By Alan Davies, Sports reporter
Saturday, October 15, 2011
FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton is looking to convert his pole position into victory in the 2011 Korean Grand Prix at Yeongam.
The 26-year-old motor racer from Hertfordshire qualified on pole position at the Korea International Circuit earlier today (Saturday).
After the worst run of his F1 career, being outshone by Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team-mate Jenson Button, having a number of racing “incidents” with Felipe Massa, and seeing Red Bull rival Sebastian Vettel claim a second world drivers’ championship, Hamilton answered his critics in the best possible fashion.
He stormed around the South Korean track this morning, dominating all three phases of qualifying. An on-song Hamilton eventually claimed pole position in Q3 with a fastest lap of 1m 35.820s.
He will line up on the front row of the grid ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull, with Button and Mark Webber starting on the second row. Ferrari duo Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso qualified fifth and sixth.
"We’ve been working to improve our starts, and I hope we can convert pole into the lead tomorrow."
Stevenage-born F1 star Hamilton said: “Throughout the year, I don’t think my qualifying performances have been too bad.
“It’s only in the last two races that I didn’t manage to get my final run in Q3, so today’s result wasn’t entirely unexpected.
“Still, we’ve been quick as a team and never stopped making improvements to the car.
“I’m so, so proud of all the men and women both here at the circuit and back at Woking who’ve worked so hard to get us back to where we want to be.”
However, the 2008 F1 world champion isn’t satisfied with just starting from first place – he also wants to take the chequered flag in Korea.
“Of course, pole position is still only the first step, particularly when we know that tomorrow’s race will be long and unpredictable,” said Lewis, who was second in the rain-hit inaugural Korean GP last year.
“Pole is always a great achievement and I’m particularly proud to have achieved it at the team’s 700th Formula 1 grand prix.”
After being slow off the line a number of times this season, Hamilton is looking for a cleaner getaway from pole.
He said: “We’ve been working to improve our starts, and I hope we can convert pole into the lead tomorrow [Sunday].
“The grand prix’s going to be tough, and it’ll be difficult to beat the two guys starting immediately behind me, but I hope to keep the lead and control the race in a responsible way. I now want to put all my energy into the race.”
Button was third overall with a lap of 1m 36.126s and was quick to praise his McLaren team-mate.
“Congratulations to Lewis – he’s been very quick and has been all weekend and I just couldn’t quite get close enough to him this afternoon,” said Button, winner of last Sunday’s 2011 Japanese Grand Prix.
“On my final run, I think I lost some ground in the last corner: I hit the limiter at the apex and lost a bit of time, but I feel good in the car.
“Third position isn’t where I want to start, but we can have a good race from there: there are a lot of long straights on this circuit, especially after the start.
“With a headwind from Turn Two to Turn Three, there could be a lot of action on the first lap – I’m looking forward to that!”
With restricted track time during Friday’s practice sessions due to rain and a wet track, Button isn’t taking anything for granted though.
Korea International Circuit Specifications
Top speed: 320km/h
Average speed: 205km/h
Pit straight length: 420m
Circuit length: 5.615km
Race length: 55 laps/309km
Number of corners: 18
Longest section at full throttle: 14.4sec/1,200m
He said: “We’re slightly heading into the unknown tomorrow as we haven’t run high-fuel yet.
“Off the line tomorrow, we’ll need to get a feel for how the cars behave on high-fuel, and then we’ve got to focus on what we’re doing to the tyres over the course of a stint.
“We have all the ingredients for a fantastic race.”
And looking ahead to next season, he added: “Even more encouragingly, if we continue this way, fighting for poles and wins, then it’ll be a really good way to end the season and the perfect basis for 2012.”
"I think it could go any way between ourselves, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari – but I nonetheless think both of our guys will fancy their chances."
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh praised his drivers after qualifying, but said the job is only half done, with victory the main goal.
“Obviously, it feels great to be on pole, particularly if you haven’t had it for some time – and we’ve missed a few that we felt we should have had this year – but it’s not the full celebration yet,” said Whitmarsh.
“Both Lewis and Jenson did a great job this afternoon and we’re in a reasonably strong position.
“I also think we’ve got a decent car balance, although it’s a little bit of an unknown just how the tyres are going to survive.”
He added: “I think it’s going to be an intriguing race with some interesting tyre decisions and some exciting strategies.
“I think it could go any way between ourselves, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari – but I nonetheless think both of our guys will fancy their chances tomorrow.”
The 2011 Korean Grand Prix starts at 7am UK time on Sunday.
* Videos courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.