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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hamilton steals pole from Alonso in Japan

Lewis Hamilton snatched pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix in a rain-hit Fuji qualifying session on Saturday.

The championship leader punched the air in delight after denying Fernando Alonso with a thrilling final lap and took pole for the fourth time of his stellar rookie season.

Hamilton, who leads his McLaren team-mate by two points with three races left, bagged top spot right at the end of the session by just 0.070 seconds, as he defied the greasy conditions with a time of one minute 25.368 seconds.

Rivals Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa will line up on the second row of the grid.

Hamilton, 22, said: "I'm feeling relaxed and with the way this weekend has gone, I am even more relaxed.

"I know I have got two guys breathing down my neck, but I am not bothered. But it is going to be a very close, tough race and the key will be getting to the first corner first.

"I knew it was my last chance at pole and I was delighted when I got it. That's why I punched the air.

"We have not had much practice in the wet conditions and it was difficult. But it was good fun out there and I am sure if the conditions are changing during the race it will be exciting."

Double world champion Alonso said: "It would have been better to be on pole, but I am on the front row, which is important. It is very close between the top four drivers."

Raikkonen, 13 points behind Hamilton and needing to win Sunday's race to keep his title hopes alive, finished just a tenth of a second back.

The Finn said: "I had a small problem with the gearbox but hopefully that will be fixed for tomorrow. It was a sensor problem which cost us some time.

"But the car felt pretty OK in the last session and I was happy. I think I am in a good position for the race."

Germany's Nick Heidfeld was fifth fastest for BMW, just ahead of his countryman Nico Rosberg, driving for Williams, who will start 10 places further back after suffering a penalty for changing his race engine earlier in the weekend.

It looked for a time that Hamilton would fail to qualify from the first timed session as he got caught behind two slower cars, but he eventually made it through with just 17 seconds to spare.

Britain's Jenson Button, who gave the home crowd something to cheer about after finishing seventh fastest for Japanese giants Honda, will now start sixth after Rosberg's penalty.

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