Felipe Massa sent the home crowds wild in qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix as he scored his second consecutive pole position at Interlagos. The Ferrari man's 1:11.931 was the quickest time of the afternoon but it didn't quite go as well as...
Felipe Massa sent the home crowds wild in qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix as he scored his second consecutive pole position at Interlagos. The Ferrari man's 1:11.931 was the quickest time of the afternoon but it didn't quite go as well as the Scuderia might have hoped. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton snatched second from Kimi Raikkonen on his last lap, leaving the Finn to settle for third.
The conditions were clear and sunny, with a track temperature of 60 degrees as Sakon Yamamoto and Adrian Sutil led out for Spyker -- reportedly to be renamed Force India F1 next season under its new ownership, subject to FIA approval. Yamamoto's first time was in the 1:16 bracket while Sutil was about a second quicker, both drivers slower than they were in the morning practice session.
With 10 minutes remaining others started making their way out, the Renaults of Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella and the Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli. Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson followed in the Super Aguris, as did the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and David Coutlhard and the Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Sebastian Vettel.
Schumacher took the top with a 1:14.256 while Sutil pulled off track and came to a halt in the last sector with a fuel pressure problem. Kovalainen and Fisichella were next to lead, then Vettel and Coulthard, the times changing quickly. Nico Rosberg's Williams took second, Webber top, then Liuzzi third, it was hard to keep up with the rapid swapping.
Hamilton put his McLaren ahead with a 1:13.033, the first of the front runners to set a time. Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber took fifth but lost it to Alonso and Raikkonen only managed 16th initially. The second BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica slotted in behind Webber for third.
Raikkonen picked up his pace and posted 1:13.016 and Massa was last of all to put in a flyer and was the first under 1:13, 1:12.303 for seven tenths up on Raikkonen. Rubens Barrichello's Honda was 11th and teammate Jenson Button was in danger in 17th. The Williams of Kazuki Nakajima was near the back, just in front of the Spykers but there was enough time for one more run.
Only the top three remained in the garage but the rest had another go; Alonso went up to second but there were no other notable improvements. Surprisingly, Kovalainen led the six to be dropped in 17th after a mistake in the final sector. A bit of a relief for Button, who was 16th and had looked likely to be knocked down by the Renault.
Sato was 18th, Nakajima 19th, Davidson 20th and the Spykers rounded off the little list, Sutil 21st and Yamamoto 22nd. Massa remained fastest with Alonso half a second behind and Raikkonen third. The times were still not as quick as the morning, Massa's 1:12.303 a second and half down on his own top time from the last practice.
As has become usual there was no rush to go out for the second qualifying session but eventually Schumacher and Trulli appeared. With just 10 minutes remaining the rest were not far behind and Trulli started with a 1:13.024. Webber took over, then Alonso, Massa and Raikkonen in quick succession, 1:12.161 for the Finn.
Hamilton took second so it was the usual top four but where were the BMWs? Heidfeld and Kubica lapped late on and took sixth and fifth respectively, but Webber then got in between them on the time sheet. The top five didn't bother with a last effort but the rest went out again to try and get into the top 10 shootout.
Coulthard moved up to sixth but Heidfeld didn't improved and was being moved down. Webber and Rosberg went ahead of the BMW and Trulli popped into eighth. Heidfeld only just hung on in 10th, while Barrichello was 11th to lead the next six to be dropped. Fisichella, Vettel, Liuzzi, Schumacher and Button followed.
At the top it was Raikkonen from Hamilton, Massa and Alonso and it was time to get down to the nitty gritty. Well, once the fuel burning laps at the start of the last session were out of the way. The McLarens and Ferraris led out, Hamilton at the front and very little space between the four of them but there was no particular squabbling.
Hamilton put the lead time on the board, in the 1:14 area, and Rosberg and Kubica were next on the list early on. With seven minutes to go cars headed for the pits to get ready for their flying laps. The Ferraris went out on the softer tyres, as did the McLarens; Raikkonen was initially quickest in the first sector but Massa was scorching round behind.
Raikkonen clocked 1:12.539 and Massa 1:12.128, while Webber went third and Kubica fourth. Hamilton crossed the line to take second but Alonso could only manage fifth. It all hinged on the final lap, especially for Alonso, and once again Raikkonen was first to go. However, as before, Massa was running on rails behind him.
Raikkonen managed second and Massa lit up purple fastest sectors all the way to post 1:11.931. Hamilton had a storming middle sector to snatch second from Raikkonen and Alonso managed to pick up one place for fourth but it's surely less than the Spaniard was hoping for, although he was only a few hundredths off Raikkonen.
"It's fantastic to be on pole again in front of my fans: to feel their affection and to see them celebrate in the stands is really amazing," said Massa. "The car was very competitive and I managed to get the most out of it. I hope to win tomorrow, but obviously I will do whatever is needed to help the team in its fight for the Drivers' title. I am sorry not to be fighting for it myself, but I think in any case I have had a good season."
Hamilton knows where his priorities lie for Sunday. "A fantastic last run for me which could have seen me possibly on pole. Overall I am happy with today's qualifying," he commented. "I am quite confident and relaxed for tomorrow, and I know what I have to do to win the championship. My focus is not on winning the race but the title."
Raikkonen was not entirely happy. "Of course it would have been better to be on pole position but third place is certainly no bad thing and leaves me in a good position for tomorrow's race, also in light of the strategy we have chosen and the performance of the car," he said. "On my final flying lap, I lost precious time at turn 4 because of Hamilton: it is a real shame but there is no point in recriminations over what has happened."
Webber beat the BMWs to best of the rest in fifth, the last man to be -- only just -- within a second of Massa, while Heidfeld and Kubica finished sixth and seventh respectively, which was better than they had seemed previously. Trulli was eighth and Coulthard made it two Red Bulls in the top 10 with ninth and Rosberg rounded off the list in 10th.
It's no surprise to see Massa on pole as he's been quick all weekend and is likely on a lighter fuel load, although that's not to detract from the excellent lap he drove. The main question at the moment is what will happen at the start on Sunday -- the first corner can be a vulnerable moment for any driver, even when they do nothing wrong.
Raikkonen and Alonso will not be holding back; for them it's all or nothing but Hamilton surely has to be at least a little cautious. The anticipation for this final race of the season is huge and all we can do now is impatiently drum our fingers while we wait. Final top ten classification: Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso, Webber, Heidfeld, Kubica, Trulli, Coulthard, Rosberg.