Hamilton takes pole at Shanghai

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THUMBS UP: Lewis Hamilton has reasons to be pleased with himself as he is in prime position to seal the drivers’ title at Shanghai, with a race to spare.
THUMBS UP: Lewis Hamilton has reasons to be pleased with himself as he is in prime position to seal the drivers’ title at Shanghai, with a race to spare.

Heading to create history; Raikkonen second on the grid, Alonso fourth

SHANGHAI: Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, with a chance to clinch the drivers’ championship in his rookie season, took pole position on Saturday for the Chinese Grand Prix, with title rival and teammate Fernando Alonso fourth.

Kimi Raikkonen, who led all three practice sessions before qualifying, was second with his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa third.

Hamilton had a time of 1m. 35.908s on the 5.5km Shanghai International circuit, and barely six tenths of a second separated the top four.

Raikkonen did a 1:36.044, with Massa at 1:36.221.

Two-time defending champion Alonso was fourth at 1:36.576 ahead of Sunday’s 56-lap race.

Leads by 12 points

Hamilton heads into this weekend’s race with 107 points, a 12-point lead over Alonso.

Hamilton will create history by becoming a first rookie to clinch the title if he finishes ahead of Alonso on Sunday, or maintains at least an 11-point margin with only the Brazilian Grand Prix to go.

However, thunderstorms are predicted over the weekend, with a typhoon forecast to hit Taiwan late Saturday.

If it stays on its current path, the eye of the storm was expected to strike land about 300km south of Shanghai late Sunday, bringing strong winds and heavy rain.

The approaching weather influenced qualifying, as some cars carried set-ups for rain while others had dry settings.

David Coulthard of Red Bull took fifth to be the best of the rest, ahead of Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher, Red Bull’s Mark Webber and the BMW pair Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica.

Ferrari and McLaren have won all 15 races so far with Alonso, Hamilton and Raikkonen each notching four victories.

Ferrari has won two of the previous three races here and the red cars could be the downfall of Alonso.

If Raikkonen and Massa were to finish first and second for Ferrari — and if Alonso and Hamilton follow third and fourth — there would be still be an unassailable 11-point gap Hamilton and Alonso after the race.

Raikkonen, with a slight chance to win the title, is third in the standings with 90 points while Massa has 80.

Late Friday Hamilton was cleared after a hearing and review of an incident in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton was accused of accelerating and decelerating behind the safety car during a caution period on the 46th lap, spraying water from a wet track and causing Webber and Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel to collide.

Vettel was originally given a 10-place starting grid penalty for this race for running into the back of Webber’s car, but that was reduced because the stewards felt that conditions were “exceptionally bad.”

Pole position: Lewis Hamilton (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:35.908; Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Ferrari) 1:36.044; Felipe Massa (BRA/Ferrari) 1:36.221; Fernando Alonso (ESP/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:36.576; David Coulthard (GBR/Red Bull) 1:37.619; Ralf Schumacher (GER/Toyota) 1:38.013; Mark Webber (AUS/Red Bull) 1:38.153; Nick Heidfeld (GER/BMW Sauber) 1:38.455; Robert Kubica (POL/BMW Sauber) 1:38.472; Jenson Button (GBR/Honda) 1:39.285; Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA/Toro Rosso) 1:36.862; Sebastian Vettel (GER/Toro Rosso) 1:36.891; Jarno Trulli (ITA/Toyota) 1:36.959; Heikki Kovalainen (FIN/Renault) 1:36.991; Anthony Davidson (GBR/Super Aguri F1 Team) 1:37.247; Nico Rosberg (GER/Williams-BMW) 1:37.483; Rubens Barrichello (BRA/Honda) 1:37.251; Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA/Renault) 1:37.290; Alexander Wurz (AUT/Williams-BMW) 1:37.456; Takuma Sato (JPN/Super Aguri F1 Team) 1:38.218; Adrian Sutil (GER/Spyker MF1) 1:38.668; Sakon Yamamoto (JPN/Spyker MF1) 1:39.336. — Agenices

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