Hamilton grabs pole for European GP

VALENCIA:Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton grabbed his first pole position of the year Saturday when he led a McLaren 1-2 in qualifying for the European Grand Prix.

Briton Lewis was second in the first two qualifying sessions but topped the third and final session ahead of Finnish teammate Heikki Kovalainen, who will start second on the grid in Sunday's race, the 11th race of the 17-leg championship.

Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was third fastest for Brawn GP ahead of German Sebastian Vettel and championship leader, Jenson Button of Britain, in the second Brawn.

Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari was sixth, German Nico Rosberg was seventh for Williams and two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Spain was eighth in a Renault.

Australian Mark Webber, who is challenging Button in the title race, was ninth for Red Bull and Pole Robert Kubica was 10th for BMW Sauber.

It was Hamilton's 14th pole and his first since the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai last year.

Hamilton secured his prime starting spot with his early fastest lap and survived the chaos of the final dramas when his rivals all attempted faster laps.

The opening mini-session Q1 saw veteran Italian Luca Badoer out early in a bid to save some pride, but he ended up 20th and last again for Ferrari - watched from the pit-wall by Germany's seven-times champion Michael Schumacher.

Eliminated with Badoer were Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari of Toro Rosso, 19th, and Italian Jarno Trulli of Toyota, this bottom trio failing to go through along with another Italian veteran in Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India and Japanese Kazuki Nakajima of Williams.

The Q1 session was topped by Button ahead of fellow-Briton Hamilton with Kubica third for BMW Sauber.

In hot and dry conditions under a perfect blue sky, with the temperatures climbing into the low thirties Celsius, the only blemish on the street circuit laid out around the Mediterranean port was the mess left by the cement dust spilt on the surface to clear up the oil dumped by Vettel's blown engine during the morning.

Badoer, the butt of much amusement in the paddock as the 38-year-old replacement for injured Brazilian Felipe Massa struggled for pace, explained his woeful performance.

He said: "I made a mistake on the last corner which cost me a lot of time, but it doesn't matter. This is all a test for me. The only way for me to learn. But I am still enjoying it."

Most observers believe he will be replaced before next weekend's Belgian Grand Prix.

This was his first attempt at F1 qualifying for a decade since the 1999 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka with Minardi.

In Q2, Hamilton laid down a fast marker to go top with 1:38.182 and then rested on his laurels, to save his tyres, as the rest scrapped for places. There was high tension surrounding the plight of Alonso who was struggling in his Renault to go through to the top ten shootout.

Barrichello managed to outpace Hamilton for the top spot as the scrap for survival prompted Alonso, like a man inspired, to a last-gasp effort for eighth place.

The session saw German Nick Heidfeld of BMW and compatriots Adrian Sutil of Force India and Timo Glock of Toyota knocked out, along with impressive French rookie Romain Grosjean of Renault and Swiss Sebastien Buemi of Toro Rosso.

Hamilton was then out swiftly in Q3 to set the pace with a lap of one minute 39.498, soon, followed by Button who nailed second.