Ferrari's Felipe Massa claimed pole position in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix with a best time of 1:29.599 at the Suzuka circuit. Teammate Michael Schumacher, a tenth behind, will line up alongside in second and the Toyotas of Ralf ...
Ferrari's Felipe Massa claimed pole position in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix with a best time of 1:29.599 at the Suzuka circuit. Teammate Michael Schumacher, a tenth behind, will line up alongside in second and the Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli annexed the second row with third and fourth respectively.
The conditions were similar to the morning practice, dry with a track temperature in the low thirties. Trulli and Ralf were first out on the circuit, keen to get a good result at the team's home race. Likewise, the Super Aguri of Sakon Yamamoto and Takuma Sato and the Hondas of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button were quickly out in front of the home fans.
The Red Bulls of David Coulthard and Robert Doornbos followed suit then the Spyker MF1s of Tiago Monteiro and Christijan Albers. Trulli clocked 1:33.975 but was immediately demoted by Ralf's 1:33.644. Cars were still going out, the McLarens of Pedro de la Rosa and Kimi Raikkonen and the Williams duo of Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg.
Yamamoto didn't last long as his Super Aguri spun and stalled at the hairpin. Button took over at the top, 1:33.057, followed by Coulthard, Doornbos, Ralf and Monteiro. The Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed joined the track, as did Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber. Webber went fastest, 1:32.275.
Liuzzi took second and de la Rosa started with 10th then Rosberg demoted Webber with a 1:32.123. He fell to Raikkonen who in turn was ousted by Heidfeld and Michael in quick succession, 1:31.279 for the Ferrari. Albers posted seventh on his first timed lap and Massa was on a flyer straight out of the garage, 1:30.112 for over a second up on Michael.
Barrichello took fourth and with three minutes remaining the Renaults of Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso and the BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica were yet to set a time. Kubica bagged third on his first flyer and Alonso went one better for second but then lost it to Trulli. Ralf posted third and Fisichella slotted into seventh. Button moved up to fourth and Liuzzi to eighth.
Late improvements at the end of the session were de la Rosa to eighth, Albers to 15th and Rosberg a big jump up to third after being moved a way down the order. Teammate Webber snatched 10th in the dying seconds. Coulthard in 17th led the six to be dropped, along with Doornbos, Speed, Sato, Monteiro and Yamamoto.
Albers and Liuzzi did well to go through and Raikkonen only just made it in 15th. Massa remained at the top with Trulli second and Rosberg third, an encouraging start for the Bridgestone runners. The times were cleared for the second 15 minute session and the process got under way again with Liuzzi leading the pack out.
The Toro Rosso clocked 1:33.755 but was quickly demoted by Trulli's 1:30.204. Heidfeld took second and Kubica third, with de la Rosa next in fourth. Webber replaced the McLaren then Ralf moved into second, while Rosberg took the fourth slot off Webber then lost it to Button. Fisichella posted third and Alonso fourth and Michael went to the top, 1:28.954, the first sub-1:29 time.
Raikkonen and Massa were last to reach the time sheet, eighth and second respectively, Massa a second off Michael. In the final couple of minutes the top six -- the Ferraris, Renaults and Toyotas -- seemed happy enough to stay where they were while the rest went back out for another go. De la Rosa and Raikkonen were first on fliers, 13th and ninth respectively.
Button improved to fourth and Rosberg to seventh, which put Raikkonen out of the top 10, and Barrichello was the last to just sneak in with 10th. A disappointing day for McLaren with Raikkonen in 11th leading the next six to be dropped. Kubica, de la Rosa, Webber, Liuzzi and Albers followed while Michael stayed at the top with Massa and Trulli.
With the times cleared and race fuel on board the remaining 10 set about burning off the extra weight in the final 15 minute shootout. The Ferraris and Renaults led out, all looking for track position, with the Hondas next in line. Michael started with a 1:32.729 the lowered it to 1:32.055 but it was another few minutes before anyone attempted a serious lap time.
After the initial tyres changes there were eight minutes to go it was down to the serious business. Trulli managed 1:30.916 to start with and Barrichello took second, almost a second down. Michael took over with a 1:30.245 and Alonso posted third, followed by Massa into second. Fisichella clocked fourth and Ralf fifth.
After another quick pit stop there was time for one more hot lap if anyone could make their way through the traffic. Into the final minute Michael and Massa were trading fastest sector times; Michael posted 1:29.711 but Massa's 1:29.599 took over. Alonso clocked third and Fisichella fourth but the Toyotas came barging in, Ralf and Trulli taking the positions.
It's not a surprise to see the Ferraris on the front row, although perhaps the other way round was more expected but a well earned pole for Massa. The Toyota pair up there is not so surprising either -- it was widely speculated that Toyota would go for a gung-ho qualifying in front of its home crowd. However, time will tell how they fare in the race.
"To be on pole position at a track that I like very much and where the driver counts for a lot is very special," said Massa. "I managed to do a great lap, with no mistakes and starting from the front is definitely important for the race. I am also happy that we have both Ferraris on the front row and that our main rivals are two rows behind us and I hope we can also finish the race with them the same number of places behind us."
Michael is enjoying himself on his penultimate race weekend. "I am happy with the position from which I am starting, especially as Felipe is alongside me, after doing an extraordinary job today. Driving on this track in the way the performance of our car has allowed us to do is really marvellous. I am having so much fun, especially in the Esses which are a part of the track I am particularly keen on."
Ralf is hoping for a good result for Toyota tomorrow. "That was a great achievement for the whole team," he commented. "After the last two races we needed that to show where we really are in terms of pace. We knew from the previous races that we were always there from a lap time point of view and we needed to show that. Today, with the clear help of our Bridgestone tyres, we were able to show that our car is a good car."
The third row for Alonso and Fisichella is not great for Renault but it could have been worse seeing as they were eight tenths to a second off the Ferraris. Button and Barrichello line up on row four with Heidfeld and Rosberg rounding off the top 10. Bridgestone took the top four positions in the dry conditions.
As we know, Michael could claim his eighth title on Sunday if he wins and Alonso doesn't score. It could happen, as it did at Monza, but it would be nice if the championship fight went to the final round in Brazil -- although if it does happen Massa might have a better chance of winning his home race at Interlagos.
Alonso really needs to get past the Toyotas at the start and as usual, strategy will come into play tomorrow. The weather is still far from settled so it should be a very interesting race at Suzuka. Final top ten classification: Massa, M. Schumacher, R. Schumacher, Trulli, Alonso, Fisichella, Button, Barrichello, Heidfeld, Rosberg.