After two straight pole positions, Lewis Hamilton was made to settle for second place on the grid at Magny-Cours, as a resurgent Felipe Massa gave Ferrari its fifth top spot of the season.

Despite being sandwiched between the two scarlet F2007s, however, Hamilton remained upbeat, aware that it has been a tough weekend for McLaren to this point. The Briton suffered a rare mechanical gremlin in Friday's free practice sessions, while team-mate - and chief championship rival - Fernando Alonso ran into problems in both Saturday morning's free session and, again, when it mattered most, the final segment of qualifying.

Determined not sound as though he was crowing over his Spanish colleague, however, Hamilton insisted that Alonso's problems had been a setback for the team, particularly with Ferrari showing its best form since Massa ran away with the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

"I don't really know what happened, to be honest," he said of Alonso's gearbox failure, "I was behind him and just saw a little bit of smoke at one of the corners. Then he came in. It's unfortunate for him and for the team, but it's good [that] at least one of us is up there and can fight for some points for the team. We always need to push very hard to improve reliability, so this will be a sign for us to push even more."

Hamilton showed that Ferrari would not have it all its own way by topping the Saturday morning session and both the opening parts of qualifying. Asked why he had completed so few laps in the morning session, and whether the team was concerned about its engines after the heavy treatment meted out by Indianapolis a fortnight ago, he insisted that there was no problem.

"Our engine's pretty sweet - it was just that there was no need to go out and push too many laps," he explained, "We went out halfway through the session just to find out which tyre we wanted to use for the race, the option or the prime. Yesterday, we didn't really get a good read, because we got stuck in traffic and didn't have many clear laps so, today, it was important that we got out and had a really good understanding."

Although he had not managed to take top spot in qualifying, Hamilton remained confident that he would still be able to take the fight to Ferrari as he chased a third straight victory to further strengthen his championship lead, but admitted that he was not underestimating the Scuderia one iota.

"You can't be perfect all the time," he smiled at having been pushed back to the outside of row one, "The car was pretty sweet for qualifying, and I had the car for pole, but I lost a bit of time on turn 15. I was about a tenth-and-a-half up, so I had it there, but it would have been a mega lap. That's the way the game goes, but I'm very very happy. We're on the front row and I believe that we have a good strategy for tomorrow, so we will be very strong.

"I like battling it out and, fair play to Felipe, he did a good job. I was only - what was it? - seven hundredths down, so I know I had it there. We will have a good race tomorrow. We will go into the race just as strong as these guys and we will all be pushing to get in front.

"There was no doubt in our minds that [Fernando and I] weren't just competing with each other - we knew that we were competing against the Ferraris and the BMWs. That is why we have been pushing so hard to pull away. Everyone makes improvements and steps forward and, obviously, Ferrari have made a good step forward. But I still believe we have the best car and we just have to prove that tomorrow."

 

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