season."

Webber, who has never finished higher than third in 111 starts, tied his best previous qualifying performance at Monaco two years ago after a time of 1:21.554.

"We were a bit quick, but we didn't know that we would be on the front row," the Australian said. "We changed the car a little overnight and it was much better this morning. ... The result for us has been very impressive. The guys have done a really good job."

Bidding to become the first driver since David Coulthard eight years ago to win back-to-back British GPs, Raikkonen was unhappy with the performance of his car on Friday but saw improvements on Saturday.

"Today was better compared to yesterday which was very difficult, but we put in a lot of effort to sort my car out," said the Finn, who turned a lap in 1:21.706. "We're not exactly where we want to be. But I'm pretty happy with the car, and I feel we should get some points."

Hamilton, who has slipped from first to fourth in the drivers standings in the space of three races after a series of penalties and a crash, will chase his first British GP title from fourth on the grid.

"I felt comfortable in the car and the speed was there," said the British driver. "However, on my first flying lap on (the third qualifying round) I ran a bit wide of the exit of Priory and went into the gravel. Obviously I pushed it a little bit too hard and it's a pity that I missed the front row.

"However, with our strategy and the predicted rain for tomorrow's race, everything will be possible and I am very much looking forward to racing here in front of my home crowd tomorrow."