Lewis Hamilton's miserable weekend in Melbourne took another blow yesterday as he was knocked out of the second part of qualifying and will line up 11th on the grid for today's Australian Grand Prix. The Briton had already made headlines for the wrong reasons when on Thursday night he was stopped by police leaving the track after skidding the back tyres of his Mercedes hire car in sight of officers at an intersection near the circuit.
The car was impounded and he is expected to be charged with "improper" use of a motor vehicle, but his woes continued on the track as he struggled in his McLaren-Mercedes yesterday to leave himself only a remote chance of making the podium in today's race. It was a considerable fall from grace for the 2008 world champion after he had been fastest in Friday's practice, and he said that he was shocked by his poor showing. "Today was a surprise - I wasn't expecting to be out in Q2," he said.
"I felt I got as much as I could out of the car, but I just couldn't get the grip from the tyres. On my first run in Q2, I was held up by traffic, so I wasn't able to do a quick lap. I pitted early, got a clear lap, but still struggled to find time in the final sector - even with new tyres. I don't know what the reason for that was." Hamilton, 25, denied that his brush with the law had been a distraction to his preparations.
He said: "It was silly but it is one of those things you learn from. It was not a good experience but I move forward. "We all make mistakes and I apologise." Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team boss, played down the incident and backed Hamilton. "Lewis takes his responsibility as a former world champion, an ambassador for this sport and this team very seriously," he said. The one consolation for the team was the performance of Jenson Button, the world champion, who had his best day with the team since joining them in the winter from BrawnGP.
The Briton starts fourth today, his best qualifying effort since the German Grand Prix last July and he was pleased with his progress after finishing only seventh in Bahrain. "We're not there yet, but this is an improvement because we're a lot closer to the front than we were in Bahrain," he said. "I'm happy with the performance of the team this weekend. We have pretty much got the best out of the package we have." firstname.lastname@example.org