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MONTREAL - Lewis Hamilton is a phenomenon. The 22-year-old Mercedes McLaren driver started his F1 career with five consecutive podium finishes - a third in the opener in Australia followed by four straight seconds.

On Saturday, the first black driver in Formula One history took another big step, winning his first F1 pole ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix. He took the pole with a lap of 1 minute, 15.707 seconds in the last of three 15-minute qualify-ing sessions.

"At the end of the day, I didn't make a mistake and I'm just thrilled," said Hamilton, who never stopped smiling after stepping out of his car.

Teammate and two-time series champion Fernando Alonso had a lap of 1:16.163, which was just 0.456 seconds slower than Hamilton's final effort on the 2.71-mile Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Nick Heidfeld was third in a BMW Sauber at 1:16.266, followed by the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa at 1:16.411 and 1:16.570, respectively.

Hamilton, who goes into the race on Notre Dame Island tied for the points lead with Alonso, is the first rookie to win a pole since Juan Pablo Montoya won three of them in 2001 with Team Williams.

He came close to a mistake on his fast lap, nearly catching the wall on the final turn.

"For that final lap, the car was really sweet," he said. "That was the fastest I had gone into that turn. I nearly brushed the wall on the exit, but I didn't and that was it."

Alonso said starting from the outside of the front row alongside his teammate is just fine with him.

"The first row will be enough for today, and tomorrow will be another chance to win the race," the Spaniard said.

Hamilton is glad to be the hunted instead of the hunter for the first time in an F1 car.

"I've had experience being in front in other series," he said. "And I've been qualifying fourth for most of the races, so it's good to be further ahead."

Hamilton appears to be much more than just a precocious rookie.

He's handling newfound fame and all the difficulties that come with it like a veteran.

"I don't pay much attention to all the media reports and things like that," the slim, soft-spoken Englishman said. "I do my job and I know they have a job to do, too. When I'm away from the track, I try to just live my normal life, play-ing golf with my dad and playing video games with my brother."

But it isn't easy to ignore all the fuss.

Wherever he goes these days, a horde of media people are bound to be there with notepads, microphones and cam-eras in hand. It's reminiscent of another breakthrough sports celebrity - Tiger Woods.

F1 veterans say Hamilton could do for F1 what Woods did for golf - raise it to a higher level in public awareness. Hamilton tries to avoid such talk.

"It's an honor to be compared with him, but I'm just Lewis Hamilton," he said.

McLaren team boss Ron Dennis is confident he'll succeed.

"I don't see why he won't win races this season," Dennis said. "He's obviously got the talent and he's got the equip-ment."

Hamilton's biggest competition for a win may come from teammate Alonso, who has won twice this season. And Massa and Raikkonen, who have won twice and once, respectively, are likely to be in the midst of the action.

"I think they will look much better Sunday than they looked today," Alonso said of the Ferrari drivers.

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