After a three round battle between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton the world champion came out on top.
Plus there was a bonus for the team when Kimi Raikkonen damaged his Ferrari and consigned himself to 16th on the grid.
But with Felipe Massa a close third, and fuel loads for tomorrow’s race yet to be revealed, Alonso can’t expect an easy race.
The first session threatened to be the worst for traffic and drivers jostled to get a clear lap in.
Early on the times tumbled through the 1’18s – Rubens Barrichello going fastest, then Robert Kubica, then Nico Rosberg.
The session then became a McLaren-versus-McLaren battle: Fernando Alonso went quickest, then Lewis Hamilton posted a faster 1’16.9s.
Alonso responded: 1’16.8s – but Hamilton struck back with a 1’16.2s. There was more to come. Alonso’s next lap was no quicker but Hamilton found some space on the track and banged in an exceptional 1’15.6s.
Six drivers had fallen into the danger zone – Ralf Schumacher, Scott Speed, Mark Webber, Anthony Davidson, Adrian Sutil and Chrisitjan Albers. Almost everyone was out trying to improve – except poor Albers, stuck in the pits with hydraulic problems, and not able to get out in time.
David Coulthard made an unusual gamble on the harder compound tyres. It yielded a 1’17.4s, but on his next lap he got down to a 1’17.2s and was quickest of all in the final sector.
Alonso was still trying to beat Hamilton’s time and couldn’t. But Vitantonio Liuzzi, in exceptional form, set fourth fastest time in the dying seconds, splitting the two Ferraris..
17. Anthony Davidson 1’18.250
18. Scott Speed 1’18.390
19. Adrian Sutil 1’18.418
20. Ralf Schumacher 1’18.539
21. Takuma Sato 1’18.544
22. Christijan Albers no time
The car ground to a halt on the very piece of tarmac where Michael Schumacher pulled up after pulling his stunt last year.
Adding insult to injury, team mate Felipe Massa’s lap was ruined when he came across Raikkonen’s stationary Ferrari.
Raikkonen eventually recovered to the pits and Hamilton was soon out to seize the top spot again with a 1’15.4. This began another McLaren battle – Alonso came out to nick first place by 0.04s.
In the Ferrari garage they lost the race against time to repair Raikkonen’s car – consigning the Finn to 16th on the grid.
Traffic continued to be a problem and Coulthard looked to have made a mistake in not letting a faster Heikki Kovalainen through to finish his lap.
The McLarens stayed in the pits leaving Alonso fractionally quickest overall. The sole Ferrari of Massa improved his time from sixth to fifth with a 1’16.0s.
Meanwhile Raikkonen kept up his 100% record of departing a stricken Ferrari as quickly as possible.
11. Jenson Button 1’16.457
12. Alexander Wurz 1’16.662
13. Vitantonio Liuzzi 1’16.703
14. Jarno Trulli 1’16.988
15. Heikki Kovalainen 1’17.125
16. Kimi Raikkonen no time
Hamilton led the cars out for the early laps which, as usual, consisted of moderate pace lapping to lose as little of their race fuel load as possible.
He set off at a rapid pace, turning a 15.9s first time out. Remembering Hamilton’s words before the weekend of hoping he would be allowed to fight for pole and victory, it made you wonder which of the McLarens was being forced to run heavier.
First into the pits was Massa, noticeably earlier than his rivals, which suggested Ferrari were expecting rain or trying to get three laps in.
As the drivers completed their first laps a few spots of rain fell. Massa improved to third but was almost a second slowed than the McLarens.
Hamilton was one thousandth of a second quicker than Alonso in the first sector. But by the end of the lap he was no faster than the time he had set at the start of the session.
Amazingly, Alonso wasn’t able to beat that time either, but was within a tenth of a second, setting up a shootout for pole position.
Hamilton’s next attempt was all frantic oversteer which, though spectacular, was not enough to see him improve on his time. Alonso found two tenths and his 1’15.726 nabbed him pole position.
Massa improved substantially on his last lap to take third, six hundredths of a second slower than Hamilton.
1. Fernando Alonso 1’15.726
2. Lewis Hamilton 1’15.905
3. Felipe Massa 1’15.967
4. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’16.285
5. Nico Rosberg 1’16.439
6. Mark Webber 1’16.784
7. Nick Heidfeld 1’16.832
8. Robert Kubica 1’16.955
9. Rubens Barrichello 1’17.498
10. Jenson Button 1’17.939
Following the session David Coulthard was relegated to 13th on the grid for blocking Heikki Kovalainen.