FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton is gunning for pole position in qualifying for the 2011 Korean Grand Prix.

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The 26-year-old motor racer from Hertfordshire was fastest in today’s rain-hit opening practice sessions around a wet Korea International Circuit in Yeongam.

Hamilton was fractionally quicker than F1 team-mate Jenson Button as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes set the pace ahead of qualifying on Saturday.

After Friday’s restricted running, Herts-born Hamilton said: “Today’s times don’t really give us a relevant read on pace and set-up, particularly as I hear that the weather will be better for the next two days.

“Still, if it rains on Sunday then I think we’re in a good position – which is a positive.”

"Over the last few races, we’ve been getting stronger in qualifying."

Jenson Button

Second in last year’s inaugural race in the Asian powerhouse, Hamilton is looking for a strong grid position in Korea qualifying, which starts at 6am UK time tomorrow (Saturday).

Hamilton said: “It would be great to get the pole here tomorrow.

“It’s difficult to read too much into today’s times – the lap on slicks at the end was impossible – but I think we are quick, the car is good and Jenson [Button] showed at the last race that we can be very competitive.

“So I have no doubt that we’ll be able to challenge the Red Bulls in qualifying.

“I think we’ll get a much better feel for things tomorrow [Saturday].”

Button, winner of last Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, didn’t post a time in P1 today but was just 0.104s slower than Hamilton in second practice.

He said: “Our car was quick in today’s conditions – but it’s difficult to say how it will be in the dry.

“I hope it’ll be the same: it’d be nice to have the same gap back to the cars behind, but that’s unlikely.

“We didn’t really learn too much today – the humidity was so high that the track never really dried out.

“It looked like it was going to be dry right at the very end, but you couldn’t get any grip from the slicks because you couldn’t get any temperature into them.”

Nevertheless, Button is convinced McLaren have closed the gap on constructors’ championship leaders Red Bull and will be battling world champion Sebastian Vettel, and the German’s team-mate Mark Webber, for front row spots in qualifying on Saturday.

“Over the last few races, we’ve been getting stronger in qualifying,” said Button.

“I’d love to qualify well here, and I’ll definitely be giving it a go, but P3’s also going to be very important tomorrow because nobody knows how the cars behave on high fuel and dry tyres.

“There’s a lot more to understand.”

Hamilton’s team boss Martin Whitmarsh isn’t taking anything for granted due to today’s slippery conditions in Korea and the dry forecast for qualifying.

The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team principal said: “Despite the wet weather, this morning we were able to carry out a useful test on Lewis’s car, which allowed us to successfully evaluate some components.

"I have no doubt that we’ll be able to challenge the Red Bulls in qualifying."

McLaren F1 driver Lewis Hamilton

“With little to gain from the track-time, Jenson opted to sit out the majority of the session so that his mechanics could make a change to his car ahead of P2.

“The afternoon was more productive – although it’s arguable how much we’ll be able to take into tomorrow’s session if, as predicted, it stays dry.”

He added: “At the very end of the afternoon, Lewis and Jenson each attempted a time on slicks, but the track wasn’t fully dry so they found it difficult to generate enough heat in the tyre to really make the slick work.

“As we near our 700th grand prix, it’s nonetheless encouraging to top the timesheets – but we’re under no illusions that this circuit will be very different in the dry.

2011 Korean Grand Prix

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

“The aim now for our engineers is to analyse today’s data in order to best set us up for the rest of the weekend.”

Qualifying takes place from 6am to 7am tomorrow, with the Korean GP starting at 7am on Sunday.

* Click on the video to take a lap around the Korea International Circuit with Lewis Hamilton’s performance engineer Mark Temple.

Videos courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

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