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German Drivers Face Private Duel Behind Race Favorite Hamilton

McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton starts in the ninth pole position of his career at Sunday's German F1 Grand Prix. However, home fans will be cheering on a glut of homegrown talent scattered through the grid.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton leads the grid at the German Grand Prix but has homegrown talent chasing him

Hamilton registered a time of 1 minute 15.666 seconds on the 4.574-kilometre Hockenheim circuit to finish ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who clocked a time of 1:15.859.

Heikki Kovalainen was third fastest in the second McLaren while Toyota's Jarno Trulli will start from fourth on the grid after putting in a stunning drive.

"I knew I had it in me, I knew I had the pace, I am quite cool," said Hamilton. "It has been very windy, you notice it down the back straight - when you get to stadium and then suddenly you have a big gust of wind."

Hamilton is coming off a superb win in the British home GP of Mclaren that drew him level on 48 points with Massa and his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen at the top of the championship standings.

He complimented his team before adding that he felt Sunday's race, another home event due to Mercedes, would be quite tight.

Hamilton ahead -- but only just

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton stays cool as the championship heat increases

"I am surprised how close all the teams were," he said. "Between Ferrari and McLaren it is a tenth (of a second) here or there but we have the pace to win."

Massa, for his part, said he found qualifying "very tough" but that both sides would only know how strong they were on Sunday when it became clear how much fuel each car was carrying.

"It is very competitive between McLaren and Ferrari and it will be a big competition between the four cars. Hopefully we will do everything right in the race," said the Brazilian.

Kovalainen said he was very happy with his third place, not least because he went off track in the final session.

"The car has been performing really well last the five or six weeks. We have made significant steps forward," said the Finn, who took the first pole of his career at the last F1 race at Silverstone.

Renault's Fernando Alonso qualified in fifth spot followed by the defending world champion Raikkonen, who appeared to struggle throughout the session in his Ferrari.

Robert Kubica of BMW-Sauber, who sits two points behind the leaders in the driver's standings, starts from seventh on the grid alongside Red Bull's Mark Webber while Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel and David Coulthard in the second Red Bull complete the top 10.

Nick Heidfeld in the second BMW-Sauber will start from 12th on the grid behind Toyota's Timo Glock after a mistake in the second qualifying round saw the German fail to make it to the final round.

Experienced Heidfeld looks for first win

German Formula One driver Nick Heidfeld

Will Nick Heidfeld be Germany's number one?

Heidfeld is the most experienced German driver on the track. The 30-year-old has over 130 races under his belt. He has finished second three times but has never won a Grand Prix.

Last year Heidfeld was essentially "the best of the rest" in his BMW Sauber, finishing fifth in the drivers' championship behind the men at top teams, McLaren and Ferrari. Heidfeld says he wants to go one step further in 2008 and challenge for victories, and fans and observers believe he has the ability and experience to do this.

For years Heidfeld lived in the shadow of German motor sport legend Michael Schumacher. But while it may seem that his way is now clear to take the top German driver slot, a precocious young talent is seeking to catch up with BMW and relegate Heidfeld to the role of German number two again.

German wunderkind with Finnish pedigree

Germany's drivers for 2008: Nick Heidfeld, Timo Glock, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Adrian Sutil

Team Germany 2008: Heidfeld, Glock, Vettel, Rosberg and Sutil

Nico Rosberg is Germany's rising star. The blonde-haired, clean-cut, multilingual poster boy is a tremendously quick driver, who McLaren Mercedes reportedly tried to sign in the off-season. But Rosberg has stayed with Williams Toyota, and many expect Rosberg to impress in 2008.

Some confusion surrounds Rosberg's quest to be Germany's number one. His father, Keke Rosberg, was the first Finnish World Champion which many would say rules Nico out of that quest. But young Nico holds a German passport, making him Heidfeld's number one contender.

Another German rising star is Sebastian Vettel. In his 2007 debut, aged nineteen, Vettel secured an eighth place finish in one Grand Prix, becoming the youngest driver ever to win a World Championship point. His Torro Rosso team will hope to pick up some more points this season as the shaggy-locked 20-year-old aims for further up the final positions.

Young guns learning their trade with smaller teams

Formula One driver Nico Rosberg

Rosberg races under the German flag despite his Finnish parentage

Then there's Timo Glock who makes his return to Formula One with Toyota this year. He had a brief stint with Jordan back in 2004, and is also the reigning champion of Formula One's unofficial training ground, the GP2 championship.

Last of all, there's Adrian Sutil. A talented pianist away from the clutch and steering wheel, Sutil drives for the Force India team, which most experts predict will bring up the rear in the 2008 races.

While Germany's drivers probably won't be challenging for the title this season, the competition between them may prove to be an exciting sub-plot for German race fans in 2008.

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