Hamilton leads Maldonado, Alonso P3. Say what?

UPDATE: Lewis Hamilton has been stripped of his pole position after being found in breach of technical regulations stipulating a car must return to the pits under its own power, and with enough fuel for a post-qualifying test sample. Read more here.

Lewis Hamilton will start from pole position for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix, heading an unlikely grid of challengers.
Hamilton snatched pole with a time of 1 minute 21.707 seconds, a little over five-tenths better than Pastor Maldonado in the number one Williams car.
Maldonado briefly held pole position himself with an impressive one-lap challenge, but ultimately succumbed to the McLaren’s superior pace.
Home favourite Fernando Alonso put in a mighty performance in an improved yet still lacking Ferrari to qualify third fastest, and on the second row of the grid.
Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen combined efforts to stake Lotus’ claim as a genuine contender, qualifying in P4 and P5, quietly confident for the race ahead.
Sergio Perez set the final session’s sixth-fastest time, and will round off the third row of the grid in a Sauber that appears to have found itself well ahead of the midfield upon Formula One’s return to Europe.
Sebastian Vettel was the first car out at Q3, and curiously returned to his garage immediately after a slow out-lap, and aborted his solitary fast lap when it became evident that Hamilton’s time was beyond his reach.
Nico Rosberg did likewise halfway through the session, both drivers presumably scrubbing in a set of tyres for race conditions.
Rosberg was the only one of the two to set a time, however, with Vettel aborting his solitary fast lap upon realising Hamilton’s time was beyond his reach.
Vettel, Schumacher, and Kobayashi all opted not to set a lap, and will start from P8, P9, and P10, respectively.
Qualifying: Q2
Felipe Massa failed to make it through to Q3 yet again, pushed out initially by fellow Ferrari driver Alonso, before falling to the  bottom of the session’s timesheet.
But it was Jenson Button and Mark Webber who the biggest shocks of the afternoon, falling victim to this season’s incredibly tight field and qualifying in P11 and P12 respectively.
Webber’s fastest time was only eight-tenths slower than fastest of the session Pastor Maldonado, and nine one-thousandths slower than his team-mate Vettel who finished Q2 in eighth.
Button complained of balance issues, feeling the rear end of his car wasn’t compliant enough for Catalunya.
He initially felt that his car was too prone to oversteer coming into this weekend, which was then overcorrected on Saturday morning to create trouble with understeer. His qualifying iteration again failed to meet his preference.
Behind the two qualified Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg for Force India in P13 and P14, who will start ahead of the STR pair of Vergne and Ricciardo. Massa’s Ferrari sits in P17.
The usual suspects fell at qualifying’s first barrier, with the inclusion of Bruno Senna.
Qualifying: Q1
The Brazilian’s performance was at odds with that of his team-mate, and culminated in a spin in the dying moments of Q1. He’ll start from P18 for tomorrow’s race.
Behind him sit Vitaly Petrov, Heiki Kovalinen, Charles Pic, Timo Glock, Pedro de la Rosa, and Narain Karthikeyan.
The 2012 Gran Premio de Espana kicks off Sunday May 13 at 10PM AEST.

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